Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

FC Barcelona voted Team of the Decade

Posted in European Football by peterbein on January 6, 2010
FC Barcelona

FC Barcelona won the Treble in 2008-09 following it with three more trophies late last year

It was perhaps no surprise that in Stoppage Time’s poll to find out who our readers thought was the best team in the last ten years that the accolade should go to the current Spanish, European and world champions FC Barcelona.They won the poll after securing 56% of the vote ahead of Real Madrid (23%) and Boca Juniors (11%).

Despite the fact that the first half of the decade was success-free for the Catalans it was the club’s more recent exploits that have earned them such acclaim. When Frank Rijkaard took over as coach of the club in 2003-04 the club were looking on enviously at arch-rivals Real Madrid who had already won two Spanish championships, two UEFA Champions Leagues and the Intercontinental Cup (now FIFA Club World Cup) since the noughties decade began. However the club’s fortunes began to change in 2004-05 when the “Blaugrana” won their first Spanish championship in six years finishing four points ahead of “El Real”. The following season, 2005-06, proved to be even more spectacular for the club as they successfully defended their Spanish crown, again beating Real Madrid to the title, this time by a whopping twelve points. In the same season, with a team including Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto’o and Deco, they went on to become European champions for the second time in their history following a 2-1 win over English club Arsenal FC in Paris.

Frank Rijkaard left the club after FC Barcelona finished the 2007-08 empty-handed after it initially seemed to promise much in terms of silverware. However a third-place finish in La Liga was deemed insufficient for the club president Joan Laporta who replaced Rijkaard with inexperienced coach Pep Guardiola, a club legend who had won six championships and the Champions League with Barça as a player. In the new coach’s first full season it was, even by Barcelona’s high standards, truly remarkable. The 2008-09 league championship was secured finishing nine points ahead of perennial challengers Real Madrid. The domestic double was secured after Barcelona won their first Copa del Rey (King’s Cup) in eleven years beating Athletic Bilbao 4-1 in the Estadio Mestalla in Valencia. Then, on a glory night in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico, the Catalans achieved the unthinkable by beating defending European champions Manchester United 2-0, thanks to goals from Samuel Eto’o and Lionel Messi, to secure the title of “Tri Campions” (Treble Champions). Not even Real Madrid, for all their previous success, had managed to achieve such a feat. FC Barcelona joined the likes of Manchester United, Glasgow Celtic, PSV Eindhoven and Ajax Amsterdam as the only European clubs who had won their domestic Double and the European Cup/Champions League in the same season.

But much more was to come from Guardiola’s new Barça “Dream Team”. FC Barcelona won the Spanish Super Cup beating Athletic Bilbao 5-1 on aggregate in the traditional two-legged curtain raiser to the new season. As the 2009-10 season was getting into full swing Barça had to travel to Monte Carlo to play in the European Super Cup against 2008-09 UEFA Cup winners Shakhtar Donetsk from Ukraine. It was a tough match which went the distance but Pedro’s winner in extra-time gave the ‘Blaugrana’ a hard-earned 1-0 victory and the “Sextuple” was on the cards. Finally, in December 2009, FC Barcelona went to the United Arab Emirates to try and achieve the only honour to have eluded the club in their distinguished history: the FIFA Club World Cup. Having lost in the 2006 competition to Brazilian side Internacional, the Catalans were in no mood to give up another chance to be crowned best in the world. In the final against Argentinian side Estudiantes de La Plata the match started slowly before Mauro Boselli gave Barça’s opponents a shock lead on the half-hour mark. For much of the game the Argentines defended their goal as if their lives depended on it but they were ultimately broken down by Pedro who scored two minutes from the end of normal time. In extra-time it was to be cruel for the Argentines that it was to be one of their compatriots, Lionel Messi, who scored the winner for Barcelona. The “Sextuple” was won, Pep Guardiola and his team had created history and for new Barça star Pedro it was to be a unique individual achievement in that he scored in every major competition that Barcelona had won in the Sextuple year.

The people have spoken and it was a unanimous decision. “Stoppage Time” hails FC Barcelona as the 2000-09 Team of the Decade.

FIFA Club World Cup Review

FC Barcelona

At the third time of asking FC Barcelona become World Club champions

It was a case of third time lucky for FC Barcelona as they sealed their maiden triumph in the FIFA Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Their opponents, Copa Libertadores champions Estudiantes de La Plata, were so close to winning the trophy themselves after leading the contest for so long. However the Catalans rounded off the final leg of an unprecedented “grand slam” of trophies by scoring late in reglaur time and rounding off the game in extra-time.

The first half of the game started with no real flow due to the number of fouls being committed on both sides. The first thirty minutes saw few real chances and it resembled the proverbial game of chess. However the deadlock was broken on 37 minutes as Mauro Boselli headed in a Juan Manual Diaz cross from the left to give “los Pincharatas” a 1-0 lead and they saw this lead through to half-time.

In the second half Estudiantes seemed determined to hold on to their lead allowing the European champions as much time and possession as they wished, with the Argentines hoping to break on the counter attack. For so long the rugged Estudiantes defence kept wave after wave of “Barça” attacks out of reach and their defensive tactics appeared to be paying off. However the breakthrough for Barcelona came very late. In the 88th minute Pedro managed to loop a header over goalkeeper Albil into the top right hand corner and the hoardes of Barcelona fans in the stadium were ecstatic.

Barcelona started the extra-time period in much the same fashion as they’d ended the regulation period. Ibrahimovic and Toure had shots blocked in the first period of fifteen minutes. It wasn’t until five minutes into the second half of extra-time until Lionel Messi was able to pop up with the game’s decisive moment. Dani Alves’ right sided cross was chested home by the Argentine superstar from close range and the Catalans could sense that their day had finally come after two previous disappointments in Club World Cup finals.

The excitement wasn’t quite over as an urgent Estudiantes side finally found some forward momentum to try and take the game into penalties. A free kick was won in the last minute of extra-time and Estudiantes had everybody in the penalty area including goalkeeper Albil. However Juan Sebastian Veron’s free-kick was headed just wide by defender Leandro Desabato and the last chance for Veron Jr. to emulate his father’s achievement of 1968 (see “FIFA Club World Cup – Preview” blog) was over. The final whistle was blown and Barcelona’s fans were rejoicing the completion of an unprecedented sextet of trophies: Spanish League, Spanish Cup, Spanish Super Cup, Champions League, European Super Cup and Club World Cup. In a little under eighteen months Barça coach Pep Guardiola, already much decorated as a player, had won everything there was to win as a coach. Already in his fledgling managerial career he will go down as one of the legends of the game for this remarkable achievement.

In the other two matches played to close the tournament Asian champions Pohang Steelers clinched third place beating North/Central American champions Atlante CF 4-3 on penalties after the game had finished 1-1 after 90 minutes (no extra-time in this contest). The South Koreans’ success means that the Asian representatives have finished third in the last three tournaments (Urawa Red Diamonds and Gamba Osaka also finished third in 2007 and 2008 resepectively). In the fifth/sixth place play-off, played on Wednesday December 16th, Oceania’s Auckland City continued their dream tournament by beating African champions TP Mazembe 3-2 securing the win with a last minute winner from Riki van Steeden. This ensured the best ever performance by an Oceanian team in the tournament’s history.

“Big Two” qualify for FIFA Club World Cup final

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Zlatan Ibrahimovic started for Barcelona in their semi-final against Atlante of Mexico

The FIFA Club World Cup is well under way now in the United Arab Emirates and, as expected, there will be a showdown between European champions FC Barcelona and their South American equivalents Estudiantes de la Plata on Saturday, December 19th. Stoppage Time looks at the tournament so far.

The tournament kicked off in Abu Dhabi with the Oceania representatives Auckland City FC, who had previously participated in this tournament in 2006, winning the first match against host team Al Ahli FC 2-0 thanks to goals from Adam Dickinson and Chad Coombes. Thanks to that win the New Zealanders had already achieved their main goal which was to qualify for the quarter-finals, in which they played against North/Central America champions Atlante CF (Mexico). Alas they were unable to progress any further as the Mexicans cruised into the semi-finals winning the game 3-0 due to strikes from Daniel Arreola, Christian Bermudez and Lucas Silva. In the other quarter-final it was a Brazilian who helped Asian champions Pohang Steelers (South Korea) overcome a half-time deficit as Denilson’s two second half goals helped see off the challenge from African Champions League winners TP Mazembe (Congo DR) in a close match 2-1.

The big two of the tournament entered at the semi-final stage. First to play were Estudiantes (Argentina) against Pohang Steelers. Although the Argentines enjoyed twice the amount of possession and had nearly three times as many shots at goal as their opponents they were made to work hard by a Pohang side that were tough to break down. Leandro Benitez scored two minutes into first half stoppage time to give “the Students” the advantage at half-time and followed that with his second goal eight minutes into the second half. It was the Koreans’ own South American influence that brought them back into the game when Denilson pulled one back after 71 minutes. However their discipline, or lack of it, proved their undoing as they had three players sent off the pitch. Two of the players, Kim Jae Sung and goalkeeper Shin Hwa Yong, were sent off in the final eighteen minutes of the game and the numerical advantage allowed Estudiantes to cross the line in comfortable fashion and into their fourth Club World Cup final.

Barcelona’s campaign started with a tougher challenge against Atlante CF just four days after they had won their local derby against Espanyol 1-0 in La Liga. The scorer in the derby, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, was among the starters for Barça while Lionel Messi, newly crowned European Footballer of the Year winner, was on the substitutes’ bench. However the Mexicans hadn’t come to the Middle East to make up the numbers and they stunned their more illustrious opponents early on thanks to a Guillermo Rojas goal after five minutes. The game ebbed and flowed for the next thirty minutes until Barcelona equalized thanks to a Sergio Busquets strike and the half finished 1-1. However the second half was to be dominated by the “Blaugrana” as Pep Guardiola’s 52nd minute substitution bringing on Lionel Messi for Yaya Toure, proved a masterstroke as the little Argentine made an immediate impact, rounding the keeper to make it 2-1 on 55 minutes. From here the “Blaugrana” began to take charge and they were further rewarded on 67 minutes when some good work by Andres Iniesta was turned home by Pedro from close range making the score 3-1. The remainder of the game was played almost as a Barcelona training session as Atlante failed to trouble the scoresheet any further and it was the giants from Catalonia who sealed their place in Sunday’s final, their third final since 1992, against Estudiantes de la Plata.

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.