Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

England: Kenny Dalglish sacked by Liverpool

Posted in UK Football by peterbein on May 16, 2012
Kenny Dalglish

Dalglish had a difficult time at Liverpool this season

It has been announced in the last hour that Kenny Dalglish has been sacked as Liverpool FC manager after just 18 months in charge. After taking over from Roy Hodgson in January 2011, Dalglish initially steadied the ship at Anfield towards the end of the 2010-11 season but has found it much more difficult in the 2011-12 season in which his club finished eighth in the English Premier League although he did take the club to two domestic cup finals.

Dalglish came back to the job due to popular demand following a wretched six month period in which his predecessor Roy Hodgson had been in charge. With Liverpool just six points off the relegation zone when he arrived, Dalglish made an impact towards the end of the 2010-11 season by taking the club up to a respectable sixth place. Hopes had been high for the 2011-12 season after the club signed core British talent such as Jordan Henderson, Stuart Downing and Charlie Adam to play alongside those that had been signed in the previous January transfer window such as Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll. Sadly for Dalglish his signings never really imposed themselves on the pitch with £35m recruit Carrol in particular coming in for lots of criticism until he started putting in a string of decent performances towards the end of this season. One thing is for sure, the likes of Downing and Henderson, who in my opinion have been every bit as poor as Carroll ever had been, should be thanking Carroll for keeping their mostly inept performances out of the headlines.

An argument that was bandied about throughout the campaign was that Liverpool were putting in some good performances but just not getting the luck but to use such arguments would be to pull the wool over one’s eyes. The fact that Liverpool hit the woodwork 33 times throughout the season should not be defended as a sign that the club were just unlucky, it is a sign that the players were not doing enough of what they are paid to do: score goals and win games. Liverpool had only lost three games in the Premier League at the half way stage and were lying in sixth place, eleven points behind both Manchester City and United. At the season’s end the club had lost fourteen league matches out of 38 and were a massive thirty seven points behind the top two, only qualifying for European football on the back of a hard-fought Carling Cup final victory against second-tier side Cardiff City.

But it wasn’t just on the pitch where Liverpool found life difficult. The Luis Suarez race row, in which he was found guilty of racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra, saw the club involved in many a PR disaster and Dalglish’s handling of the situation saw him brandished as arrogant and out-of-touch with the modern game. The game against Wigan Athletic in December saw the Liverpool team warming up before the match in T-shirts supporting Suarez in a move which fanned the flames before Liverpool were involved in two crucial league and cup matches against United early in 2012. After winning the cup game without Suarez in January, Liverpool then went to Old Trafford for a Premier League game in early February. Before kick-off there was controversy when Suarez refused to shake hands with Evra before the game and the move was damaging not just to Suarez as an individual but to Dalglish and his club who were always on the back foot before the club issued a long-awaited apology a week later. Unfortunately for Dalglish, in an era when football is as obsessed with public relations as it is with money, his press conferences were usually tetchy affairs which left a lot to be desired in terms of presenting the right image of the club to the wider world.

It was a culmination of on-field performances and results – barring the Carling Cup victory – and off-the-field public relations disasters that have ended up with Dalglish losing his job. Amongst the fans “King Kenny” will always be a legend, and rightly so, but it seems that a significant number of Liverpool supporters had already begun to think the unthinkable and reason that the club would be better off appointing a new manager for the 2012-13 season, a rationale that owner John W. Henry and representatives of the Fenway Sports Group concurred with after a number of meetings with Dalglish over the last 24 hours. The signs had been there in recent weeks with the sackings of director of football Damien Comolli and director of communications Ian Cotton and rumours had already been circulating on social media regarding Dalglish’s position which were then confirmed in a statement by the club which read:

“Kenny Dalglish is to leave his post today as manager after having his contract terminated. After a careful and deliberative review of the season, the club came to the decision that a change was appropriate. It is not a decision that was reached lightly or hastily. The search for a new manager will begin immediately.”

Wigan Athletic coach Roberto Martinez has initially been installed as the favourite to take the job but a host of other names including current Swansea City boss Brendan Rodgers and former coach Rafael Benitez, who is currently without a club, are also in the frame.

Poll: Are FC Barcelona really the greatest?

Posted in European Football by peterbein on May 29, 2011

Following their fourth UEFA Champions League triumph on Saturday virtually every superlative has been used to describe Pep Guardiola’s current crop of FC Barcelona stars. The Catalans’ 3-1 triumph over Manchester United meant that Guardiola, in only his third full season in charge at the Camp Nou, has won ten major trophies including the amazing Sextuple triumph from the 2008-09 season. Are they, in your opinion, the best side ever? Or is there really a team that came before who deserve the accolade of the best ever? Decide from the following choices:

Real Madrid 7-3 Eintracht Frankfurt

Alfredo Di Stefano scores for Real Madrid in the 1959-60 European Cup final

REAL MADRID 1956-60

The team who took to the concept of the European Cup more than any other, the great Real Madrid side from the mid 50’s were European champions in the first five years of the competition. As well as winning two La Liga titles at home los Blancos had one of the greatest forward lines in the history of football including the likes of Alfredo Di Stéfano and Ferenc Puskás who scored all seven goals between them in the club’s most famous win of the famous five, the 1959-60 European Cup final against Eintracht Frankfurt which they won 7-3 in front of a record 127,000 crowd at Hampden Park, Glasgow. The club also became the first unofficial world champions in 1960 after defeating South American champions Peñarol in the inaugural Intercontinental Cup match.

Internazionale 1964-65

Internazionale were Italian, European and World champions in 1965

INTERNAZIONALE 1964-65

The Italians were never also easy on the eye with their defensive brand of football, widely known as Catenaccio, winning few friends amongst their opponents. However the team known affectionately amongst all Nerazzurri supporters as La Grande Inter won back-to-back European Cups in 1964 and 1965 defeating Real Madrid and Benfica respectively. As well as the 1964-65 Scudetto, Inter also became the first European team to win successive Intercontinental Cups beating Argentinians Independiente on both occasions.

Ajax Amsterdam 1972

Ajax Amsterdam with the 1972 European Cup

AJAX AMSTERDAM 1971-73

Dutch football came to prominence in the early 1970’s with Feyenoord Rotterdam winning the European Cup in 1970 before their arch-rivals Ajax Amsterdam took their brand of Total Football to the international stage and won three successive European Cups. Players such as Johan Cruijff, Johnny Rep and Arie Haan took centre stage with final victories over Panathinaikos (1971), Internazionale (1972) and Juventus FC (1973), the latter as part of an historic treble, helping write the club’s name into the history books. Ajax also won the 1972 Intercontinental Cup against Independiente and were the inaugural UEFA Super Cup winners defeating Cup Winners’ Cup holders AC Milan in 1973.

FC Bayern 1975 European Cup

FC Bayern with the second of their European Cups in 1975

FC BAYERN MÜNCHEN 1974-76

In a manner similar to the Ajax team that preceded them, FC Bayern won the European Cup three times in a row from 1974-76 with a team full of international greats such as Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Müller and Uli Hoeneß. Their maiden European Cup win against Atlético de Madrid was achieved in a replay, the first and only such occasion this occurred, before going on to beat Leeds United and Saint-Étienne in the following two years. The Bavarians also won the 1973-74 Bundesliga title and their first world title with a 1976 Intercontinental Cup win over Brazilians Cruzeiro.

Liverpool FC 1977

Liverpool FC won their first European Cup in 1977

LIVERPOOL FC 1977-81

Liverpool, under the astute guidance of Bob Paisley, won the European Cup three times in the space of five years, thus assuring the reluctant successor to Bill Shankly his place in football history as the first, and so far only coach, to have won the trophy on so many occasions. Liverpool were dominant at home during this time with three league championship wins in 1977, 1979 and 1980 complemented by European triumphs over Borussia Mönchengladbach (1977), Club Brugge (1978) and Real Madrid (1981) which were won with a dynamic team including the likes of Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness and Phil Neal.

AC Milan

AC Milan were European champions in 1989-90

AC MILAN 1988-90

Just three years after the acquisition of the club by controversial figure Silvio Berlusconi, AC Milan started to make a mark on the European scene once again with back-to-back European Cup wins over Steaua Bucharest (1989) and Benfica (1990). Having won the 1988 Scudetto the Rossoneri, led by coach Arrigo Sacchi along with his team of superstars including the Dutch trio of Marco Van Basten, Frank Rijkaard and Ruud Gullit as well as Italian legends such as Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini, began a spell of domination which also led to successive triumphs in the UEFA Super Cup and Intercontinental Cup.

Manchester United 1999

Manchester United won the UEFA Champions League in 1999

MANCHESTER UNITED 1998-99

It is difficult to pinpoint any team over the last two decades which could stand out for Manchester United, such is the amount of success they’ve come to enjoy under the leadership of Sir Alex Ferguson. However the team which won the Treble in the 1998-99 season deserves special praise for their sheer will-to-win and ability to turn things around when all seemed lost. A team including most of the “Class of 92” such as Ryan Giggs, David Beckham and Gary Neville went on to claim the English league and cup double before winning an unlikely UEFA Champions League triumph over FC Bayern München as the Red Devils, who were a goal down as the game went into the 90th minute, somehow scored two goals deep into stoppage time to claim the club’s second European Cup. Six months later Roy Keane scored the winner for United as they claimed the Intercontinental Cup with a 1-0 win over Palmeiras.

FC Barcelona 2011

FC Barcelona with the 2010-11 UEFA Champions League trophy

FC BARCELONA 2008-11

The Catalan giants have enjoyed considerable success at home and abroad over time but the club underachieved in the European Cup for many years. Having only ever been champions of Europe twice before Pep Guardiola took the coaching job in 2008, FC Barcelona have finally started to realize their potential under the current coach who has guided the club to two UEFA Champions League finals and a semi-final in three years as well as winning a host of other trophies including a grand slam of Spanish League, Spanish Cup, Champions League, Spanish Super Cup, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup in 2009. With the likes of FIFA World Cup winners Xavi, Carles Puyol and Andres Iniesta as well as superstar Lionel Messi many predict that their dominance could continue for some time yet.

SO WHO GETS YOUR VOTE AS THE BEST?

England: Hodgson out, Kenny in as Liverpool change coach

Posted in UK Football by peterbein on January 8, 2011
Roy Hodgson

Roy Hodgson has left Liverpool FC this morning

So the short and tumultuous era of Roy Hodgson at Liverpool FC is finally over after much speculation about his position in the last few days. His final act as Liverpool coach was to oversee the club’s 3-1 defeat away at Blackburn Rovers in a game which, in itself, seemed to show all that had gone wrong for Hodgson since he took charge at the start of the season.

Having been voted LMA Manager of the Year for his exploits with Fulham FC in the 2009-10 season, with whom he reached the UEFA Europa League final, Hodgson was brought in to steady the ship at Anfield, following the sacking of former coach Rafael Benitez. Since then, however, rather than steadying the ship it has come to look rudderless and has taken a Titanic path downwards in his six month spell.

Following a respectable opening day 1-1 draw at home to Arsenal there have been catastrophic results at home which had not endeared Hodgson to the Liverpool supporters, the main cases in point being a Carling Cup defeat to fourth tier Northampton Town, a 2-1 league defeat to newly-promoted Blackpool FC and, in the most recent case, a 1-0 loss to Wolverhampton Wanderers. The latter game saw an open revolt by the fans against Hodgson who was booed for every decision taken with the exception of the substitution of Paul Konchesky who, perhaps unfairly despite his terrible form, became a scapegoat on the pitch. A significant matter which didn’t help the Liverpool left-back was that he was directly recruited by Hodgson from his former club. Another matter which certainly did Konchesky no favours was the episode regarding an outburst on the social networking site Facebook directed at Liverpool fans by his mother. But Konchesky shouldn’t be alone in taking his fair share of criticism for some languid performances. Even established stars such as Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard have shown negative body language and have only occasionally stepped up to the mark such as in the 2-0 win against Chelsea, with the club sometimes relying on unexpected figures such as Sotirios Kyrgiakos to help them out of the occasional self-dug hole.

But it wasn’t just that the team had played badly that was a problem. There was also a series of PR gaffes which gave the view to Liverpool fans from the start that Roy, for all his experience, just didn’t know how to make the step up to a great club (and, yes, I know he was twice in charge at Internazionale FC). The honeymoon period ended for Hodgson when, following Liverpool’s 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford to bitter enemies Manchester United, he didn’t publicly challenge Sir Alex Ferguson’s description of Fernando Torres as a cheat. Days later, upon rumours that Ferguson would be interested in taking the Spaniard to Old Trafford, Hodgson weakly argued that he was “not naive enough to think there is no danger we’ll ever lose Torres.” The fact that he issued the sort of strong “hands-off” statement a week later regarding keeper Pepe Reina which he didn’t afford to Torres gave the impression that Roy had learnt, albeit too late, about what it meant to be a manager at Anfield.

A month later, however, Liverpool were defeated 2-0 by Everton in the Merseyside Derby in a game which could easily have seen the Reds lose more heavily had their Blue rivals not taken the foot off the gas towards the end of the game. Following this match, which many people agreed was an atrocious performance, Hodgson then went on to say that “the way we played was as good as I’ve seen us play this season. I can’t have any qualms with my players”. So not only had the fans been questioning Hodgson’s tactical nous and personal character he made perhaps the ultimate guffaw when publicly stating that he got no support from his owns fans. Even if that was the man’s private view he should never have made those thoughts public if he had any serious ambition to remain at the helm full-time. Liverpool fans had never chanted Hodgson’s name in his time there other than to sarcastically claim that he should become England coach whilst, in the last few months, chanting the name of club legend Kenny Dalglish to take over in the dug out.

Kenny Dalglish

Kenny Dalglish is back in the Liverpool hot seat for the second time

And so those fans finally get their wish. Kenny Dalglish was announced this morning as the man to take charge of the club until the end of the season starting with a very important FA Cup 3rd round tie away to Manchester United tomorrow afternoon. There is some opinion, with which I have some sympathy, that to go back to Dalglish is a sign that the club keeps harping back to the past. If Liverpool’s fortunes didn’t significantly improve under Dalglish by the end of the season then it may reduce his stock somewhat at the club which is something the fans wouldn’t want to contemplate. On the other hand the realpolitik of the situation is that there is nobody in the right mind who would take over the club at the moment due to it becoming a poisoned chalice. Rafael Benitez, though he did some good at the club in his early days, has to shoulder some of the blame having left the team outside of the top four and leaving a squad which wasn’t as strong as it should’ve been given the large amounts of money he spent. Hodgson was merely a man who, nice though he is, could never bring it back to the heights that this esteemed institution aspires to. Dalglish, having won so much already as a player and coach at Anfield, knows exactly what it takes to succeed but this time it is very different. When he first took charge in the 1985-86 season Liverpool was the dominant force in the English game and had been for some considerable time. He now takes charge when Liverpool are arguably not even the dominant force on Merseyside as the table presently stands.

Nevertheless with the cup game against United followed by two league games against Blackpool and the second league derby of the season against Everton to come perhaps these are just the sort of games Dalglish needs to make a mark on the club and to start showing signs that it can, however slowly, start again in meeting the expectations and ambitions that people such as himself have helped create for the club over the decades.

Away Days: Liverpool v Blackburn Rovers

Posted in Away Days, UK Football by peterbein on October 25, 2010

Having lamented Liverpool’s woeful start to the 2010-11 Barclays Premier League season Stoppage Time – International Football Blog went back to Anfield yesterday for what proved to be a crucial three points won for the Reds.

I wrote a report for this section of the blog towards the end of last season regarding Liverpool’s UEFA Europa League quarter-final, 2nd leg against Lille OSC. The situation at that time seemed to most Liverpool fans like a desperate one: sixth in the league, fighting for a ‘mere’ UEFA Europa League place rather than the UEFA Champions League spot they’d grown accustomed to in recent years and out of both domestic cup competitions by January. With the ending of the Rafael Benítez era at the end of last season came the reality that the club were in transition and that the successes of previous years were becoming a distant memory after a fourth trophyless season. Roy Hodgson has since taken over the club and has hardly endeared himself to his new club’s supporters in recent weeks. After a start to the season which saw only one win (1-0 against West Bromwich Albion) in the first eight league games, the club lying in the bottom three and already knocked out of the League Cup against 4th tier side Northampton Town, the time had come for Liverpool to stand up and be counted.

Thankfully the recent ownership issue, in which Liverpool fans had set out to rid the club of their previous owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, had finally passed and yesterday was the first home match under new owners. New England Sports Ventures had taken control prior to last weekend’s Merseyside derby defeat away to Everton and were hopeful that their first home game would bring about the win needed to start things afresh. Before the game there was a surprise live performance of the club’s anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone” by the one and only Gerry Marsden, the only sad thing for me personally was that the backing track over which Marsden sang sounded like a home karaoke system. Nonetheless the great man was still able to do the song  justice and its conclusion signalled the beginning of the game.

The first half saw Liverpool create numerous chances but Blackburn’s goalkeeper Paul Robinson was showing some of the form which once made him England’s number one. Having gone in at half-time with the game goalless Rovers would’ve been satisfied that their game plan of trying to frustrate the home side seemed to be working. However it only took two minutes after the interval for the deadlock to be broken when Sotirios Kyrgiakos scored his second goal of the season getting on the end of a Steven Gerrard corner. The big Greek has started to chip in with the odd goal just like the club’s former centre-half Sami Hyypiä used to do and his personal performances have looked more consistent in recent weeks. Unfortunately for Liverpool they let the lead slip just a couple of minutes later when former player El-Hadji Diouf, not the most popular person at Anfield yesterday and constantly booed whenever he touched the ball, did his bit to silence the home fans after his shot was deflected in by Jamie Carragher. It seemed yet another ominous sign that Liverpool would prove to be their own worst enemies when faced with pressure but this time, rather than let their heads drop, they went up the other end and scored once more in the 53rd minute. Fernando Torres, whose only other league goal this season came in Liverpool’s previous win against West Brom, would score the winning goal against Blackburn and the relief in the crowd was huge, not only because Liverpool had re-taken the lead but because the popular Spanish striker was once again on the score sheet after a recent loss of form.

There were no further goals and it was surprising that Blackburn Rovers hadn’t taken the game more to their opponents especially as they had the comfort of knowing that a Liverpool victory still wouldn’t see the Reds climb above Rovers in the table just yet. Liverpool now have nine points after nine games, the same as Blackburn, but Rovers remain in 17th position (one above Liverpool) due to a better goal difference. Nonetheless for Liverpool yesterday it was about getting back on track and it seemed that Anfield was a happy place to be once more.

England: Carling defeats mean no end to Mersey hangover

Posted in UK Football by peterbein on September 23, 2010
Liverpool FC

Liverpool's defeat to Northampton Town was the biggest shock in the 3rd round

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse for Merseyside football it did. Much to the disappointment of loyal followers of Red and Blue everywhere the teams of Liverpool and Everton are not only struggling in the Premier League but have been knocked out of the Carling (League) Cup at the third round stage. Stoppage Time – International Football Blog reviews the situation.

In a third round which saw the likes of Chelsea FC, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City suffer early exits it was the two Merseyside clubs that suffered most. At least the aforementioned trio of clubs can claim to have been shown the door by fellow Premier League sides – by Newcastle United, Arsenal FC and West Bromwich Albion – whereas Liverpool and Everton were subject to penalty shoot-out losses at the hands of Northampton Town (4th tier) and Brentford (3rd tier) respectively.

These things do happen in football and even the biggest clubs have been known to be on the receiving end of an embarrassing defeat from time to time. What makes this so disastrous for the two giants of Merseyside football is that both clubs had pre-season plans to fight for the top four in the league and embark on a decent cup run. After five games of the English Premier League so far both teams share just one win between them (Liverpool’s slender 1-0 victory over West Bromwich Albion) and lie at the wrong end of the standings. Liverpool have had a tough start which has seen them drop two points late on against Arsenal on the opening day of the 2010-11 campaign before going down to subsequent losses to both Manchester clubs (a bitter pill to swallow if ever there was one). This sees the club lying in 16th place with just five points from a possible fifteen. For Everton, however, the current scenario is even worse having only secured two points from five games. One of those was an unlikely one against Manchester United when the Toffees were 3-1 down with minutes to play and somehow seized a 3-3 draw in stoppage time. This spell at the beginning of the new campaign means that the Blues have made their worse start to a season for 16 years. When thoughts turned to the possibilities of winning trophies before the season started I don’t think their fans wanted to settle for the “Copa del Everton”, a game in which the Blues beat their South American namesakes from Chile during the pre-season campaign.

Brentford FC

Brentford players celebrate their penalty shoot-out win over Everton FC

So having started the league campaign badly it was imperative that both teams at least progressed to the fourth round of the League Cup in order to provide a much needed boost to each other’s confidence. Sadly the demise continued on Tuesday as Everton went to Griffin Park, the home of Brentford FC, and were made to pay for some wasteful finishing. Initially the Blues had started well with Seamus Coleman putting Everton in front after just six minutes but the League One side restored parity four minutes before the break thanks to Gary Alexander. Brentford could even have avoided the lottery of a penalty shoot-out by converting from the spot in normal time but Charlie MacDonald’s second half penalty kick was saved which brought about the extra thirty minutes and the shoot-out. For Brentford fans it was a famous victory although allegations from Everton coach David Moyes that one of the home team’s supporters threw a bottle towards the Everton end during the post-match pitch invasion could mar what was a fantastic victory.

That did appear to be the biggest shock of the round until their neighbours from across Stanley Park decided that they were going to put in a performance against Northampton Town that was every bit as wet as the weather on a very rainy evening at Anfield. Like the Blues on Tuesday it all started off so well for the Reds when new signing Milan Jovanović put Liverpool ahead after just nine minutes but the players then became sluggish and appeared disengaged as the Northampton team gained confidence gradually as the match went on. They got their reward in the 56th minute when Billy McKay allowed the League Two side the chance to dream of a famous night and when extra-time came around it would’ve been easy to write them off imagining that they would get tired legs as time wore on but there wasn’t a bit of it. Northampton took the lead thanks to Michael Jacobs’ close-range effort in front of a stunned Kop only for David Ngog to equalize at the same end in the second half of extra-time. With Liverpool’s proud history in penalty shoot-outs it was they who were favourites to scrape through especially as the shoot-out took place in front of the Kop. Northampton even missed their first penalty to help out the hosts but Liverpool were still unable to take advantage as David Ngog shot one of the worst penalties ever taken at Anfield well wide and the initiative went back to the visitors. Both teams exchanged successful kicks before Nathan Eccleston hit the bar with Liverpool’s fourth penalty so it was then up to Abdul Osman to make a name for himself and he did so with great aplomb to stun Anfield into silence. The performance was so bad that coach Roy Hodgson apologized for it immediately after the game.

So what next? The Merseyside Derby is played on October 17th and each team plays two league matches before the big one. Liverpool at least have the comfort of playing two home matches but their opponents of Sunderland and Blackpool should not be taken lightly. Sunderland are led by former Manchester United defender Steve Bruce who has a good record as a coach against the Reds while Blackpool have an attacking style of play under their coach Ian Holloway who will use the underdog status as a motivational tool to his players before their short trip to Anfield. Everton, on the other hand, face difficult away trips to Fulham FC, where they’ve only won once since the Premier League began, and to Birmingham City who have lost only two games in the last twelve months at their St Andrews home. For teams who had trophy winning ambitions before the season neither can predict where their next three points will come from at the moment. With the strength in depth of each squad I would bet on both teams’ fortunes improving sooner rather than later but before then a much needed dose of realpolitik is in order before they can start dreaming of silverware and something that’s a bit stronger than Carling to drink.

Europe: Derby Days Preview

Posted in European Football by peterbein on September 18, 2010
Stadion De Kuip

Feyenoord's De Kuip Stadion plays host to Sunday's Klassieker

The word “Superclásico” has come into footballing lexicon in recent years as a way of describing those games which are amongst the biggest and most widely anticipated in world football. Sunday sees five such encounters taking place all over Europe and Stoppage Time – International Football Blog previews them all here (all times given are local):

FEYENOORD ROTTERDAM v AJAX AMSTERDAM (12:30)

A repeat of last season’s KNVB Beker (Dutch Cup) final, these two oldest and bitterest of enemies meet again in the first Klassieker of the new season. Home team Feyenoord last won this fixture in the 2005-06 season and their success starved supporters will feel that a victory over Ajax is long overdue. They start the game in eighth place, six points behind Martin Jol’s Ajax who, in turn, lie in joint second place with PSV Eindhoven and have the chance to go top of the table this weekend. Ajax have won five out of the last eight matches between the two sides in the Eredivisie and are favourites to win again on Sunday.

MANCHESTER UNITED v LIVERPOOL (13:30)

The most decorated fixture in English football takes place at Old Trafford with both clubs experiencing different fortunes. Manchester United are in third place and unbeaten in the 2010-11 season so far going into this game whilst Liverpool, under new coach Roy Hodgson, have had some teething problems and have only won one of their four matches and lie in 16th place before kick-off. Manchester United still has the whip hand in this fixture having won 59 games to 52 with 43 draws (league game stats only) but Liverpool’s recent record against United is pretty good having won three of the last four matches. The odds, though, are certainly more favourable towards the Red Devils with United expected to gain all three points.

SCHALKE 04 v BORUSSIA DORTMUND (17:30)

Die Königsblauen (Royal Blues) of Schalke 04 have caused controversy ahead of this game by significantly raising prices for visiting Borussia Dortmund fans who, in turn, have threatened to boycott the game in large numbers in protest. On the pitch Dortmund are in good form and have won two of their three Bundesliga matches so far in stark contrast to Schalke 04 who have lost all three of their matches and lie rooted to the bottom of the table. The head-to-head record between these two arch-rivals is close with just one Schalke win (27 wins) separating them from Dortmund (26) and it’s the Gelsenkirchen club who have had the better of it in recent times with six wins in the most recent ten league matches, die Schwarzgelben (Yellow and Blacks) from Dortmund last winning in 2007.

S04 - BVB
Schalke 04 v Borussia Dortmund is Germany’s biggest derby

FENERBAHÇE v BEŞIKTAŞ (19:00)

OK, so many people would argue that the true Superclásico of Turkish football is the game between Fener and Galatasaray but the statistics show that games involving Beşiktaş are every bit as important as those involving the original Big Two. Beşiktaş go into Sunday’s game three points better off having won three and lost one of their four games thus far in the Süper Lig whilst Fenerbahçe have won two and lost two. In recent years honours have been even in these games with each team winning one each in the last two seasons but the picture overall favours Fener who have won 122 of the 326 matches between them (all competitions) with Beşiktaş just three wins behind.

SPORTING v SL BENFICA (21:15)

Champions Benfica have struggled domestically this season with just one win and three defeats in their first four matches of the new campaign whilst local rivals Sporting lie in sixth place with seven points. The head-to-head record between these arch local rivals – despite FC Porto’s recent dominance this is still regarded as the biggest derby fixture in Portugal – goes in Benfica’s favour with 168 wins in 401 official matches (all competitions) compared to 153 for Sporting. Last season Benfica got four points from the two league derbies whilst Sporting last had the better of this fixture in 2005-06 when they did the ‘double’ over the Águias (Eagles).

FCK v Brøndby

FC København play Brøndby IF in the New Firm derby on Sunday

Two more important league derbies which take place on Sunday but are not quite of Superclásico status involve the derby of Hamburg between newly-promoted St Pauli and the traditional giants of the city Hamburger SV (kick-off 15:30) whilst across the border in Denmark an important derby in the capital city of Copenhagen sees the defending SAS Superliga champions FC København take on arguably the country’s most famous club Brøndby IF (kick-off 18:00). St Pauli won their opening match of the new Bundesliga campaign away in Freiburg but have lost both their subsequent games whilst HSV hope to jump into second place with a win against their local rivals from the local district of the same name. In Denmark the New Firm take centre stage with Brøndby IF needing a win away from home to stay in touch with their neighbours FC København who come back to domestic action following their 1-0 home win over Russian champions Rubin Kazan in the UEFA Champions League.

Heysel: 25 Years On

Posted in European Football, UK Football by peterbein on May 29, 2010
Heysel Stadium

The Heysel stadium disaster is one of the worst ever in football history

Wednesday May 29th, 1985 is one of the saddest days in footballing history. Only moments before the European Cup final between Liverpool FC and Juventus FC there had been fighting both inside and outside the stadium and the situation was already so bad that the police in Heysel stadium, in the Belgian capital of Brussels, had already lost control. But even worse was to come when a retaining wall collapsed under the pressure of fans trying to escape from a charge by Liverpool supporters and thirty nine people, most of whom were Italian, died in tragic and unnecessary circumstances. Twenty five years on and the pain and angst of the tragedy is still very fresh in many people’s minds and it is fitting that in the cities of Brussels, Turin and Liverpool today, and in the past few days, there have been memorials to those who died on that fatal night.

As somebody who was a little under six years old at the time of the tragedy my personal memories of it are not the freshest as, at the time, I was too young to both understand and take in the pictures that I was watchng on the television that evening. One minute I remember both of the teams lining up on the pitch waiting to play as if nothing had happened. The next minute I remember Michel Platini scoring the penalty kick which gave Juventus FC a maiden European Cup win. But the football was always secondary to those events off the pitch which came to overshadow anything of mere sporting trivia. As a result English clubs were banned from participation in European club football competition for five years, with an additional one year for Liverpool FC, and the authorities all over the continent had to get a grip of the very real problem of hooliganism.

Since then there have been attempts from people at both clubs, whether it be players or supporters, to try and build bridges between them. Of course there will be people from Juventus who will never come to terms with what happened at Heysel and that is human nature. One can only hope that, whilst accepting that relationships between the fans of the two clubs will always be far from perfect, lessons from that fatal evening will be learnt and it seems that Liverpool Football Club are gradually beginning to come to terms with the part played by their supporters that night. With the club having also suffered further tragedy at Hillsbrough stadium in Sheffield four years after Heysel perhaps it was always easier to play the role of victim rather than accept the role of aggressor which the club had never publicly acknowledged too often until recent years. The UEFA Champions League quarter-final first leg match played at Anfield stadium on Tuesday, April 5th 2005 between Liverpool FC and Juventus FC did bring the subject back into people’s consciousness as it was the first time since Heysel that the two teams had played against each other in a major football match. The reaction of Juventus fans in the stadium was mixed, some applauding the efforts made by Liverpool Football club to display banners and symbols of reconciliation for what had happened twenty years earlier. However there was also a significant number of supporters who turned their back and gave a one fingered salute and made it clear that they would neither forgive nor forget.

Nonetheless the first signs of public goodwill by the clubs themselves was a helpful first step towards bringing about improved relations between two clubs whose shared history will always be synonymous with this terrible tragedy. Today has seen memorial servies held in Turin, with officials from both clubs and UEFA President Michel Platini present, and Brussels, the city of the tragedy. In Liverpool there was a presentation on Thursday at Anfield stadium of a permanent memorial to those who died at Heysel unveiled by former Liverpool captain Phil Neal and former Juventus player Sergio Brio and today the bells of the city’s town hall rang thirty nine times, once for every person who died, as a mark of respect. “Stoppage Time – International Football Blog” also wishes to pay its respects to the thirty nine who died at Heysel stadium and lists them all here:

  • Rocco Acerra
  • Bruno Balli
  • Alfons Bos
  • Giancarlo Bruschera
  • Andrea Casula
  • Giovanni Casula
  • Nino Cerullo
  • Willy Chielens
  • Giuseppina Conto
  • Dirk Daenecky
  • Dionisio Fabbro
  • Jacques François
  • Eugenio Gagliano
  • Francesco Galli
  • Giancarlo Gonnelli
  • Alberto Guarini
  • Giovacchino Landini
  • Roberto Lorentini
  • Barbara Lusci
  • Franco Martelli
  • Loris Messore
  • Gianni Mastroiaco
  • Sergio Bastino Mazzino
  • Luciano Rocco Papaluca
  • Luigi Pidone
  • Benito Pistolato
  • Patrick Radcliffe
  • Domenico Ragazzi
  • Antonio Ragnanese
  • Claude Robert
  • Mario Ronchi
  • Domenico Russo
  • Tarcisio Salvi
  • Gianfranco Sarto
  • Amedeo Giuseppe Spolaore
  • Mario Spanu
  • Tarcisio Venturin
  • Jean Michel Walla
  • Claudio Zavaroni

UEFA Europa League: Semi-Final Preview

Posted in European Football by peterbein on April 21, 2010
Roy Hodgson

Fulham FC coach Roy Hodgson has had plenty to smile about in the UEFA Europa League this season.

The semi-finals of the UEFA Europa League are approaching this Thursday with two very intriging ties. Liverpool FC, thrice winners of the old UEFA Cup, have made the journey to the Spanish capital and are ready to face battle against Club Atlético de Madrid. Meanwhile surprise outfit Fulham FC, who have had some glory European nights this season, will hope to add Hamburger SV to the list of high-profile scalps and, thus, deny the German side a place in the final to be played at their home stadium on Wednesday, May 12th. “Stoppage Time – International Football Blog” previews the last four:

HAMBURGER SV (Germany) v FULHAM FC (England)

Will the fairy tale ever come to an end for Fulham FC? All fans of the Cottagers will be hoping that they’ll be returning to the northern German port of Hamburg for the inaugural UEFA Europa League final next month. Roy Hodgson’s men will be hoping that their defeat of another German club, VfL Wolfsburg, in the quarter-finals will prove to be a good omen. Hamburger SV, on the other hand, are determined to salvage something from what is fast becoming yet another disappointing season. Their fans have high expectations that the club can go one better than last season, when they were knocked out of the UEFA Cup semi-finals to northern rivals Werder Bremen, and are desperate to lift the trophy on home soil.

Having already disposed of last season’s UEFA Cup winners Shakhtar Donetsk, Italian giants Juventus FC and German champions VfL Wolfsburg in the knock-out rounds of the competition Fulham FC face another mammoth task in the form of HSV. Domestically Fulham FC are unbeaten in their last three games with a 2-1 win over Wigan Athletic and two goalless draws against fellow Europa League semi-finalists Liverpool FC and relegation threatened Wolverhampton Wanderers. On the European stage Fulham continue to surprise having overcome the challenge of VfL Wolfsburg in the last round. The first leg at Craven Cottage saw the London side score two goals in the space of three minutes around the hour mark thanks to Bobby Zamora and Damien Duff before the Germans pulled one back with just one minute of regular time to go thanks to a powerful header from Alexander Madlung. For Fulham the disappointment of conceding late in the first match, however, was counterbalanced by the euphoria of scoring early in the second. Bobby Zamora added to his tally of goals after just sixty seconds to seal another famous win for Fulham.

Hamburger SV have stuttered under coach Bruno Labbadia as the season has progressed and there are reports that many of the players in the team have lost faith in him. Despite this the club have reserved their best performances for the UEFA Europa League, no doubt hoping to satisfy the levels of expectation before their home public to reach the final in May. Domestically it has been mixed form in recent weeks for HSV who drew 0-0 at home to struggling Hannover 96 before beating VfL Bochum 2-1 and losing their most recent league game at home to 1.FSV Mainz 05 by a goal to nil. However the Hanseaten secured a priceless couple of wins in the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals against Belgians Standard de Liège. Having gone behind at home in the first leg HSV came back with two quickfire goals before half-time thanks to Mladen Petrić and Ruud van Nistelrooy to take a 2-1 lead into the second leg. Croatian intenational Petrić scored twice in the first half to increase HSV’s lead before his replacement as substitute Paulo Guerrero sealed the deal to give the Germans a 5-2 aggregate victory to take them one step closer to a first European final since they beat Juventus FC in the former European Champions Cup in 1983.

Diego Forlan

Diego Forlán scores against Valencia CF in the quarter-finals to take Atlético de Madrid through on away goals

CLUB ATLÉTICO de MADRID (Spain) v LIVERPOOL FC (England)

This game should’ve heralded the return of former Atleti hero Fernando Torres to his old club but, unfortunately for Liverpool, he has been told that his season is over due to the extent of a knee injury which he picked up in the last round against SL Benfica. Nonetheless this game will be interesting as it will test the energy of the Liverpool squad who have had to travel to the Spanish capital using various methods of transport due to the aviation crisis that has affected Europe in the last week since a certain Icelandic volcano erupted.

Los Colchoneros still have hopes of reaching a second cup final this season having already secured their place in the Copa del Rey against Sevilla FC to be played at the home of arch-rivals Real Madrid CF on May 25th. Unfortunately for Atlético they have taken their eye off the ball in La Liga recently having lost their last three matches against RCD Espanyol, Deportivo Xerez and Villarreal CF as they attempt to juggle the demands of three different competitions. In the quarter-finals Atleti secured a 2-2 draw away at Spanish rivals Valencia CF thanks to goals from Diego Forlán and Antonio López and rode their luck in the second leg where they held out for a 0-0 draw to go through on away goals.

Liverpool FC’s troubles have been highlighted by many this season but in the UEFA Europa League they seem to have found a competition in which they’ve impressed many. The club still harbour slight hopes of qualifying for next season’s UEFA Champions League but this looks unlikely as the Reds are still five points behind fourth-place Tottenham Hotspur having played a game more. Their last three Premier League games have included two draws against Fulham FC and Birmingham FC but they did easily see off the challenge of struggling West Ham United on Monday with an easy 3-0 win. In the Europa League quarter-finals two penalties from Portuguese league leaders SL Benfica coupled with a red card for Ryan Babel saw Liverpool go into the second leg trailing 2-1, an early Daniel Agger goal keeping the Reds close. In the second leg Liverpool were cruising with a 3-0 lead on the hour mark thanks to goals from Dirk Kuijt, Lucas and Fernando Torres before Oscar Cardozo made life slightly uncomfortable for the home side when pulling a goal back on 70 minutes. But Liverpool’s passage to the final four was sealed when Fernando Torres scored his second goal of the night to give the Reds a 5-3 aggregate win.

UEFA Europa League: Quarter-Final Preview

Posted in European Football by peterbein on March 31, 2010
Benfica

Benfica beat Everton FC in the group stage. Now they aim to beat Merseyside's other team Liverpool FC in the quarter-finals

The UEFA Europa League, like its counterpart Champions League, has reached the last eight of the competition and “Stoppage Time – International Football Blog” previews the matches ahead:

SL BENFICA (Portugal) v LIVERPOOL FC (England)

Although they are seen as favourites to win this game Liverpool FC had better beware the very real challenge from the Portuguese giants of SL Benfica. After all, the last time these two European heavyweights met on the continental stage saw the Eagles of Lisbon turn over the then defending holders 3-0 in the Round of 16 of the 2005-06 UEFA Champions League. In the last round Liverpool FC came back from a 1-0 first leg deficit to dispose of French outift Lille OSC 3-1 on aggregate. Benfica had it tougher against another French side, 2003-04 UEFA Cup finalists Olympique de Marseille, who they beat 3-2 on aggregate thanks to a last-minute winner from Alan Kardec in the intimidating Stade Vélodrome. Since qualification Benfica have savoured domestic cup success defeating arch-rivals FC Porto in the Portuguese League Cup final and then consolidating their lead in the Liga Sagres by beating nearest challengers Sporting Braga. Liverpool, on the other hand, suffered defeat at the hands of their arch-rivals Manchester United before seeing off the challenge of a weak Sunderland AFC team in their latest outing at Anfield.

VALENCIA CF (Spain) v ATLÉTICO de MADRID (Spain)

All fans of Madrid’s “other” team Atlético are rejoicing in the fact they are the only side from Spain’s capital city who have a real chance of winning two trophies this season whilst their local neighbours Real Madrid CF ‘only’ have to contend with fighting it out with FC Barcelona for the La Liga title. However Valencia CF have a good recent record in European competition including the famous triumph over Olympique de Marseille in the 2003-04 UEFA Cup final and are seven places higher than Atleti in La Liga. Valencia are in third position in the Spanish League but have no chance of winning it as they are a distant 21 points behind the top two and are hoping for the only remaining silverware available to them. Both of these teams won their Round of 16 matches on away goals, Valencia CF were involved in arguably the tie of the round having drawn 4-4 away to German giants Werder Bremen after the first leg in Valencia had ended 1-1. Atlético were perhaps a tad lucky to emerge from the first leg with a 0-0 draw after Sporting Lisbon had the better chances. There was no arguing with Atleti’s second leg performance though as they took the lead twice before holding out for a 2-2 away draw in Portugal. Since qualification both teams have mixed records of a win and a defeat in La Liga.

Uwe Seeler

German football legend Uwe Seeler may have given his beloved HSV a good draw

HAMBURGER SV (Germany) v STANDARD LIEGE (Belgium)

German football legend Uwe Seeler, known affectionately by the Hamburg locals as “Uns Uwe” (Our Uwe), may have had some luck on his side when he picked the balls out of the draw for the UEFA Europa League in Nyon. Many people feel that HSV have a real chance of reaching the final in their home Volksparkstadion stadium but this would be to underestimate the potential of defending Belgian champions Standard Liège who now only have the Europa League to play for after failing to qualify for the Belgian Jupiler League championship play-offs recently. The fact that Standard have, like HSV, saved some of their better performances for European games doesn’t seem to have registered on many fans’ minds yet and Les Rouches (The Reds) seem more than capable of upsetting the odds on their day. In the Round of 16 they comfortably defeated a Panathinaikos side who had shocked Europe by knocking out Italian heavyweights AS Roma in the previous round. Hamburger SV have also had it tough against Belgian opposition in this tournament scraping through the last round against Belgian Jupiler League leaders RSC Anderlecht by the odd goal in eleven. Since qualification both teams domestic fortunes have not been too good. HSV have lost their last two games against Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Borussia Mönchengladbach whilst Standard’s Belgian League odyssey now rests with participation in the play-offs for a 2010-11 UEFA Europa League place which is available to those teams that finished from 7th-14th after the regular season.

FULHAM FC (England) v VfL WOLFSBURG (Germany)

Perhaps the biggest surprise in UEFA Europa League this season was Fulham FC’s magnificent fightback in the Round of 16, 2nd leg against Italian giants Juventus FC where they came back from a 4-1 aggregate deficit early in the second leg to defeat the three-time winners of this tournament 5-4 with Clint Dempsey writing himself into Fulham FC folklore with a beautifully chipped goal in the dying minutes of the game. Since then Fulham’s form on the domestic stage has been dreadful having lost back-to-back league games against Manchester City and Hull City as well as suffering FA Cup misery away at Tottenham Hotspur. Defending German champions VfL Wolfsburg have endured a roller coaster ride throughout the season with many an up-and-down feeling as the season has progressed. Die Wölfe (The Wolves) needed extra-time to get past the Russian champions Rubin Kazan in the last round with Christian Gentner scoring a dramatic last-minute winner but this had an immediate effect on their domestic form going down 5-1 at home to Hertha BSC Berlin who have been in last place practically all season. Wolfsburg did recover to win their most recent league match against 1.FSV Mainz by two goals to nil.

UEFA Europa League Quarter-Finals (team on left at home first)

SL Benfica v Liverpool FC

Valencia CF v Atlético de Madrid

Hamburger SV v Standard de Liège

Fulham FC v VfL Wolfsburg

All games to be played on April 1st and April 8th

UEFA: Who will win the UEFA Europa League 2010? (Poll)

Posted in European Football by peterbein on March 19, 2010

The draw for the quarter-finals and semi-finals of the UEFA Europa League has been made today in Nyon, Switzerland. There are some very interesting ties to come in the remainder of the competition. Below we have listed all of the ties to come in the rest of the tournament and we have given you a chance to vote on who you think will win the trophy in Hamburg’s Volksparkstadion on Wednesday, May 12:

QUARTER-FINALS (1st leg 01 April; 2nd leg 08 April)

1. FULHAM FC (England) v VfL WOLFSBURG (Germany)

2. HAMBURGER SV (Germany) v STANDARD de LIEGE (Belgium)

3. VALENCIA CF (Spain) v ATLÉTICO de MADRID (Spain)

4. SL BENFICA (Portugal) v LIVERPOOL FC (England)

SEMI-FINALS (1st leg 22 April; 2nd leg 29 April)

5. Winner Match 2 v Winner Match 1

6. Winner Match 3 v Winner Match 4

FINAL (Wednesday, May 12)

7. Winner Match 6 v Winner Match 5

UEFA Europa League trophy

UEFA Europa League trophy