Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

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

Posted in European Football by peterbein on March 19, 2010

The draw for the quarter-finals and semi-finals have taken place today in Nyon, Switzerland and there are some very interesting matches to come in the remainder of the competition. Below is the draw for the UEFA Champions League and we have created a poll so that you can vote for the team who you think will be lifting the trophy in the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu in Madrid on Saturday, May 22:

QUARTER-FINALS (1st leg 30-31 March; 2nd leg 06-07 April)

1. OLYMPIQUE LYONNAIS (France) v GIRONDINS de BORDEAUX (France)

2. FC BAYERN MÜNCHEN (Germany) v MANCHESTER UNITED (England)

3. ARSENAL FC (England) v FC BARCELONA (Spain)

4. INTERNAZIONALE FC (Italy) v CSKA MOSCOW (Russia)

SEMI-FINALS (1st leg 20-21 April; 2nd leg 27-28 April)

5. Winner Match 2 v Winner Match 1

6. Winner Match 4 v Winner Match 3

FINAL (Saturday, 22 May)

7. Winner Match 5 v Winner Match 6

UEFA Champions League trophy

UEFA Champions League trophy

UEFA Champions League: Round of 16 Review

Posted in European Football by peterbein on March 17, 2010
Samir Nasri

Samir Nasri scored a wonder goal in Arsenal's 5-0 second leg victory over FC Porto giving The Gunners a 6-2 aggregate win.

The UEFA Champions League Round of 16 phase is over and the eight clubs who have qualified for the quarter-final stage can look forward to the draw at UEFA Headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland on Friday. With the draw for the quarter-finals and semi-finals taking place each club will be assessing all potential routes to the final to be played in Madrid on Saturday, May 22nd. Here is a round-up of who qualified and how they got on in their last 16 encounters:

ARSENAL FC (England)

Arsène Wenger’s side gave away two sloppy goals in the first leg in Oporto which gave the Portuguese side the ascendancy. However Sol Campbell’s header in the first half of the first leg gave The Gunners hope that they could turn things around at The Emirates stadium which they did in fine style. Niklas Bendtner, who had been lambasted by all his critics for missing a hat-trick of gilt-edged chances in a league game three days earlier, would silence his doubters with a hat-trick of goals in the second leg, sealing the game with a penalty in stoppage time. Emmanuel Eboue and, most famously, Samir Nasri completed the scoring as Arsenal completed a 6-2 rout of their hapless opponents.

FC BARCELONA (Spain)

European champions Barcelona march on into the quarter-finals with a 5-1 aggregate victory over VfB Stuttgart whose solid performance to secure a 1-1 draw at home in the first leg seemed a distant memory after just 22 minutes in Wednesday’s second leg at Camp Nou. Cacau, who scored in the first leg for Stuttgart, was a frustrated figure along with with his team mates as Messi and co began to run riot over the Swabian side. Messi scored two great goals from outside the box in this game (13 and 60 mins) and was the pivotal figure in a game which Barça totally controlled. Young guns Pedro (22 mins) and substitute Bojan, who scored with his first touch of the game on 89 mins, secured a 4-0 second leg win and means that Barcelona are the team that the other seven will want to avoid in Friday’s draw.

FC BAYERN MÜNCHEN (Germany)

Having easily negotiated their way past Juventus in the group stage FC Bayern found a much tougher challenge in their two-legged affair with AC Fiorentina. The first leg, which finished 2-1 to Bayern, ended in controversy as Miroslav Klose’s 89th minute winning goal was scored whilst he was clearly in an offside position which went unnoticed by the officials. In the second leg Bayern had a real fight on their hands as the Italians took a 2-0 lead early in the second half which left the Münchener trailing overall in the tie, however Mark van Bommel scored on the hour to level the tie 3-3 on aggregate. Four minutes after van Bommel’s goal though Fiorentina took a 3-1 lead on the night to give themselves the advantage thanks to their player of the season Stevan Jovetić but Dutch sensation Arjen Robben scored one of the goals of the tournament just one minute later to level the aggregate score at 4-4. Bayern’s two away goals meant that the Viola had to find another goal from somewhere but Bayern’s defence held firm for the remaining twenty five minutes of the tie.

CSKA MOSCOW (Russia)

Perhaps the surprise team left standing in the last eight of the competition. Russian side CSKA have only just returned to domestic action after a three month winter break and were out of match practice before their two-legged tie with Spanish side Sevilla CF. In the first leg Chilean winger Mark González scored a wonderful long range effort to restore parity in the 66th minute after Sevilla’s Álvaro Negredo had given the Andalucians a deserved lead on 25 minutes. In the second leg the Russians scored first thanks to Tomáš Necid but their lead lasted for only two minutes as Diego Perotti levelled for the home side. The crucial event over the two legs was Keisuke Honda’s strike ten minutes into the second half which gave CSKA  a second away goal meaning that Sevilla had to score two more goals without reply in order to qualify for the last eight but it wasn’t to be. The Russians held out comfortbaly and will hope to surprise further in the quarter-finals.

GIRONDINS de BORDEAUX (France)

The French champions had a fairly comfortable 3-1 aggregate win over perennial Greek champions Olympiakos in this Champions League tie. Michaël Ciani scored the only goal in the first leg in the Greek port of Piraeus to leave Bordeaux in a very good position ahead of the second leg in France. Yohan Gourcuff scored after just five minutes in the second leg to leave the French side in a commanding position. Olympiakos did pull a goal a goal back on 64 minutes thanks to their top scorer Konstantinos Mitroglu, the goal came just four minutes after Olympiakos’ Matt Derbyshire was shown a red card for a second bookable offence. The game did even up in terms of players as Bordeaux had Alou Diarra sent off on 69 minutes and the Greeks belatedly began to believe that a second away goal was possible. However Bordeaux eventually sealed the deal when Maraoune Chamakh scored a header on 88 minutes leaving just enough time for Olof Mellberg to be the second Olympiakos player shown the red card deep into stoppage time.

Jose Mourinho

Jose Mourinho, aka The Special One, masterminded a win over his old club Chelsea FC with Italian champions Internazionale FC

INTERNAZIONALE FC (Italy)

All of the coverage before this game was centred on Inter coach Jose Mourinho, which was perhaps a preconceived tactic by the man himself to avoid any unneccessary scrutiny of his team before the games with Chelsea FC. If this was a deliberate tactic from The Special One then it worked a treat for the Nerazzurri who have qualifed for the last eight for the first time since the 2005-06 season. The first leg in the San Siro stadium was a sell-out and the home fans were celebrating inside three minutes thanks to a great strike from Diego Milito. However Chelsea FC gradually upped-the-ante and were rewarded after 51 minutes when Solomon Kalou’s shot from distance was deflected in and the small contingent of fans from London were celebrating high in the stands…but not for long. Inter regained the lead just four minutes later thanks to Esteban Cambiasso and the tie was set up nicely for the return match at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge stadium. However much of the game failed to live up to the hype due to Inter’s fine execution of Mourinho’s strategy in the first half which saw few chances created and the home fans left frustrated. Inter became more offensively involved in the second half and were celebrating in the 75th minute when Samuel Eto’o proved Chelsea’s nemesis, not for the first time, with a well struck shot low into the corner of the goal to give the Italian champions a deserved win.

MANCHESTER UNITED (England)

The English champions went through yet again to the last eight of the Champions League to keep up their impressive record in Europe’s elite competition and once again it was Wayne Rooney who inspired the Red Devils to victory scoring four goals over the course of their two-legged encounter with seven times European champions AC Milan. In the first leg Ronaldinho scored early to shock United and the Italians could’ve had at least four goals in the first half but the Rossoneri were wasteful in front of goal and they were to regret their lack of firepower when Paul Scholes scored a fluke equalizer in the 36th minute. Rooney then took charge scoring twice in the second half before Clarence Seedorf’s late consolation gave Milan hope in the second leg by reducing the arrears to 3-2. The second leg at Old Trafford, however, was no contest once Rooney (who else?) opened the scoring on 13 minutes. Further strikes from Rooney, Park Ji-Sung and Darren Fletcher sealed a comfortable win for United who hope to reach a third consecutive Champions League final.

OLYMPIQUE LYONNAIS (France)

In what was the shock of the round Olympique Lyonnais disposed of los Galacticos of Real Madrid by securing a 2-1 aggregate victory over the nine time European champions whose dreams of a tenth triumph in their home stadium on May 22nd now lie in tatters. After Jean Makoun had given the French side a 1-0 first leg victory with a splendid long range strike in Lyon, Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal after six minutes in the return leg had all Madridistas hoping that the floodgates would open early. But after Real had missed a glut of further chances throughout the game it was to be Miralem Pjanić who would spoil the party when his 75th minute away goal meant that Real had to score another two goals to secure their passage to the last eight but it wasn’t to be.

England: Rooney seals League Cup triumph for United

Posted in UK Football by peterbein on February 28, 2010
Carling Cup

The English League Cup, aka Carling Cup, was won today by Manchester United

Manchester United won their fourth English League Cup overall, their third in five years, in front of 88,596 at Wembley Stadium today when beating Aston Villa 2-1. James Milner had given the Villains the lead from the penalty spot after just five minutes but goals from Michael Owen and his later replacement Wayne Rooney scored the winner for United who gained an element of revenge over the Birmingham side who had had the better of their two league encounters earlier this season.

The big news before the kick-off was the decision of United boss Sir Alex Ferguson to leave Wayne Rooney on the bench for the 50th final in this competition’s history and instead play Michael Owen from the start. Martin O’Neill’s Villa side welcomed back captain Stiliyan Petrov who was struck down earlier in the week with a virus that forced him to miss his team’s FA Cup game against Crystal Palace. After the match kicked-off it wasn’t to be long until the first major incident of the afternoon when Gabriel Agbonlahor was pulled down in the United penalty area by Nemanja Vidic, the referee Phil Dowd having no hesitation in pointing to the spot but deciding not even to book the United defender. James Milner stepped up to coolly convert the penalty having sent United keeper Tomasz Kuszczak the wrong way and Villa fans were dreaming of a first triumph in this competition since they defeated Leeds United in the 1996 final. However the defending cup holders had other ideas and it wasn’t long before parity was restored. The usually reliable Richard Dunne made a mistake by giving possession away to Dimitar Berbatov. When Dunne tried to atone for his error by tackling Berbatov he only succeeded in diverting the ball into the path of Michael Owen who justified his start by placing the ball past keeper Brad Friedel and Villa’s lead had only lasted for eight minutes. The rest of the first half saw both teams making chances with Emile Heskey going close for Villa whilst Ji-Sung Park and Berbatov were involved for United who had to see their goalscorer Owen go off the field with a pulled hamstring after 40 minutes, allowing Wayne Rooney to come on in his place.

After the break Rooney made his intentions clear with a shot from distance just a minute into the second half but the resulting shot failed to trouble Friedel on that occasion. Further flowing football from Park and Berbatov followed as United started to up the ante on their opponents with further chances for Michael Carrick and Rooney before the hour mark. After 68 minutes Vidic was shown the yellow card after a foul on Ashley Young which had many Villa fans annoyed as he could’ve and, arguably, should’ve been sent off for the earlier foul which led to the penalty goal. But United didn’t let the booking for Vidic affect them and on 74 minutes the Red Devils took the lead after some great inter-play between Berbatov and Valencia brought a cross from the latter on to the head of Rooney, who stood centre to goal and headed the ball into the top right-hand corner. Four minutes later Rooney had a chance to seal it but his header, again from a Valencia cross, hit the near post on this occasion. United’s only scare in the last ten minutes came from a Villa free-kick from Stuart Downing which whipped in to the box only for the ball to come off Heskey’s head followed by Vidic’s shoulder. As stoppage time was played both teams had a chance with Valencia hitting the sidenetting for United and Agbonlahor’s header in the very last minute going harmlessly wide. The final whistle sounded and Manchester United had retained the cup to ensure that they have a chance to emulate their Premier League and Carling Cup double from last season. Despite the disappointment Aston Villa still have a Champions League place to fight for as well as an FA Cup quarter-final against second tier side Reading FC to look forward to.

UEFA Champions League: Round of 16 preview 1

Posted in European Football by peterbein on February 15, 2010
AC Milan v Manchester United

AC Milan and Manchester United last met in the 2007 Champions League semi-final.

The UEFA Champions League is back! We have reached the Round of 16 and there are some mouth-watering ties among the eight games that will take place over the next four weeks. “Stoppage Time” gives you the lowdown on the form of each team going into the knockout stage of the competition. Some teams fortunes have improved since the group phase concluded in December but in one or two cases form has got worse so we’ll make it easy for you to see who is hot and who is not. There are four matches this week and four next week with the second legs being played two weeks later in all cases (we’ll give you the dates to each match in each of the four previews). Today we focus on the two matches that will be played tomorrow with the second leg on Wednesday, March 10th:

AC MILAN (Italy) v MANCHESTER UNITED (England)

This may be a meeting between two giants of European football but, for most observers, the match has become the latest excuse to indulge in the ‘Beckham Circus’. Only this time there is sufficient reason for the former England captain to be at the forefront of preparations for what is, in any case, a widely anticipated contest. The former United star could play against his old club for the first time in his career but it’s not known yet whether his coach Leonardo will play him from the start. Either way Beckham’s view that “for the first time… I will have to hope Manchester United lose” could just be wishful thinking as the Red Devils go into the game in much the better form.

Since the conclusion of the group stage United have won seven of their eleven Premier League matches including a 3-1 demolition away at fellow title-chasers Arsenal FC only a fortnight ago and sees the English champions only one point behind leaders Chelsea FC who have stumbled in recent weeks, most recently suffering a 2-1 reverse at Everton FC. With United having qualified for another League Cup final, their third in five seasons, things are looking up at Old Trafford. Milan, on the other hand, have won only half of their eight Serie A encounters and lie third in the Italian league, nine points behind defending champions and city rivals Internazionale. When Beckham returned in January for his second stint at the San Siro Milan’s form saw an immediate improvement, three wins in a row against Genoa, Juventus and Siena gave the side hope of a title charge. However since losing  2-0 in the ‘Derby della Madonnina’ to Inter the Rossoneri‘s form has been less impressive taking five points from the last three matches.

Despite all the Beckham talk there are two players on the pitch who will be the real stars to look out for. Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney has really shone since a certain Cristiano Ronaldo left Old Trafford to go to Real Madrid. Rooney’s goal tally in all competitions already stands at 23, although it is surprising that none of those goals have come in the Champions League so far. Milan have a player of such skill, class and experience in Ronaldinho but even he could be eclipsed by his fellow compatriot Alexandre Pato who, like Rooney, seems to have improved after another club hero, namely Kaká, went to Real Madrid. Pato has scored eleven goals so far in 2009-10 with two of those in the Champions League and he is hoping to show that Milan are far from a spent force. Milan have a great history in this competition which they have won on seven occasions, including, most recently, in the 2006-07 season when they beat United in the semi-finals.

OLYMPIQUE LYONNAIS (France) v REAL MADRID CF (Spain)

With the 2009-10 UEFA Champions League final being staged at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, nine-times European champions Real Madrid are determined that they can win “la décima’ (‘The Tenth’) at their home stadium and forget all about the history-making year which their arch-rivals FC Barcelona have enjoyed in the last twelve months. Their chances of winning the tournament look good after they easily topped a group containing AC Milan, Olympique de Marseille and FC Zürich by a comfortable four points and their form in the Spanish League has been almost faultless. Olympique Lyonnais, on the other hand, have found it tough going in the French League since they surrendered their title to FC Girondins de Bordeaux last season. Although they finished second in their Champions League group they did so due to the fact that they played a Liverpool side who were lacking in confidence and the Hungarian champions Debreceni who were incapable of taking a single point from any of their opponents.

Real Madrid lie second in La Liga having won eight of their ten matches since the conclusion of the group stage in December. They have been playing catch-up to defending champions FC Barcelona for most of the season but their title aspirations improved this weekend with a 3-0 win away at bottom club Xerez CD whilst the Catalans succumbed to their first league defeat this season losing 2-1, ironically, to Real’s local rivals Atlético de Madrid. This reduced the gap between the top two teams to just two points with El Real now looking more ruthless especially now that Portuguese sensation Cristiano Ronaldo has returned after injury. Olympique Lyonnais are not yet playing like a team who could seriously challenge for the championship but they do lie in fourth place, eight points behind defending champions and league leaders Bordeaux so all is not lost yet. Since the group stage Lyon have won five of their nine league games including wins against Paris Saint Germain and Racing Lens but have lost two games in that period to championship challengers Bordeaux and Montpellier. Therefore Lyon must improve against all types of opposition if they are to claim their eighth domestic championship in nine seasons.

As previously mentioned Cristiano Ronaldo is the star man for Los Blancos having scored 17 goals so far this season including six in the UEFA Champions League. Imagine how many more he could’ve had if he hadn’t have spent a month on the sidelines due to injury. But such is the potential at Real Madrid that anyone can be a matchwinner on their day including club legend Raúl, French striker Karim Benzema (formerly of Olympique Lyonnais) and Argentinian wonder Gonzalo Higuaín who has chipped in with 14 goals this season. For the French side Lisandro López, the Argentinian who signed from Portuguese champions FC Porto at the end of last season to replace Benzema, is the current top scorer with 13 goals, five of which were in the Champions League including the crucial equalizer at home to Liverpool FC which guaranteed the French side’s progression to this stage of the competition.

FA Cup begins the new year in style

Posted in UK Football by peterbein on January 2, 2010

Chelsea FC lift the 2009 FA Cup after beating Everton FC 2-1 at Wembley

You know that a new year has begun in earnest when the FA Cup third round fixtures come to be played on the first weekend of January. After two preliminary rounds, four qualifying rounds and the first two rounds proper of the competition, the FA Cup for 2009-10 has reached the stage where excitement levels reach fever pitch as the Premier League clubs fight it out among lower league and non-league clubs alike. The dream of lifting the most famous piece of knockout football silverware in world football at Wembley Stadium in May still has fans and players buzzing with every new competition, this despite the fact that some top-flight managers refuse to play strong teams for the early rounds. In this day and age where “fourth is the new first” the Premier League and its mountains of wealth seem to be more important than winning a trophy for today’s modern coaches. However the FA Cup is still a trophy whose history and tradition will ensure that it remains an important part of the football calendar. “Stoppage Time” previews the third round of matches played from January 2-3:

JANUARY 2ND

Usually the first thing that happens after the draw for the third round is made is to see where there are any potential ‘banana skins’ where a lower league club could upset one of the big boys. This round has certainly got a few of those to look forward to. Liverpool, whose troubles have been well documented all season, go into an away tie against Reading FC from the Championship (English football’s second tier) having finally won two matches in a row in the Premier League for the first time since September. Reading, on the other hand, have recently lost their manager and haven’t won in five matches. If Liverpool slipped up here then it would be a disaster for the club as their chances of domestic silverware realistically lie in this competition. Their local rivals Everton FC, who lost in last season’s final to Chelsea 2-1, will be hoping to avoid what would be a huge upset as they play against a Carlisle United side who will have 6,000 fans at Goodison Park for the game. Carlisle will be hoping to emulate Oldham Athletic’s achievements in 2007-08 when the Coca Cola League One (i.e. third tier) club went to Everton and came away with a win. Other ties where Premier League clubs play against lower league opponents are Tottenham Hotspur’s home game against Peterborough United, Roberto Mancini’s rejuvenated Manchester City are away at Gordon Strachan’s Middlesbrough, Stoke City play York City from Blue Square Premier League (i.e. fifth tier), a similar upset could await Sunderland if they lose at home to Barrow FC, who are also in the Blue Square Premier. A tough encounter could be on the cards for Alex McLeish’s Birmingham City side, who lie eighth in the Premier League, taking on Nottingham Forest who currently lie third in the Championship. Burnley will be hoping to put a bad spell of league form behind them with a win away at MK Dons and Portsmouth, who have failed to even pay their players for the last three months, will want to a good cup run to keep players’ spirits high by beating 1987 FA Cup winners Coventry City at Fratton Park. Bolton Wanderers, who sacked their coach Gary Megson earlier this week, have a home tie against League Two strugglers Lincoln City whilst Roy Hodgson’s Fulham will hope to put the disappointment of defeat in last week’s West London derby to Chelsea behind them with a home win against Swindon Town. Two all-Premier League ties to be played on Saturday are seven times winners Aston Villa at home to Blackburn Rovers and Wigan Athletic against Hull City. Also Newcastle United fans must make the long trip from their north east home to south west outfit Plymouth Argyle. There are twelve other ties on Saturday involving clubs from the lower divisions playing against each other for a place in the fourth round.

JANUARY 3RD

There are half a dozen fixtures on Sunday that will finish off the third round action. The tie of the round is the eagerly awaited clash between old foes Manchester United and Leeds United at Old Trafford. Since Leeds’ relegation from the Premier League five seasons ago the Yorkshire outfit have struggled for the most part in League One but they look like finally getting back into English football’s second tier this season. Leeds will be hoping to beat their arch-rivals in Manchester for the first time since 1981. However the Red Devils will hope to put Leeds cup dreams to bed with a convincing win in front of a sell-out 76,000 crowd, as many as 9,000 of whom will be following Leeds. The only all-Premier League tie on Sunday is West Ham United’s welcome to Upton Park of London rivals Arsenal who will hope that they can add to coach Arsene Wenger’s tally of four FA Cups this season. FA Cup holders Chelsea FC will start the defence of the trophy against Watford FC who the Blues have beaten when winning the cup in 1970 as well as last season. In the remaining ties Tranmere Rovers from League One welcome Premier League Wolverhampton Wanderers (a game you can read about in our new section “Away Days” starting on Monday, January 4th), an all-Championship tie between Sheffield United and Queen’s Park Rangers and Notts County, under the directorship of former England coach Sven Goren Eriksson, play against non-league Forest Green Rovers.

Festive Football Round-Up

Posted in UK Football by peterbein on December 28, 2009
Kenny Miller

Kenny Miller scores for Glasgow Rangers in their 4-1 win away at Hibernian FC

Should football pause for Christmas? Give me a break! Football in the UK is as much of a tradition as the Queen’s Speech, Mince Pies and Santa Claus and this weekend has been no exception. With further football to come in the next couple of days “Stoppage Time” takes a look back and looks forward to the action to come in our English and Scottish football festive round-up.

BOXING DAY

English Premier League leaders Chelsea got the ball rolling in their tough away tie at Birmingham City. Both sets of Blues had their chances to win but, in the end, perhaps a 0-0 draw was a fair result. The next game to finish was the important six pointer at the bottom of the table between West Ham and Portsmouth. The “Hammers” claimed a 2-0 home win over a Portsmouth side who had beaten Liverpool just seven days earlier. After the drama surrounding Mark Hughes’ sacking it was the football that took centre stage as Manchester City, under new coach Roberto Mancini, claimed a comfortable 2-0 win against Stoke City thanks to Martin Petrov and Carlos Tevez. In the other games Liverpool got back to winning ways but only after their opponents Wolverhampton Wanderers had Stephen Ward sent off on 52 minutes. Steven Gerrard and Yossi Benayoun scored the goals in a laboured 2-0 victory. Everton left it late to claim a point away at Sunderland. Marouane Fellaini scored with five minutes left on the clock to give Everton a share of the points after Darren Bent had given the Black Cats an early lead. The remaining three games finished as draws, a London derby between Fulham and Tottenham ended goalless whilst two clashes between North West clubs saw Burnley v Bolton and Wigan v Blackburn finish 1-1. In the Scottish Premier League Glasgow Celtic kept up their pursuit of champions and league leaders Glasgow Rangers with an 2-0 win at home to Hamilton. A last-minute strike from Niall McGinn made sure of the points as Celtic found it hard to finish their opponents off. Dundee United title hopes have dipped in the last couple of games. A 3-0 home defeat to Rangers was followed with a disappointing 0-0 draw at home to Kilmarnock. Csaba Laszlo’s Hearts side kept up their recent upturn in form by beating Falkirk 1-0 away to lift them into fifth place. In the final match of the day newly promoted St. Johnstone claimed all three points in a 3-1 win at Motherwell. After struggling at the bottom of the table for many weeks the Saints now lie seventh in the SPL.

DECEMBER 27TH

Although only a few matches were played on this day they all had some significance at the top of the table. In Scotland Hibernian were hoping to keep up a title challenge by beating champions Rangers and after twelve seconds the Edinburgh side were in dreamland as Anthony Stokes gave the home side a dramatic lead. However the champions came back after a difficult first twenty minutes. Rangers’ Kenny Miller (pictured) equalised after 21 minutes and top scorer Kris Boyd gave them the lead eight minutes before half-time. Any hopes of a Hibs comeback after the break were dashed as Nacho Novo increased Rangers lead on 53 minutes and Miller got his second of the game after 66 minutes. With no further scoring Rangers boss Walter Smith was delighted that his charges had opened up a four point lead over nearest challengers Celtic with Hibernian a further four points behind. In the English Premier League Arsenal were finding it difficult to break down a dogged Aston Villa side who have high hopes of a top four finish. However the introduction of Cesc Febragas in the second half proved the difference as his 25 yard free-kick on 65 minutes was followed by his second nine minutes before time. In the act of scoring his second the Spaniard injured himself and had to come off but the impact had already been made. Vassiriki Diaby made it 3-0 for the Gunners in stoppage time and Aston Villa’s hopes of beating all of the Big Four this season were temporarily halted (they’d already beaten Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United so far). At the KC Stadium champions Manchester United, despite Wayne Rooney giving away a penalty, were too strong against their opponents Hull City. United had the lead at half-time thanks to a stoppage time Wayne Rooney strike. After the break the United star’s pass back was significant in United giving away a penalty, converted by Craig Fagan to restore parity on the hour mark. After that it was Rooney who made the telling difference in the latter stages of the match. Rooney’s low cross into the box on 73 minutes was turned into the net by Hull City defender Michael Dawson to give United a 2-1 lead and the game was sealed after Rooney set up Dimitar Berbatov for Uited’s third goal. The win lifted United up to second place, just two points behind Chelsea, but Arsenal are two points behind United with a game in hand.

DECEMBER 28TH

Today sees six games in the English Premier League with the most interesting being the West London derby between Chelsea and Fulham at Stamford Bridge. Carlo Ancelotti’s men can’t afford too many more slip ups if they are to win their fourth championship title. Roy Hodgson’s Fulham go into the game unbeaten in their last eight games in all competitions including a 3-0 demolition of Manchester United. The other fixtures are Tottenham v West Ham, Blackburn v Sunderland, Everton v Burnley, Stoke City v Birmingham City and the late kick-off at Molineux where Wolverhampton plays against Manchester City.

DECEMBER 29TH

In England Aston Villa will hope to get over their drubbing at Arsenal by attempting to the double over Liverpool who have failed to win two matches in a row in the Premier League since September. The other game sees Bolton Wanderers and Hull City in a match that will have importance in the bottom half of the table. In Scotland there is just one game as Aberdeen play Falkirk at Pittodrie.

DECEMBER 30TH

Two of the title contenders, Manchester United and Arsenal, will hope to increase their championship hopes with a win against Wigan Athletic and Portsmouth respectively. There are five matches in Scotland, the best of which involves champions Rangers at home to fourth place Dundee United. Celtic won’t want to lose points in what appears an easy game against second bottom Kilmarnock. The other games are St. Johnstone v Hibernian, Hamilton v St. Mirren and Hearts v Motherwell.

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.

FIFA Club World Cup preview

FIFA Club World Cup

Seven teams will fight it out in the UAE for the trophy

Love it or loathe it the FIFA Club World Cup is going to remain a staple part of the football calendar. To some observers it’s a chance to win a trophy and add more prestige to their club. To some others it’s a competition that turns up in the middle of a long hard season, getting in the way of domestic progress. Either way there will be seven teams in the United Arab Emirates from December 9-19 who will be giving everything to win the cup. Here is Stoppage Time’s guide to the participants:

FC BARCELONA – UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WINNERS 2009

FC Barcelona became European champions for the third time in May after beating Manchester United 2-0 in Rome. It is surprising that a massive club such as “Barça” has never won the FIFA Club World Cup or its predecessor, the Intercontinental Cup. After twice being crowned European champions in 1992 and 2006 the Catalans have been defeated by Brazilian clubs in their attempts to be crowned the world’s best. In 1992 a São Paulo side inspired by Rai beat Barça 2-1 and then, three years ago, Internacional scored a late goal to deny Barcelona again. This time the ‘Blaugrana’ hope to make it third time lucky in this tournament and add the FIFA Club World Cup to the other five trophies they’ve won under their coach Pep Guardiola.

ESTUDIANTES DE LA PLATA – COPA LIBERTADORES WINNERS 2009

Estudiantes won their fourth Copa Libertadores with a 2-1 victory over two legs against Brazilian side Cruzeiro. The Argentinian side had a mixed record in the Intercontinental Cup during their heyday in the late 1960s and early 70s. Their solo victory came in 1968 after a 2-1 aggregate win over Manchester United (before 1979 the champions of Europe and South America played home and away matches to win the cup). Their next two efforts, however, ended in failure; in 1969 Milan won 4-2 on aggregate and in 1970 Feyenoord Rotterdam claimed their only world title with a 3-2 aggregate win. Can Juan Sebastián Verón emulate his father Juan Ramón’s achievements and become a world champion with his boyhood club?

ATLANTE CF – CONCACAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WINNERS 2009

The Mexican side secured their second CONCACAF Champions League title after an all-Mexican affair with Cruz Azul ended up 2-0 after a two-legged final. Atlante’s other title win was back in 1983 when they defeated Surinam’s Robinhood FC (yes, really!) 6-1 over two legs. Atlante’s Club World Cup campaign will kick-off at the quarter-final stage against either Al Ahli or Auckland City, who meet in the first match of the competition.

POHANG STEELERS – AFC CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WINNERS 2009

The three time Asian champions have not always dominated the domestic scene in South Korea but tend to thrive in Asian club competition. After previous successes in 1997 and 1998, Pohang Steelers won a third title this year by defeating Al-Ittihad of Saudi Arabia 2-1 in Tokyo’s National Stadium. Pohang will play against TP Mazembe at the quarter-final stage, the winner of which faces Estudiantes in the semi-finals.

TP MAZEMBE – CAF AFRICAN CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WINNERS 2009

The Congolese side have been African champions on three occasions after their most recent success was decided on away goals against Nigerian team Heartlands FC. After the Nigerians won the first leg 2-1 at home, Mazembe won the second leg 1-0 to secure a passage to the Middle East. A meeting with Estudiantes de la Plata awaits if they can overcome Pohang Steelers in the quarter-final.

AUCKLAND CITY – OFC CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WINNERS 2009

The New Zealanders will be participating in the FIFA Club World Cup for a second time, after their previous appearance in 2006, following their 9-4 win over Soloman Islands’ club Koloale FC in the two-legged OFC Champions League final. In 2006 Auckland City lost in the opening play-off match to Al Ahly of Egypt 2-0. Can they avoid a repeat against a similarly named Al Ahli of UAE in this year’s tournament?

AL AHLI – UAE LEAGUE CHAMPIONS 2009

Representing the host country in this year’s tournament, Al Ahli have never been Asian champions but are the current UAE League champions after winning the title by one point from nearest challengers Al Jazira Club. Last season’s attempt at continental glory came to an end in the group phase of the AFC Champions League competition. Will meet Atlante CF in the quarter-final if they beat Auckland City in the play-off match.

England’s Premier League – a glorified SPL?

Posted in UK Football by peterbein on December 6, 2009
Manchester United 2008-09

Manchester United win yet another title in 2008-09, their eleventh in seventeen years

“The most exciting league in the world” is a phrase that’s become synonymous with Sky TV’s presentation of the Barclay’s Premier League, such is the TV station’s devotion to hyping up even the most dullest of matches.  Although there are great players and teams in the league, just how true is it to say that the English Premier League is “the most exciting league in the world”?

One couldn’t doubt the quality of the players on show in the Premier League, on the contrary it’s true to say that with players such as Fernando Torres, Wayne Rooney and Dider Drogba to name but three that the English Premier League contains some of the finest players in the modern game. However this discussion focuses on the concept that the league is branded as much about ‘entertainment’ as much as it is ‘sport’. When one thinks of last day cliffhangers they are very few and far between in the Premier League. As for the multitude of teams capable of winning the title in any given season then you can usually count them with a couple of fingers on one hand. If this criteria were applied to football then the English Premier League (EPL) would be no better than being a glorified Scottish Premier League (SPL).

When people in England talk about the SPL they will patronisingly refer to it as a ‘pub league’ and lament the fact that only two teams, Rangers and Celtic (the Old Firm), have any chance of winning the title. But it’s usually the case that only two teams have any chance of winning the EPL too, Manchester United and A.N. Other. The main challenger to United may change from time to time but it’s hardly any more exciting to see the Red Devils win title after title than it is to see two supposed ‘pub teams’ in Rangers and Celtic win title after title north of the border.

The only thing that maintains a sense of quality in England is the notion of the ‘Big Four’ (i.e. Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool) and their regular appearances in the UEFA Champions League, European football’s showpiece tournament, helping to preserve English football’s position in the UEFA Co-Efficient table (a place in the top three of this table guarantees a nation four places in the Champions League). It seems increasingly the case, however, that some teams are happy just to finish in a top four spot – ‘fourth is the new first’ if you want – and secure the riches that the Champions League provides. In the case of the Old Firm at least they have been punching above their weight in European competition. Regular Champions League appearances coupled with two UEFA Cup finals, Celtic in 2004 and Rangers in 2008, has seen the SPL maintain a respectable standing despite its lack of wealth and international exposure. There have been examples in recent years of  English teams qualifying for the Europa League (ex-UEFA Cup) then trying as hard to get knocked out of a competition that they’ve tried even harder to qualify for. When some English club managers talk about finishing in the top four rather than winning a trophy then it seems to strengthen the view that most clubs in the EPL have very limited ambitions.

Another thing which adds to the lack of real excitement in the overall picture of the English Premier League is the absence of any final day cliffhangers at the top of the table. There may be some exciting finishes at the bottom of the table but the lack of any meaningful matches in respect of the championship means that the EPL is not always so worthy of its hype. You would think this would worry the people at Sky TV seeing as they talk about “the most exciting league in the world” as if its an unquestionable truth. Despite the dominance of the Old Firm in Scotland at least there have been exciting climaxes on the final day in three of the last five seasons including the last two in 2007-08 and 2008-09. Since the English Premier League’s formation in 1992-93 there have been only two final day pieces of drama to witness: the 1994-95 season when Blackburn Rovers beat Manchester United to the title despite losing their final game against Liverpool and the 1998-99 season where Manchester United saw off a spirited Tottenham Hotspur performance at Old Trafford to beat nearest challengers Arsenal to the title by one point. All of the other Premier League titles have been decided on or before the penultimate matchday.

One may argue that it’s too early to write off the English Premier League as a contest but then there are teams such as Liverpool and Arsenal whose title challenges have been written off as early as December after some bad results therefore leaving Manchester United and Chelsea as the only realistic challengers. The irony is that the EPL doesn’t look as entertaining from a competition point of view as its northern neighbour at the moment where the Old Firm have a challenge from Hibernian and Dundee United. For those of you who enjoy a regular two-horse race then “the most exciting league in the world” may just be your best bet for the season.

LDU Quito in a Liga of their own

Posted in South America Football by peterbein on December 3, 2009
Copa Sudamericana Logo

The Copa Sudamericana is South America's version of the UEFA Europa League

Liga Deportiva Universitaria de Quito, better known as LDU Quito, have won the 2009 Copa Nissan Sudamericana after what became an angst-ridden 5-4 aggregate victory in a two-legged final against Brazilian giants Fluminense. This is the third continental success for the Ecuadorians after winning the 2008 Copa Libertadores (South American Champions League), again beating Fluminense, and the 2009 Recopa (a South American version of the European Super Cup) in which they defeated another Brazilian team Internacional of Porto Alegre 4-0 over two legs. It has been a meteoric rise for the club who have steadily built a good footballing side and have become the dominant force in Ecuador. Their appearance in the 2008 FIFA Club World Cup final against Manchester United made the football world take notice despite their narrow defeat to a lone Wayne Rooney strike.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing for LDU this year. In the 2009 Copa Libertadores they came crashing back down to earth after the previous year’s joy of success. LDU finished bottom of their group behind Sport Recife, Palmeiras (both from Brazil) and Chilean representatives Colo Colo. Thankfully for LDU they finished second in the first stage of the Ecuador Serie A championship, thus qualifying for the Sudamericana, and from there they rediscovered their form in continental competition. After a first round 2-1 aggregate win against Libertad of Paraguay LDU then went on to beat Argentinians Lanus 5-1 (agg.) and Velez Sarsfield 3-2 (agg.) to set up a semi-final tie with Uruguay’s River Plate. A 7-0 drubbing of their opponents in the first leg meant that LDU could afford to take their foot off the gas in the second leg, which they lost 2-1. This set up a second major final with Fluminense who had overcome Paraguayans Cerro Porteno 3-1 (agg.) in their semi-final.

In the first leg of the final in Quito it was the Brazilians that struck early, Marquinho giving the visitors the lead after sixty seconds. After that though LDU dominated with Edison Mendez scoring a hat-trick before the hour mark and two late goals from Franklin Salas and Ulises de la Cruz securing a 5-1 lead to take to Rio de Janeiro. In the second leg the Ecudorians were on the defensive from early on as Dieguinho and Fred gave “Flu” a 2-0 lead at half-time. Any ideas that LDU may have had before the game of cruising this second leg were dashed even further eighteen minutes from the end when Gum made it 3-0 on the night to the Rio side. However despite the best efforts of Fluminense they couldn’t get the fourth goal necessary to take the match into extra-time (away goals not counting in this tournament) and the party could start once again in the Ecuadorian capital after LDU held out to win the final 5-4 on aggregate. LDU are now the envy of Ecuador having shown that they are in a league of their own for handling the big occasion. As a reward for this victory LDU will play Estudiantes de la Plata, the team that replaced them as Copa Libertadores champions in 2009, in the 2010 Recopa final.