Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

UEFA Europa League: Round of 32 preview

Posted in European Football by peterbein on February 17, 2010
Miguel Veloso

Sporting's Miguel Veloso scores from the penalty spot in their 2-1 defeat at Everton FC on Tuesday

The UEFA Europa League is back and has reached the Round of 32 stage. There are plenty of matches that whet the appetite in this competition and “Stoppage Time” has a guide to all sixteen ties in the first knockout round:

EVERTON FC (England) v SPORTING (Portugal)

The first leg of this game took place last night to avoid a clash with Liverpool FC’s home game against Unirea Urziceni on Thursday. Everton have a slight 2-1 advantage going into the second leg thanks to goals from Steven Pienaar and Sylvain Distin. However French defender Distin was sent off late in the game for a foul on Liedson and Miguel Veloso (pictured) was able to pull one back for Sporting from twelve yards out. An intriging return game in Lisbon awaits.

AJAX AMSTERDAM (Netherlands) v JUVENTUS (Italy)

This is a game worthy of Champions League status with both clubs sharing six European Cup triumphs between them. Ajax are currently third in the Dutch Eredivisie whilst Juventus are sixth in Serie A. With both teams harbouring realistic ambitions of Champions League qualification next season they may decide to play weakened sides in Europe. Nonetheless this should be a fascinating contrast of styles between two great clubs.

ATHLETIC BILBAO (Spain) v RSC ANDERLECHT (Belgium)

The Basque side should have more motivation to progress as the Europa League is the club’s only realistic hope of silverware this season. Anderlecht, one of three Belgian clubs remaining in the competition, comfortably lead the Jupiler League but may find Athletic a tough proposition. Although if the Mauves can get an away goal in the first leg in Bilbao then the tie could be in the balance.

ATLÉTICO DE MADRID (Spain) v GALATASARAY (Turkey)

The Spanish giants are in good form having reached the Copa del Rey (Spanish Cup) final and beaten Spanish, European and World champions FC Barcelona 2-1 at the weekend. Galatasaray are top in the Turkish Süper Lig, at the moment, and are taking this competition seriously having won it in 2000 becoming the first Turkish team to win a European trophy. With both stadiums expected to be at their intimidating best these two legs won’t be for the faint hearted.

CLUB BRUGGE (Belgium) v VALENCIA CF (Spain)

Club Brugge haven’t been such a force in Belgian football in recent years having to put up with their big rivals Standard Liège and RSC Anderlecht win the last four league titles. Valencia, despite being a distant third in the Spanish League, have high hopes of winning this competition and are likely to include big hitters such as David Villa and David Silva in order to progress to the next stage.

FULHAM FC (England) v SHAKHTAR DONETSK (Ukraine)

London outfit Fulham FC will have to get a good result at home if they want to progress in this competition as their away record this season is really bad, just one win in thirteen Premier League games on the road. However Shakhtar, the last ever winners of what was the UEFA Cup last season, haven’t played a league match since December as the Ukrainian championship is still in its winter break until February 27th so will be lacking in match fitness.

HAMBURGER SV (Germany) v PSV EINDHOVEN (Netherlands)

The German side will want to go one better than last season, when they were knocked out at the semi-final stage by rivals Werder Bremen, especially as the inaugural UEFA Europa League final takes place at their home stadium.PSV Eindhoven, currently top of the Eredivisie, are accustomed to the Champions League but have done well in the second competition having qualified for this stage with an unbeaten record so will be a tough grame for HSV.

HERTHA BSC (Germany) v SL BENFICA (Portugal)

Benfica are huge favourites to advance to the next round. The Portuguese giants are leading the Liga Sagres back home whilst the German capital team are propping up the rest of the German Bundesliga and were in second place behind the other Lisbon giants Sporting in the group stage. The second leg, to be played in Lisbon, will take place on Tuesday, February 23rd to avoid a clash with Sporting’s home game against Everton FC two days later.

KØBENHAVN (Denmark) v OLYMPIQUE DE MARSEILLE (France)

The Danish champions, known locally as FCK, have played well against big clubs in Europe in recent years but fail to score many goals. FCK will also be lacking match practice as the SAS Superligaen has been in hibernation since early December. Marseille, currently lying in fifth position in Ligue 1, should have too strong a squad and will want to go all the way having lost in their two final appearances in 1999 against AC Parma and Valencia CF in 2004.

LILLE OSC (France) v FENERBAHÇE (Turkey)

“Fener” are involved in a title battle with eternal rivals Galatasaray in the Turkish Süper Lig so may decide to rest a couple of players in the two games against a Lille side who lie in third place in Ligue 1, seven points behind leaders FC Girondins de Bordeaux. The Turkish side will be slight favourites as they play the second leg at their intimidating Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium which hosted the UEFA Cup final last season.

LIVERPOOL FC (England) v UNIREA URZICENI (Romania)

Both teams are in the Europa League having finished third in their respective Champions League groups. Liverpool’s recent results have improved even if their performances aren’t always easy on the eye. However coach Rafael Benítez will want to win this trophy for a second time having previously won the title with Valencia CF in 2004. Romanian champions Unirea finished above Scottish champions Glasgow Rangers in their Champions League group but have seen coach Dan Petrescu jump ship to obscure Russian second league outfit FC Kuban Krasnodar during the winter break so may find it difficult against The Reds.

PANATHINAIKOS (Greece) v AS ROMA (Italy)

The Italian capital side are on fire, at the moment, having gone unbeaten in 14 Serie A matches stretching back to late October and have one foot in the Coppa Italia (Italian Cup) final with a 2-0 semi-final advantage over Udinese Calcio. Panathinaikos, including in-form striker Djibril Cissé, may be top of the Greek league but have stumbled in the last fortnight with their lead now just three points from perennial champions Olympiakos.

RUBIN KAZAN (Russia) v HAPOEL TEL AVIV (Israel)

The Russian side have had a dream couple of years winning back-to-back championships. However they’ve been out of action since the end of November and face a Hapoel side lying in second place of the Ha’Al League. If the Israeli side can sneak an away goal in the first leg then they may fancy their chances against rusty Rubin.

STANDARD LIEGE (Belgium) v RED BULL SALZBURG (Austria)

This is a fascinating contest between Champions League drop-outs Standard Liège and Red Bull Salzburg, who were the only team to qualify from the Europa League group stage with a 100% record. If Huub Stevens’ Austrian side can get a win in Belgium then expect the second leg to be a formality. However the Liègeois have one of the noisier stadiums in the competition and will make it difficult despite Standard having disappointed in the Belgian Jupiler League this season.

TWENTE ENSCHEDE (Netherlands) v WERDER BREMEN (Germany)

Steve McClaren, having taken unfashionable Middlesbrough FC to a UEFA Cup final in 2006, would love to take the Dutch side to the final in May. However Thomas Schaaf’s Werder side will be motivated to make up for last season’s disappointment in Istanbul against Shakhtar Donetsk by taking the short trip to Hamburg and, with their experience, will be favourites to go through.

VILLARREAL CF (Spain) v VfL WOLFSBURG (Germany)

Both teams have massively disappointed in their domestic leagues this season especially Wolfsburg who were surprise Bundesliga champions last season but who currently lie in 11th place this time around. Villarreal’s current form is slightly better, at the moment, and they seem to save their best performances for Europe.

Eastern Europe’s best get ready for CIS Cup

Posted in European Football by peterbein on January 15, 2010
Sheriff Tiraspol

Moldovan champions FC Sheriff parade the cup in 2009. However they won't be there to defend the title this time.

The Commonwealth of Independent States Cup takes place in Moscow for the next ten days as the best teams from the former Soviet bloc and the Baltic States compete for this pre-season tournament. It is sad that, in recent years, most teams choose to enter a reserve side, especially the Russian and Ukrainian champion sides who, since 2006, had preferred to play in the Channel One Cup held in Israel. But the tournament is still good preparation for Eastern European teams to get the most out of their squads with a guaranteed three games for each team in the group stage. Here is a brief guide to all of the clubs that have entered the 2010 tournament:

GROUP A: Rubin Kazan (Russia)

Rubin were promoted to the Russian top flight only seven years ago and have created a back-to-back championship winning side that won their maiden title in 2008 during the club’s 50th anniversary. They won the 2009 Russian League by eight points from record champions Spartak Moscow who, with six victories, are the record holders of the CIS Cup too. Their maiden appearance in the CIS Cup in 2009 ended at the group stage.

Dnepr Mogilev (Belarus)

Dnepr finished in the third place in the Belarussian League in 2009 trailing champions BATE Borisov by a whopping 22 points and runner-up Dinamo Minsk by ten points. They have one national championship to their name when they won in the 1998 season which allowed them to participate in the 1999 CIS Cup in which they finished third in the group stage and fail to qualify for the knock out stage. Representing Belarus as neither BATE nor Dinamo Minsk chose to enter.

FC Dordoi-Dynamo Naryn (Kyrgyzstan)

FC Dordoi have dominated the league in Kyrgyzstan in the last six seasons winning every year since 2004. They won the national championship in 2009 only after having to play against FC Abdish-Ata in a play off match, which finished 3-2, after the two teams were equal on points after the championship group which followed the regular season. FC Dordoi have never progressed beyond the group stage in the CIS Cup.

Liepājas Metalurgs (Latvia)

Metalurgs finally clinched their second Latvian Virsliga title in 2009 after they got the draw they needed on the penultimate matchday against title rivals FK Ventspils (CIS Cup finalist in 2007). Their first championship triumph in 2005 was the first time that a team other than Skonto Riga (three times runners-up in the CIS Cup in 2001, 03 and 04) were crowned champions in post-independence Latvia. In their only CIS Cup appearance in 2006 Metalurgs reached the quarter-finals before they were knocked out by Russian champions CSKA Moscow.

GROUP B: FK Baku (Azerbaijan)

FK Baku won their second Azerbaijani championship title in 2008-09 after they beat local rivals Inter Baku by a solitary point. In their solo appearance in the CIS Cup in 2007 they were defeated at the quarter-final stage by CSKA Moscow who went through 3-2 on penalties following a goalless stalemate.

HJK Helsinki (Finland)

The champions of Finland’s Veikkausliiga are competing in the CIS Cup for the first time this year. They won their 22nd championship in 2009 by finishing three points ahead of nearest challengers Honka Espoo. This was their first championship win since 2003.

FC Aktobe (Kazakhstan)

Kazakh champions four times in the last five years, FC Aktobe won the 2009 title finishing five points ahead of second place Lokomotiv. In the 2009 CIS Cup, FC Aktobe reached the final where they faced off against Moldovan champions Sheriff Tiraspol. After a 1-1 draw in regular time the game went to penalties where FC Sheriff won 5-4 to claim the cup (pictured).

FC Vakhsh (Tajikstan)

Tajik champions for the third time in their history in 2009 having beaten FC Regar-TedAZ to the title by five points. Have never progressed beyond the group stage in two previous attempts in the CIS Cup.

GROUP C: Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine)

Dynamo are an institution in Ukraine. They were the most successful side during the Soviet era with thirteen championships and equalled that number in the 2008-09 Ukrainian championship having beaten old foes Shakhtar Donetsk to the title by thirteen points. Dynamo have also been successful in the CIS Cup having won the competition on four occasions in 1996, 97, 98 and 2002.

HTTU Aşgabat (Turkmenistan)

Three times champions of Turkmenistan with triumphs in the 2005, 06 and 09 seasons. They beat FC Nebitçi in the 2009 championship by a mere two points to qualify for this year’s CIS Cup. HTTU have never qualified for the knockout stages in their previous CIS Cup attempts.

FC Levadia Tallinn (Estonia)

The dominant force in Estonian football having won the last four championships and seven in total. They eased to the 2009 Meistriliiga title by finishing a clear 19 points ahead of nearest challengers Trans Narva and JK Sillamäe Kalev. Despite their regular appearances in recent years FC Levadia have not progressed beyond the group stage.

Russia U-21 (Russia)

The Russian Under-21 side is invited “hors concours” to the tournament which means they are allowed to play three matches during the group stage but their results don’t count towards the final table and they’re not allowed to progress in to the knock out stages.

GROUP D: FC Bunyodkor (Uzbekistan)

A new force in Uzbek football having won the last two domestic championships. They won the 2009 edition under the stewardship of coach Luis Felipe Scolari as they easily saw off all competition finishing 22 points ahead of nearest challengers FC Pakhtakor Tashkent (who finished runner-up to FC Khazar Lenkoran in the 2008 CIS Cup final). FC Bunyodkor did not participate in the 2009 CIS Cup and have sent a reserve team to the 2010 edition opting to prepare their first team for the upcoming AFC Champions League.

FC Pyunik Yerevan (Armenia)

Twelve times winners of Armenia including the last nine championships, FC Pyunik are without doubt the dominant force of modern Armenian football. They won the 2009 title by seven points from FC Mika. The best performance of FC Pyunik in the CIS Cup was in 2006 where they were defeated by PFC Neftchi Baku in the semi-finals.

FK Ekranas (Lithuania)

Five times champions of Lithuania, FK Ekranas finished six points ahead of FK Vetra Vilnius in the 2009 A Lyga to qualify for this year’s CIS Cup. Their best performance in this tournament came in last year’s edition having reached the quarter-final stage only to be knocked-out on penalties by FC Pakhtakor.

FC Dacia Chişinău (Moldova)

Present CIS Cup champions FC Sheriff Tiraspol refused to enter this year’s tournament so Moldova will be represented by 2009 championship runners-up FC Dacia who finished 15 points behind FC Sheriff. This is FC Dacia’s first participation in the CIS Cup.

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.