Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

La Liga – Have Atlético Madrid finally turned the corner?

Posted in European Football by peterbein on January 18, 2010

Antonio Lopez scored the winner for Atleti in their 2-1 victory against Sevilla on Matchday 16

Finally there are positive things to say about Club Atlético de Madrid, a club whose consistency comes from their inconsistency both on and off the pitch. Whether it be sacking coaches only weeks after assuring them of their future in the job or beating big teams following defeats from smaller teams, Atlético have always made life difficult for themselves and this season has been no exception. However Quique Sánchez Flores, the latest man at the helm at the Estadio Vicente Calderón following Abel Resino’s dismissal in late October, has gone about his job in understated fashion and has seen his charges finally start to deliver results since the beginning of the new year, winning four out of  five league and cup games.

To say that Atlético were a laughing stock at the beginning of the season is an understatement. Los Rojiblancos (Red and Whites) failed to win any of their first five matches, which included a 5-2 defeat at the Camp Nou against champions FC Barcelona (some optimists claimed that this was progress after Barça hammered them 6-1 the season before). After their first win of the season against Zaragoza in early October the club embarked on a winless streak for another five games, taking just one point from fifteen. That point came against a Mallorca team reduced to nine men who scored the equaliser in the last minute of the game! Back-to-back wins against RCD Espanyol (4-0) and bottom club Xerez (2-0) was temporary respite before ending 2009 on a low note taking one point from the last two games against Villarreal (1-2) and Tenerife (1-1). The club’s poor league form was magnified upon the European stage, the lowest night of the UEFA Champions League campaign coming at Stamford Bridge where a 4-0 defeat against Chelsea FC saw the end of Resino’s reign. Atlético scraped through to the UEFA Europa League on goal difference by virtue of a better head-to-head record against Cypriot side APOEL Nicosia but the very least that can be said for Atleti at this time was that they secured further European participation after the winter break.

On paper it seemed as though the new year would continue in the same vein as their first game of 2010 pitted them against Champions League hopefuls Sevilla. However it was Atleti who finally got some last minute fortune, Antonio Lopez (pictured) scoring at the death to secure a much needed 2-1 win. However the first leg match in the Copa del Rey 1/16 round saw the expected fall for Atleti as they went down 3-0 to second division side Recreativo de Huelva. Despite this setback Atlético resumed league action and went about their business away to Valladolid in splendid fashion winning 4-0 including a “golazo” from much maligned winger José Antonio Reyes, whose first Spanish league goal in two years was an absolute beauty from long range. Following that was the second leg of their Copa del Rey encounter with Recreativo. Atlético Madrid had cancelled out their three goal deficit from the first leg by half-time. They took a 4-0 lead on the night thanks to star man Sergio “Kun” Agüero but then proceeded to give away their advantage when conceding an away goal with just twenty minutes to go. However Atleti found some inner strength which had been lacking throughout the season after Simão scored his second of the night with a well executed free-kick. An exciting match concluded with Atleti clawing through 5-4 on aggregate.

And so to yesterday’s game where Atleti’s opponents Sporting Gijón were starting the match in ninth position, four points ahead of their hosts in the table so a close game was expected. Diego Forlán gave Atleti the lead on 12 minutes after being put through by Kun Agüero but the visitors restored parity on 34 minutes. Goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo brought down Diego Castro who promptly got up to score from twelve yards out (or eleven metres if you prefer). In the second half Atleti played with purpose and were rewarded with two further strikes from Paulo Assunção (52 minutes) and Ibrahima Baldé (65′), both of whom scoring their first goals for the club. Despite a late scare from Luis Morán, who pulled one back for Sporting in the last minute, the Rojiblancos held out for their third successive league victory.

Having occupied the relegation zone for parts of the season Atlético Madrid have now climbed up to 11th in the championship table and now have ambitions of qualifying for Europe next season lying seven points behind sixth-placed Sevilla, who occupy the second UEFA Europa League spot via the league. With a Copa del Rey quarter-final against Celta de Vigo and a Europa League 1/32 round tie against Turkish giants Galatasaray to look forward to, it seems that Atlético’s season is really just beginning. But, such is life, one really has to take things one game at a time especially at a club as unpredictable as Atleti. All Rojiblancos will be hoping that Atlético have finally turned the corner….

Champions League – Group Stage Round-Up: Part One

Posted in European Football by peterbein on December 9, 2009
Louis Van Gaal

Can Louis van Gaal win the Champions League again?

This week sees the conclusion of the group stages in the UEFA Champions League. “Stoppage Time” takes a look back at how each group has shaped up, starting with groups A-D today, followed by groups E-H tomorrow:

GROUP A (BORDEAUX, BAYERN MUNICH, JUVENTUS, MACCABI HAIFA)

Bordeaux surprised the pundits with a near faultless performance in group A. “Les Girondins” only dropped two points away at Juventus on Matchday 1 leaving the traditional big boys “Juve” and FC Bayern to fight it out for second place. During the campaign it seemed as if Bayern’s domestic troubles were going to destroy their European ambitions and, with two matchdays to go, Juve seemed to be going through. However the four time European champions from Bavaria still had a chance on Matchday 6, all they had to do was beat Juventus away in Turin. What seemed a tough task proved, ultimately, to be a stroll in the park for Louis van Gaal’s men as they won 4-1 including a penalty goal from Bayern keeper Hans-Jörg Butt. Juventus are now confined to the Europa League whilst Israeli champions Maccabi Haifa couldn’t even score a goal in the whole group stage and, unsurprisingly, remained pointless after six games.

GROUP B (MANCHESTER UNITED, CSKA MOSCOW, VfL WOLFSBURG, BESIKTAS)

As expected Manchester United topped the group in comfortable fashion. CSKA Moscow claimed the second place after a 2-1 success away in Istanbul against Besiktas on Matchday 6. The celebrations were dampened somewhat by the news that two of their players, Alexei Berezutsky and Sergei Ignashevich, were tested positive for banned substances. However UEFA has decided to punish the players rather than the club for what officals of CSKA Moscow called “a clerical error”.  German champions VfL Wolfsburg had a good maiden campaign in Europe’s elite class with Edin Džeko attracting the notice of some of Europe’s biggest clubs with some good performances, most notably against Manchester United at Old Trafford. Besiktas were struggling from the start but a consolation win over Manchester United in Matchday 5 proved to be their only highlight. With players such as Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen showing glimpses of their best “ManU” finished with 13 points at the top of the group with CSKA three points behind. Wolfsburg’s European campaign will continue in the Europa League whilst Besiktas have to revert back to the travails of domestic football.

GROUP C (REAL MADRID, AC MILAN, OLYMPIQUE MARSEILLE, FC ZÜRICH)

Before a ball was kicked in this group virtually everybody had tipped Real Madrid and AC Milan, two clubs with sixteen European Cups before them, to qualify for the Round of 16 and so it was proved. The only real blip which the Spanish side suffered was their 3-2 home defeat by the Italian giants on Matchday 3. FC Zürich had their moments too, a 1-0 defeat of AC Milan in the San Siro on Matchday 2 had their fans dreaming of further glory. Sadly for the Swiss champions their double header against Marseille proved disappointing and effectively knocked them out of the competition. On Matchday 6 Marseille still had a chance of progressing but they had to defeat Real Madrid, who were already through, at home and hope Milan dropped points in Zürich. The latter scenario happened as Milan could only manage a 1-1 draw but Cristiano Ronaldo was in scintillating form for Real Madrid scoring twice in a 3-1 win at Stade Vélodrome to send Marseille into the Europa League.

GROUP D (CHELSEA FC, FC PORTO, ATLÉTICO DE MADRID, APOEL NICOSIA)

Chelsea and FC Porto were clearly the two best sides in the group easily seeing off a poor Atleti and a weak APOEL team although the Cypriots were far from expected to qualify for the last 16. Chelsea’s two matches against FC Porto determined the top two placings with the London club winning 1-0 home and away. This was the difference between the two teams even allowing for the fact that Chelsea drew 2-2 away at Atleti and at home to APOEL on Matchday 6 when they’d already qualified. Chelsea finsihed on 14 points two ahead of Porto who some people fancy as a good outside bet in the tournament. “Los Rojiblancos” (the red and whites) of Madrid scraped through to the Europa League going through on their head-to-head record against APOEL. With both teams finishing on three points each after six games Atleti’s away goal in the 1-1 draw in Cyprus proved crucial as APOEL were only able to manage a 0-0 draw in Spain.