Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

UEFA Champions League: Round of 16 Preview 4

Posted in European Football by peterbein on February 23, 2010
Carlo Ancelotti

Carlo Ancelotti has already won the UEFA Champions League twice as AC Milan coach. Can he do it again with Chelsea FC?

In the fourth and final installment of Stoppage Time’s UEFA Champions League Round of 16 previews, we focus on those games which take place on Wednesday, February 24th with the return leg on Tuesday, March 16th:

INTERNAZIONALE FC (Italy) v CHELSEA FC (England)

With Manchester United’s 3-2 win against AC Milan last Tuesday the English Premier League currently leads Italy’s Serie A 1-0 in the Round of 16 contests. On Wednesday there is a more controversial reunion than the one enjoyed last week by a certain David Beckham upon meeting his former employers from Old Trafford. The self-proclaimed “Special One” Jose Mourinho will face up to his former comrades of Chelsea FC but will do so wanting to get one over an old adversary from Milan, Carlo Ancelotti. The former coach of AC Milan, Ancelotti has a proven track record in the UEFA Champions League winning two out of three finals (success in 2003 and 2007, defeat in 2005) with the Rossoneri but is determined to prove himself with his current team in his first season at Stamford Bridge.

Inter qualified for this stage finishing second in the toughest group of the first stage. The Nerazzurri ended up just two points behind FC Barcelona but managed to seal their place in the last 16 with a 2-0 home win over Russian champions Rubin Kazan. Since then Inter have gone unbeaten in thirteen league and cup games and have one foot in the Coppa Italia (Italian Cup) final having secured a 1-0 semi-final, first leg lead over AC Fiorentina. However Mourinho’s men have stalled a little since their 2-0 triumph in the most recent Milan derby in January, two draws in their last three games reducing their lead at the top of Serie A to just five points from resurgent AS Roma and six over AC Milan. Chelsea, on the other hand, increased their lead at the top of England’s Premier League to four points this weekend after their 2-0 win at Wolverhampton Wanderers was coupled with defeat for champions Manchester United at Everton FC. In fact Everton are the only team to have beaten Chelsea since the London side qualified for the Round of 16 with Chelsea losing just one from 15 league and FA Cup matches. In contrast to Inter, Chelsea arguably qualified from the easiest group in the Champions League finishing unbeaten against FC Porto, Atlético de Madrid and APOEL Nicosia.

Both teams have immense talent and strength in depth which makes them among the favourites to win the competition. Probably the strongest player at the moment is Chelsea’s Didier Drogba who has scored 25 goals in all competitions so far (three goals in Champions League) although they have a host of stars who can grab a crucial goal when required. Michael Ballack, Nicolas Anelka, Frank Lampard and even club captain John Terry can pop up whenever necessary. For Inter Diego Milito, who signed for the club from Genoa FC this season, is a threat in front of goal having hit the net 16 times in all competitions so far. He is ably assisted in attack by former Barcelona star Samuel Eto’o and rising young Italy star Mario Balotelli.

CSKA MOSCOW (Russia) v SEVILLA CF (Spain)

Sevilla have been much the busier of the two sides since the conclusion of the Champions League group stage due to the fact that the Russian season finished in late November. Therefore CSKA Moscow are lacking in match practice before the new 2010 domestic championship kicks off in March and may find it difficult in this competition against a Sevilla side who have played sixteen competitive games since they made it through their group which contained VfB Stuttgart, Unirea Urziceni and Glasgow Rangers.

Sevilla, though, have struggled for form since Round of 16 qualification especially in La Liga where they lost three matches in a row to Getafe, Atlético de Madrid and FC Barcelona before recovering to win four of their last five games. The Copa del Rey (Spanish King’s Cup) is where Sevilla have ridden their luck though. In the last three rounds leading up to the final they won one and lost one game in each round but were fortunate to have done enough in each first leg match of the competition against FC Barcelona (2-2 winning on away goals), Deportivo de La Coruña (3-1 on aggregate) and Getafe (2-1 agg.) to set up a meeting with Atlético de Madrid in the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu on May 26th. CSKA Moscow negotiated their way through a tough Champions League group which involved Manchester United, VfL Wolfsburg and Beşiktaş. After their 2-1 win over the latter on Matchday 6 there were rumours that CSKA would be thrown out of the competition after two of their players, Sergei Ignashevich and Alexei Berezutsky, were tested positive for a banned substance but UEFA were satisifed that there was “a technical error” which led to confusion and the club were fined €25,000 and the players concerned were banned for one match which has now been served allowing the players to compete in the knockout rounds.

Sevilla’s main threats come from their striking partnership Luís Fabiano (14 goals, 3 in Champions League) and Frédi Kanouté (7 goals, 2 in Champions League) who have enjoyed the club’s recent domestic and European success together in the last five years and whose potent threat up front makes the Andalucians an outside bet for Champions League glory. For CSKA Moscow it is important that they can keep hold of winger Miloš Krasić, who has been linked with clubs from England and Spain after his four goals in the Champions League group stage alerted many clubs to his talent. However CSKA will have to make do without the servies of Brazilian forward Vagner Love who is currently on loan at Rio de Janeiro club Flamengo.

UEFA Champions League: Round of 16 Preview 3

Posted in European Football by peterbein on February 22, 2010
Girondins de Bordeaux

Girondins de Bordeaux celebrated league and cup success in France last season. Can they add European glory to their honours this season?

In the third installment of our UEFA Champions League previews “Stoppage Time” focuses on the two games that will be played tomorrow night with the second leg played on Wednesday, March 17th:

OLYMPIAKOS (Greece) v GIRONDINS DE BORDEAUX (France)

Perennial Greek champions Olympiakos are finding it tough going in the domestic Super League this season, trailing behind eternal rivals Panathinaikos in the table. However the UEFA Champions League represents a chance for the Piraeus based side to show what they’re made of, especially in front of their fanatical supporters who make their Karaiskakis Stadium a real fortress against visiting teams. FC Girondins go into tomorrow’s clash with a three point lead and a game in hand in France’s Ligue 1 and coach Laurent Blanc will look for his players to repeat the impressive form they’ve shown thus far in Europe’s elite competition remaining unbeaten against FC Bayern, Juventus FC and Maccabi Haifa in their Champions League group.

Olympiakos, usually so dominant at home having won the league and cup double four times in the last five seasons, have endured mixed emotions by their usual high standards. Since qualifying second in their Champions League group behind Arsenal FC Thrylos (The Legend), as the club modestly call themselves, have won just half of the ten Super League games they’ve played. But despite suffering defeat to three of the top five sides, Aris, AEK Athens and PAOK, Olympiakos find themselves just two points of the pace due to Panathinaikos’ inability to pull away from their rivals. With only seven games left in the Super League there is a great chance that Olympiakos can claim their 13th championship in 14 years. Girondins de Bordeaux, a good outside bet for Champions League glory, won the French championship last season to end Olympique Lyonnais’ seven year domination and followed it up with success in the Coupe de la Ligue (League Cup). Since qualification for the Champions League Les Girondins are leading the way in Ligue 1 again and have reached yet another Coupe de la Ligue final, their third in four years, where they meet Olympique de Marseille on March 27th. Alas their chances of a domestic treble were dashed when they lost in the Coupe de France (French Cup) Round of 16 to AS Monaco, the Monégasque winning 2-0 away in Bordeaux.

Marouane Chamakh is becoming one of Europe’s most sought after footballers attracting interest in particular from English Premier League clubs. His 13 goals last season helped Girondins to their double triumph and he has scored ten more (two in Champions League) to keep Girondins ahead of the competition. Yoann Gourcuff is the playmaker through which most of Bordeaux’s goals come plus he has scored nine times in all competitions. For the Greek side Konstantinos Mitroglu has scored eleven goals (three in Champions League) and they will rely on his talent in front of goal as well as their vociferous support in the first leg if they are to have any chance of progressing into the last eight of the competition.

VfB STUTTGART (Germany) v FC BARCELONA (Spain)

Had this game taken place before Christmas VfB Stuttgart would’ve feared the worst going into the contest. After all memories of Barça’s first half destruction of FC Bayern at Camp Nou in last season’s Champions League are still very fresh to German football supporters. However the Swabians can go into the game against the European champions with new confidence thanks to coach Christian Gross who has really turned it around for Stuttgart. FC Barcelona though will still be huge favourites to progress to the next round. After winning their third UEFA Champions League last season the Blaugrana will want to successfully defend the title for the first time in their history.

Stuttgart have improved since Gross’s arrival only losing once in nine games in all competitions so far, that defeat coming at home to a Ruud van Nistelrooy inspired Hamburger SV a fortnight ago. Since VfB were victorious in a winner-takes-all clash at home to Unirea Urziceni on Matchday 6 of the Champions League group stage Stuttgart’s six wins in eight Bundesliga matches have propelled them from 15th up to ninth including a 5-1 away day demolition of 1.FC Köln on Saturday. Cacau scored four times to increase his tally to eight goals for the season. FC Barcelona also won their most recent league game by four goals comfortably defeating Racing Santander 4-0 at the Camp Nou. Barça have won ten of their thirteen games since the group stage, two of those wins helping secure their FIFA Club World Cup triumph in the UAE in December.

There are any number of matchwinners for Barcelona but the irreplaceable Lionel Messi is the man who really makes them tick. With sixteen goals and just as many assists his presence in the team ensures that they go into any game as favourites. If he should have an off day then any one from Thierry Henry, Xavi, Pedro, Iniesta or Ibrahimović can dig Barcelona out of any hole. Stuttgart have Cacau’s goals but also have Pavel Pogrebnyak coming into form at the right time and the industry of on-loan Barça star Alexander Hleb although the injury to left-back Arthur Boka is a huge blow to the German side.

UEFA Champions League: Round of 16 preview 2

Posted in European Football by peterbein on February 16, 2010
FC Bayern

FC Bayern have been celebrating a lot in the German Bundesliga recently. Will this continue in the Champions League against AC Fiorentina?

The UEFA Champions League is back! “Stoppage Time” continues its preview of the Round of 16 games with a focus on those matches taking place on Wednesday with the second legs on Tuesday, March 9th:

FC BAYERN MÜNCHEN (Germany) v AC FIORENTINA (Italy)

Whereas Italian side AC Fiorentina had a comfortable ride in Champions League group E disposing of Olympique Lyonnais, Liverpool FC and Debreceni to finish top, German Rekordmeister (record champions) FC Bayern had to go to Turin and win away at Juventus to claim the second qualification spot in their group. At the time FC Bayern were struggling for consistency under new coach Louis van Gaal but a heroic 4-1 win against Italy’s Old Lady signalled a change in fortune for the Bavarian giants. Since then FC Bayern have been faultless in the Bundesliga while AC Fiorentina have slid down the Serie A table and are now finding it difficult to qualify for European competition next season.

Since the conclusion of the Champions League group stage FC Bayern have gone from strength to strength having won their last eight games in the league and are now level on points with joint leaders Bayer 04 Leverkusen, trailing behind the Werkself (Work’s Eleven) by virtue of goal difference. Having also qualified for the DFB Pokal (German Cup) semi-finals all is rosy at the Allianz Arena, at the moment, with the German side quietly contemplating a chance at going for a treble similar to what FC Barcelona accomplished last season. AC Fiorentina, on the other hand, have struggled with form and injuries since sealing their place in the knockout stages. The Viola have won only two of their last eight games in the league (against Bari and bottom club Siena) and from the heady heights of fourth have gone sliding down the table to their current rank of eleventh leaving them seven points from a UEFA Europa League place.

Although Mario Gomez has hit 14 goals so far in his maiden season at FC Bayern all of the fans’ expectations rest on the shoulders of Arjen Robben, who has been a revelation since his two goal introduction to German football against champions VfL Wolfsburg on Matchday 4 of the Bundesliga. The Dutchman is backed up by a returning Franck Ribéry who is desperate to show the fans the sort of form which led him to the German Footballer of the Year award in 2008. AC Fiorentina will hope that Stevan Jovetić, who impressed with his performance against Liverpool earlier this season, can once again perform on the European stage having scored three times in the tournament so far this season. However the Florentines have suffered with injuries this season and the news that defender Alessandro Gamberini will miss the rest of the season with a shoulder injury is bad news for the club. With the Italian side having never won a competitive fixture in Germany before the omens are against Fiorentina but at least they will be at home in the second leg so it is imperative that Fiorentina can score an away goal tomorrow night.

FC PORTO (Portugal) v ARSENAL FC (England)

Two-time European champions FC Porto will be hoping to continue their good form in the UEFA Champions League this season as they have struggled in their defence of the championship back home with both SL Benfica and surprise team Sporting Braga out in front. The Dragões (Dragons) progressed in second place from group B two points behind Chelsea FC and nine points ahead of both Atlético de Madrid and APOEL Nicosia. Arsenal usually progress with ease to the knockout stages in this tournament but find the tough going when the business end of the season arrives. Five years without a trophy would be a disaster for Arsenal fans who still lament how close they came to winning the trophy in 2006 when they were losing finalists to FC Barcelona. However they topped group H ahead of Greek champions Olympiakos and will hope that they can kick-start their season again in Europe.

FC Porto lie in third-place in the Portuguese Liga Sagres nine points behind leaders SL Benfica having played a game less than the Lisbon side. In their seven games since the group stage FC Porto have won four of them but have suffered a solitary defeat in that time to Benfica which has left them trailing in their wake. The Dragons have found consolation in the Carlsberg Cup (Portuguese League Cup) having qualified for the final to be played next month against…..Benfica. Arsenal have won seven of their twelve Premier League games since the group phase but have suffered a recent dip by losing to their two challengers for the title, leaders Chelsea FC and champions Manchester United. They did recover by beating Liverpool FC at home in their most recent league encounter so are still third in the table only six points behind first place. However defeats in the two domestic cup competitions to Stoke City and Manchester City means that Arsène Wenger’s men only have the domestic championship and Champions League to play for.

FC Porto’s danger man is Falcao who, since moving to the club from Argentine giants River Plate, has scored 17 goals (3 in the Champions League) so far this season. If he can link up with Brazilian striker Hulk then the Arsenal defence may just have problems against such a strong forward line although the Portuguese do miss two key players in Ruben Micael and Ernesto Farias. Arsenal’s inspiration usually comes from captain Cesc Fabrègas and the Gunners will rely on him more than ever as they suffer from a list of injuries including the likes of Andrey Arshavin, Robin van Persie, Eduardo and William Gallas, to name but four.

REMEMBER: the other four quarter-finals ties play next week so we will continue with the previews from next Monday, February 22nd.

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.