Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

UEFA Champions League: Semi-Final Preview

Posted in European Football by peterbein on April 18, 2010
Ribery and Robben

Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben played crucial roles in FC Bayern München's progression to the UEFA Champions League semi-finals

The UEFA Champions League reaches the semi-final stage and there are two great games to look forward to. There have been fears that the games would be postponed because of the travel disruption that has affected Europe since the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted last week, bringing the whole continent to a standstill. According to the UEFA website on Sunday “the two UEFA Champions League semi-final first legs will go ahead as scheduled this week despite the current restrictions on European air travel due to the volcanic cloud.” Stoppage Time – International Football Blog previews the two fixtures ahead of the first leg ties which, we presume, will still take place later this week:

INTERNAZIONALE FC (Italy) v FC BARCELONA (Spain)

Both of these teams have already played against each other this season in the UEFA Champions League group stages with FC Barcelona getting the better of their Italian opponents. After the teams drew blank in a Matchday 1 stalemate the European champions made Inter pay at the Camp Nou on Matchday 5 with a 2-0 win thanks to goals from Gerard Piqué and Pedro Rodríguez. Inter coach Jose Mourinho has had many battles against the Catalan giants in his managerial career and he will hope that the Nerazzurri can provide him with more cause to celebrate against the club who once employed him as Sir Bobby Robson’s interpreter.

In the quarter-finals FC Barcelona performed amazingly well against an Arsenal FC side who came back well in the first leg to claim a 2-2 draw having been two goals down at one stage. The London side even had the cheek to take the lead in the Camp Nou in the second leg after much-maligned striker Niklas Bendtner gave the Gunners an 18th minute lead. After that the game became a one man show and who else but Lionel Messi was going to step up to the plate? After scoring a hat-trick just before half-time the Argentinian superstar capped off a wonderful performance two minutes from the end of the game with a fourth goal, the first player to score four in one game during the UEFA Champions League knock-out stages. Since defeating Arsenal the Blaugrana have continued their impressive league form including a 2-0 away win at Real Madrid in “El Gran Clásico” and an easy 3-0 win at home to Deportivo de La Coruña before dropping two points in the derby of Barcelona drawing 0-0 against local rivals RCD Espanyol on Saturday.

Inter defeated CSKA Moscow in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals with two 1-0 victories home and away. Diego Milito scored the winning goal for Inter in the first leg whilst Wesley Sneijder scored the only goal in the second leg in Moscow. In Serie A, however, the Nerazzurri have lost top spot to AS Roma despite having taken four points in the two games since defeating CSKA in the second leg. A 2-2 draw away at AC Fiorentina could prove to be the pivotal moment in the domestic season for Inter as the two dropped points allowed AS Roma to overtake them at the top of the table. They have kept the pressure on the capital side though having defeated Juventus FC 2-0 in the “Derby of Italy” on Saturday.

FC BAYERN MÜNCHEN (Germany) v OLYMPIQUE LYONNAIS (France)

FC Bayern are dreaming of The Treble after knocking out English champions Manchester United in sensational fashion in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals. Olympique Lyonnais are still just about involved in the title race domestically too and took great satisfaction from emerging triumphant in the Battle of France against FC Girondins de Bordeaux, going through with a slender one goal advantage over the two legs.

FC Bayern have seemingly got the 1999 UEFA Champions League final defeat out of their system having put Manchester United to the sword in the last round. After Wayne Rooney gave the Red Devils the lead after two minutes of the first leg in the Allianz Arena, there was late drama which decided the outcome of the match thanks to a deflected free-kick from Franck Ribéry and a last minute winner from Ivica Olić. It was to be Olić who began the comeback for FC Bayern in the second leg at Old Trafford after United had raced into a 3-0 lead on the night after just 41 minutes. Two minutes before half-time Olić struck home from an acute angle to reduce the arrears for the Bavarians and it wasn’t until the 74th minute when Bayern’s Dutch maestro Arjen Robben beautifully struck from the edge of the penalty box to equal the match 4-4 on aggregate which was how it stayed, much to the relief of Bayern who went through courtesy of the away goals rule. Domestically they have taken charge in the race for the Bundesliga title having defeated nearest challengers Schalke 04 away from home as well as picking up a point from suffering Bayer 04 Leverkusen. On Saturday FC Bayern disposed of Hannover 96 in style putting seven goals past their hapless opponents without reply with Arjen Robben scoring a hat trick.

There was much anticipation in France ahead of the battle between Olympique Lyonnais, seven times French champions from 2002-2008, and Girondins de Bordeaux who took OL‘s title away from them in 2008-09. With both teams dropping points in the domestic title race this European clash became more important as they both wanted to be the team that would represent French football going into the UEFA Champions League semi-finals. The first leg in Lyon was a fantastically open affair with many chances for both sides, especially in the first half. Lisandro López scored the opening goal on ten minutes only for Marouane Chamakh to equalize just four minutes later for the Girondins in a frantic set of opening exchanges. Olympique Lyonnais regained the lead after Michel Bastos had put them 2-1 up before the break. A penalty from Lisandro López further enhanced OL‘s lead in the 77th minute and it was the men from Lyon who were celebrating going into the second leg. Understandably the return fixture in Bordeuax was a more tense affair with both sides cancelling each other out for most of the first half but then came the breakthrough on the stroke of half time thanks to Maraoune Chamakh scoring the opening goal of the night. Try as they might in the second half Les Girondins just couldn’t find that crucial second goal which they needed to take them through. Olympique Lyonnais won 3-2 on aggregate and will hope to upset the odds against FC Bayern in the next round.

UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE SEMI-FINALS (Team on left at home first)

Internazionale FC v FC Barcelona (1st Leg 20th April; 2nd Leg 28th April)

FC Bayern München v Olympique Lyonnais (1st Leg 21st April; 2nd Leg 27th April)

UEFA Champions League: Quarter-Final Preview

Posted in European Football by peterbein on March 29, 2010
FC Bayern v Manchester United

FC Bayern München plays Manchester United in a repeat of the 1998-99 UEFA Champions League final

The UEFA Champions League is now at the quarter-final stage and there are four mouth-watering clashes that whet the appetite for the feast of football which lies ahead in the next fortnight. “Stoppage Time – International Football Blog” looks at the current form guide of each pairing of teams involved in the last eight of the competition:

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

This game brings back memories of United’s famous last-gasp triumph in the 1998-99 UEFA Champions League final where the Red Devils came from behind in second half stoppage time to win a thrilling contest 2-1. FC Bayern have gained revenge since then having knocked United out of this competition at the quarter-final stage in 2000-01, going on to lift the trophy against Valencia CF in that same season. At the moment both teams are, as expected, fighting for their respective national championships with Manchester United topping the English Premier League and FC Bayern just two points behind current leaders FC Schalke 04 in the Bundesliga. However the form of the two teams makes interesting reading as United have won all three of their games (against Fulham FC, Liverpool FC and Bolton Wanderers) since knocking AC Milan out of the Champions League in the Round of 16. In contrast FC Bayern have won only one of their last three league games, losing the last two matches to Eintracht Frankfurt and VfB Stuttgart, although they did reach the DFB Pokal final thanks to a “Traumtor” (dream goal) from Arjen Robben. Two potential classic matches await in this fixture.

OLYMPIQUE LYONNAIS (France) v FC GIRONDINS de BORDEAUX (France)

During the UEFA Champions League draw in Nyon the reaction of Olympique Lyonnais chairman Jean-Michel Aulas said it all when his team were paired with fellow compatriots Girondins de Bordeaux in the last eight of this competition. After he had laughed off the events of the draw ceremony the serious business of preparing for France’s biggest football contest for many years began. This is a match that will grip the French nation as it will be a fascinating duel between the two teams who have won the last eight championships with Girondins having brought OL‘s fantastic run of seven successive championships to an end last season. Domestically Girondins are hanging on to the lead in Ligue 1 by a thread with no fewer than five teams capable of mounting a realistic challenge to their crown and their European opponents will want to remind Laurent Blanc’s men that there will be psychological points to be scored in this match. Olympique Lyonnais lie two points behind the leaders (albeit having played two games more) and will wish to make a statement in this game in order to sew a few seeds of doubt in the heads of the league leaders. Since the Round of 16 stage FC Girondins have only played two matches, winning one in the league against Lille OSC but losing the first domestic silverware of the season last Saturday in the Coupe de la Ligue final against Olympique Marseille. Olympique Lyonnais have a mixed record since they sensationally knocked-out Real Madrid in the last round, taking four points from their last three games.

FC Barcelona v Arsenal FC

Juliano Belletti scored the winning goal for FC Barcelona in the 2005-06 UEFA Champions League final against Arsenal FC

ARSENAL FC (England) v FC BARCELONA (Spain)

There may be more history in the FC Bayern – Manchester United match but this is the match that all football purists everywhere will be looking forward to. Defending European champions FC Barcelona will hope to put Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal FC side to the sword in a repeat of the 2005-06 UEFA Champions League final and a game which brings Gunners legend Thierry Henry back to his old club. He has publicly stated before this game that he will “always be an Arsenal fan” despite him now sporting the famous Blaugrana shirt of the Catalans. There is a reunion of sorts for Arsenal captain Cesc Fàbregas who will return to his boyhood heroes in the second leg fixture at Camp Nou. With both teams playing arguably the most exciting brand of football anywhere in Europe it should be the most technical and skillful of the four quarter-final match-ups. Both teams are in good form domestically since qualifying from the Round of 16 with Barça winning all three of their games against Real Zaragoza, Osasuna and Real Mallorca to keep in touch with eternal rivals Real Madrid CF at the top of La Liga. Arsenal are currently four points behind Premier League leaders Manchester United having dropped two points in their most recent game against Birmingham City following wins against Hull City and West Ham United.

INTERNAZIONALE FC (Italy) v CSKA MOSCOW (Russia)

Both of these teams pulled out amazing victories in the Round of 16 with Jose Mourinho’s Inter disposing of his former club Chelsea FC and Russian side CSKA Moscow knocking out Sevilla FC who were fancied as outside favourites by many people prior to their elimination in this tournament. Both of these teams played each other in the UEFA Champions League as recently as the 2007-08 season with the Italians having the better of their two games in the group stage beating the Army Men 2-1 in Russia and 4-2 in Italy. Internazionale FC are currently top of Italy’s Serie A but only by one point having dropped five out of the last available nine points in the league. Since knocking out Chelsea the Nerazzurri struggled to a draw against Palermo, beat relegation-threatened Livorno and lost the crucial top-of-the-table clash at Stadio Olimpico on Saturday to AS Roma who now lie in second place. The Russian Premier League season is only three games old and the Muscovites have started the season well having taken seven out of nine points to share the lead with three other teams. An opening day win over Amkar Perm and a Matchday 3 victory win over Anzhi Makhachkala sandwiched a goalless draw in the big local derby against Dinamo Moscow.

UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE QUARTER-FINALS (team on left is home first)

1st Leg 30/03/10; 2nd Leg 07/04/10

FC Bayern München v Manchester United

Olympique Lyonnais v FC Girondins de Bordeaux

1st Leg 31/03/10; 2nd Leg 06/04/10

Arsenal FC v FC Barcelona

Internazionale FC v CSKA Moscow

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.

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.

Champions League – Group Stage Round-Up: Part Two

Posted in European Football by peterbein on December 10, 2009
Fiorentina v Liverpool

Gamberini (left) competes with Liverpool's Fernando Torres in Fiorentina's 2-0 win on Matchday 2

In the second half of our look at the Champions League group stage “Stoppage Time” focuses on groups E-H:

GROUP E (OLYMPIQUE LYONNAIS, FIORENTINA, LIVERPOOL FC, DEBRECENI)

The biggest disappointment in this year’s competition, without any doubt, was five-time European champions Liverpool. After the opening group match against Hungarian champions Debreceni the Reds were caught short against group rivals Lyon and Fiorentina. Too many mistakes at crucial times proved Liverpool’s undoing and this was emphasized in the last minute of Matchday 6 where Alberto Gilardino was able to capitalize on a defensive error to give Fiorentina the three points needed to top the group. Lyon were impressive throughout especially in their games against Debreceni, against whom they scored eight goals without reply in two matches. Fiorentina finished top on fifteen points, two more than Lyon, whilst Liverpool have to be content with a Europa League place finishing on a dismal seven points in a group they were widely expected to qualify from. Debreceni’s maiden Champions League finished, as expected, in last place but no doubt their team would’ve enjoyed the experience.

GROUP F (FC BARCELONA, INTERNAZIONALE, RUBIN KAZAN, DYNAMO KYIV)

This was the most open group in the Champions League. All four teams harboured hopes of qualification to the Round of 16 prior to Matchday 6. In the end the big boys, FC Barcelona and Internazionale, managed to qualify but they were made to work hard for their place. Jose Mourinho’s Inter had the upper hand in their final game at home against Russian champions Rubin Kazan thanks to goals from Samuel Eto’o and Mario Balotelli whilst European champions FC Barcelona had to come from behind to beat Dynamo Kyiv in Ukraine 2-1. Goals from Xavi and Lionel Messi were sufficient for the Catalans to finish top of the group, two points clear of Inter. Rubin Kazan’s first season in the Champions League provided much drama, the 2-1 win against Barcelona in the Camp Nou was one of the highlights of the tournament so far. However they just didn’t have enough killer instinct to put the group to bed but at least they can be content with a Europa League place. For Andriy Shevchenko and his Dynamo side it’s another disappointing exit from a European campaign but they should be back next year barring a dismal second half to the domestic season in Ukraine.

GROUP G (SEVILLA CF, VfB STUTTGART, UNIREA URZICENI, GLASGOW RANGERS)

Sevilla were the clear winners of the group remaining undefeated through the campaign. Their 4-1 win over Rangers at Ibrox Park on Matchday 2 was their most convincing of the tournament thus far. The chase for second became a Matchday 6 “cup final” between VfB Stuttgart (who fired coach Markus Babbel and replaced him with Christian Gross in the weekend prior to the game) and Unirea Urziceni (coached by Chelsea legend Dan Petrescu). The German side started like a train and were 3-0 up inside eleven minutes. Despite Unirea pulling a goal back early in the second half the Germans managed to preserve their lead and the three points allowed them to overtake the Romanians into second place. Unirea go into the Europa League whilst Glasgow Rangers must swallow their pride and be hopeful that they can be back next season.

GROUP H (ARSENAL, OLYMPIAKOS, STANDARD LIEGE, AZ ALKMAAR)

Arsenal were comfortably the best team in the group and had already qualified for the Round of 16 when they went to Greece to play Olympiakos on Matchday 6. They played a young team with an average age of 21 but Arsene Wenger’s men couldn’t maintain their unbeaten record in Athens going down 1-0. Zico’s Olympiakos finished second thanks to some good results earlier in the tournament against Standard Liege and AZ Alkmaar. The third and fourth placed teams came up with some drama of their own on Matchday 6 in Belgium. Dutch champions AZ took the lead in the first half through Jeremain Lens and they held on to their advantage until five minutes into stoppage time. A free-kick was whipped in at pace and among the crowd of players in the penalty box was Standard’s goalkeeper Sinan Bolat who headed home to gain the ‘Liegeois’ a precious point and a place in the Europa League.