Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

FIFA World Cup Review – Europe

Posted in European Football, International Football by peterbein on July 15, 2010
Spain World Cup champions

Spain finally managed to win the FIFA World Cup beating the Netherlands in extra-time

In the last of Stoppage Time’s continental reviews we look back at the varying fortunes of the thirteen European teams that competed in the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

With the exceptions of Brazil and Argentina, most people’s predictions before the World Cup tended to centre on teams such as England, Germany or Italy but it was to be two nations that had never previously won the competition who were to reach the final. Spain, a very popular choice of team due to their 2008 UEFA European Championship success, would face off against two-time finalists Holland in a game which, as most finals do, tended to disappoint but did at least have the justice of seeing the right team win the game.

But more on the final later. In the group stages the biggest disappointments were unquestionably Italy, France and England. In the case of Italy and France it was difficult to believe that these two nations competed in the most recent World Cup final in 2006 such was the depths to which team had sank during this tournament. They both finished bottom in groups which, on paper, seemed amongst the kindest in terms of difficulty. England, on the other hand, did manage to make it through the group stage but even the most hardcore England fan knows that they were poor in their first two games, scraped past Slovenia in the final group match before going out to a classic Germany performance in the round of sixteen. Even arguments over Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal cannot escape the fact that the Germans were the better team.

After the group stage had been completed seven of the thirteen European nations had failed to qualify for the round of sixteen. As well as Italy and France, the countries who feel that they should’ve done better in the group stage were Denmark (third behind Holland and Japan), Switzerland (finished third after defeating Spain in their first group game), Serbia (who admittedly suffered some bad luck against Australia) and Slovenia (lost out when USA beat Algeria) whilst Greece would’ve been happy just to score a goal, let alone win a game, before the competition kicked off after their one and only previous appearance in 1994 saw them goalless and pointless. In the event they did finally score their first World Cup goal in their second match against Nigeria in which they also chalked up their first victory. Alas they lost to Argentina in their final game and failed to progress any further.

The round of sixteen saw England, Portugal and Slovakia say goodbye although in the case of Slovakia they did have many good chances to beat the Netherlands before suffering a 2-1 reverse at the hands of the Oranje. The quarter-finals saw previous talk about South American dominance turn to European dominance as Spain, Netherlands and Germany all made it through with victories over Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina respectively. The semi-finals saw Spain reassert their style of play over a Germany team who were perhaps weighed down with expectation after two earlier against England and Argentina. Despite the dominance of possession and territory for the Spanish it took until the 73rd minute for Carles Puyol to head home the only goal of the game to gift the Spain a place in their first ever FIFA World Cup whilst the Netherlands got the better of Uruguay with a 3-2 win securing their third World Cup final appearance.

So the only certainty about the FIFA World Cup final would be that it would create a first time champion. Many neutrals before the game saw it as a breath of fresh air that none of the previous winners had reached the final for, in theory, this should’ve provided the motivation for two hungry teams to go out and secure their place in the history books. Sadly the game as a spectacle failed to live up to expectations but that has happened on so many occasions. Much of the post-match reaction centred upon English referee Howard Webb who dished out a World Cup final record 14 yellow cards and one red card in a game which saw many tough challenges (how Nigel de Jong didn’t go for his lunge on Xabi Alonso is a mystery) and a controversial moment at the end where, just before Andrés Iniesta’s 116th minute winning goal, a Wesley Sneijder free-kick was deflected by a Spanish player and should’ve been a corner but Webb gave the goal kick for Spain instead. With this incident leading up to the goal the Dutch were understandably furious but even allowing for this incident the Spanish had the more positive approach and were deserved winners. Spain became the third nation in history to win the UEFA European Championship and FIFA World Cup double after West Germany (EC 1972, WC 1974) and France (WC 1998, EC 2000) and ensured that Europe overtakes South America in World Cup wins with a 10-9 lead.

FIFA: Round of 16 Review

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 29, 2010
Germany v England

Thomas Müller and Lukas Podolski celebrate Germany's 4-1 win over England

So the Round of Sixteen is completed in the FIFA World Cup with eight teams having to face up to the stark reality of flying back home to face the critics whilst eight teams look forward to the quarter-final stage in what remains a fascinating tournament. South America has performed well with the possibility of all four semi-finalists hailing from that particular continent should they overcome their respective opponents in the last eight. However there are three European teams and the sole African representative remaining who would like to deprive the Latin Americans of complete domination. Stoppage Time – International Football Blog looks back at the Round of Sixteen and provides the quarter-final draw.

The knock-out stages began last Saturday with Uruguay playing against South Korea who appeared to be Asia’s best chance of a last eight representative. Sadly for the Koreans it only took eight minutes to fall behind as Luis Suárez gave Uruguay the lead and, thus, added to the goal he scored against Mexico in his team’s final group game. The Koreans though didn’t give up and were back on level terms on 68 minutes when Lee Chung-Yong headed the equalizer from a free-kick and set up a fascinating climax to the contest. With ten minutes remaining it was to be Luis Suárez again who would settle the game in Uruguay’s favour showing his class with a beautifully curled shot into the top right corner of the net. The second game on Saturday saw Ghana create history as they defeated the United States to put themselves into a World Cup quarter-final for the first time. Kevin-Prince Boateng gave the Black Stars the lead after just five minutes after his run from the halfway line saw him steer the ball hard and low into the net past Tim Howard. The Americans restored parity in the second half when Landon Donovan shot home from the penalty spot after Clint Dempsey had been brought down by Jonathan Mensah in the box. It was a classic game of two halves which finished 1-1 and, thus, needed thirty minutes of extra-time. Just three minutes had passed when Asamoah Gyan continued his wonderful tournament by scoring an excellent goal from distance and, with no further scoring in the game, ensured that Africa had its sole representative progress into the last eight of the competition.

Sunday saw two potential classic matches on paper turn out to be pretty one-sided affairs. There was much controversy in the Germany versus England match (it wouldn’t be Germany v England otherwise) when a Frank Lampard shot hit the underside of the bar and came down at least a metre over the line but the linesman didn’t see it and denied England an equalizing goal which would’ve tied the game at two-all. Before then Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski had given the Nationalmannschaft a two-goal lead before Matthew Upson halved the deficit by getting on the end of a Steven Gerrard cross. Sadly for England that was as good as it got as even the most die-hard fan of the Three Lions would admit that they were outclassed by a Germany team whose splendid counter-attacking play created two goals for young starlet Thomas Müller in the final quarter of the match to give Germany a convincing 4-1 win. Later that evening any ideas that Mexico had to get revenge on Argentina for knocking them out of the 2006 tournament were soon dispelled in equally controversial circumstances. Carlos Tévez was in an offside position upon giving Argentina the lead on 26 minutes but the linesman, once again, failed to spot the indiscretion and the Mexico players were furious. Gonzalo Higuaín doubled the lead on 33 minutes and the Albiceleste sealed the win in the second half when Tévez scored his second seven minutes after the break. Javier Hernández did score a consloation for El Tri but Diego Maradona’s men came through any potential fightback to claim a place in the next round.

Carlos Tevez

Carlos Tevez scored twice for Argentina in their 3-1 win over Mexico

Monday night saw two of the tournament favourites, Brazil and the Netherlands, continue their good progress. The Netherlands continue to win despite playing football which is far from what we expect from the pioneers of Voetbal Totaal. Arjen Robben gave the Oranje the lead thanks to a trademark left-foot shot from the edge of the penalty box and one was expecting the Dutch to go on and stroll the game from there. However they were made to fight for their victory which they finally sealed in the 84th minute when Dirk Kuijt squared the ball to Wesley Sneijder in the box to make it 2-0. Up until then the Slovakians had plenty of chances which were spurned and, as a result, they would rue their profligacy in front of goal especially as they halved the deficit with the final kick of the game, a penalty from Robert Vittek after Martin Jakubko was brought down in the box. There was no time after the kick to continue and the Dutch went through to the next round with what was ultimately a slender 2-1 victory. Brazil made much easier work of their all-South American encounter with Chile, a team who finished just a solitary point behind them in World Cup qualifying. Two goals in three minutes at the end of the first half from Juan and Luís Fabiano were complimented by a beautiful finish from Robinho on the hour mark to give the Seleção an easy 3-0 win over a disappointing Chile team who did, to their credit, try to play some direct football once they conceded the third, no doubt believing that they had nothing to lose from such an approach. Dunga’s men are looking ominously good but many will feel that their quarter-final with the Netherlands will be their first real test of the tournament. A fascinating encounter awaits.

The final two matches in the Round of Sixteen were played today and, once again, there was joy for the South Americans but only after Paraguay had been taken all the way to a penalty shoot-out by a Japan team who were unfortunate to have to lose in such a manner. The only missed penalty in the shoot-out was by Japan’s Yūichi Komano whose spot-kick hit the crossbar and went over. Because Paraguay had the first kick in the shoot-out their final goal from Óscar Cardozo meant that a fifth kick for Japan was unnecessary and La Albirroja progressed to the quarter-finals by the skin of their teeth. To finish the round we had an Iberian derby between Spain and Portugal which looked like a mouth-watering match on paper but which, sadly, failed to live up to expectations. Cristiano Ronaldo, just like Wayne Rooney and Franck Ribéry, failed to shine during this tournament and he was amongst the most disappointed of the Portuguese side after the final whistle blew after their 1-0 defeat probably because he knew that he hadn’t done his talent any justice. The goal which won an otherwise poor game came in the 63rd minute from David Villa, whose initial shot at keeper Eduardo was parried back to his feet and then forced home going in off the bar at the second attempt. This meant that Villa joins Gonzalo Higuaín and Robert Vittek on four goals each and one wouldn’t bet against him adding to that total in Spain’s quarter-final match against Paraguay on Saturday.

FIFA WORLD CUP – QUARTER-FINAL DRAW

02.07.2010 Netherlands v Brazil (Port Elizabeth)

02.07.2010 Uruguay v Ghana (Johannesburg)

03.07.2010 Argentina v Germany (Cape Town)

03.07.2010 Paraguay v Spain (Johannesburg)

FIFA: Groups E and F Review

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 25, 2010
Keisuke Honda

Keisuke Honda was amongst the goalscorers for Japan against Denmark

Figures given are as follows: Games Played/Points Scored

GROUP E: NETHERLANDS 3/9; JAPAN 3/6; DENMARK 3/3; CAMEROON 3/0

Whisper it quietly but if there’s a team who are creeping in under the radar to win the FIFA World Cup then that could be the Netherlands. They won all three group matches to finish with maximum points and look like they could be a prime contender to lift football’s greatest prize. Having enjoyed a bit of good fortune to take the lead in games against Denmark and Japan the Dutch were always in control in their final game against Cameroon and Bert Van Marwijk must now keep a lid on expectations and keep his players’ feet on the ground. Japan made history by qualifying beyond the group stage for the first time outside of their native land with the 1-0 defeat to Netherlands being their only reverse. Two fantastic free-kick goals in the third match against Denmark set-up them up for a famous win and they now get to look forward to a Round of 16 tie against Paraguay.

GROUP F: PARAGUAY 3/5; SLOVAKIA 3/4; NEW ZEALAND 3/3; ITALY 3/2

Well who would’ve thought it? The defending world champions not only going out of the competition but finishing below rank tournament outsiders New Zealand in the process. Not very much went right for Italy in their three group matches but the truth is that they were just not good enough. In any case credit should be given to Paraguay who topped the group with a win and two draws and they were joined by Slovakia who played their part in the game of the tournament so far when defeating Italy by three goals to two. Arguably the unluckiest team in the competition are the All Whites of New Zealand who were unbeaten in three games and still failed to progress to the next stage but Rikki Herbert’s men can be rightly proud of their performances in this tournament which gives them a platform to build on for future competition. Paraguay will play Japan in Pretoria on Tuesday whilst Slovakia’s reward is a tough tie with the Netherlands in Durban on Monday afternoon.

Vladimír Weiss

Vladimír Weiss led his Slovakia team to the knock-out stages after a 3-2 win over Italy.

FIFA: South Americans cruise to victory; Italy held by New Zealand

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 20, 2010
Shane Smeltz

Shane Smeltz gave New Zealand the lead in their 1-1 draw against world champions Italy

The FIFA World Cup doesn’t fail to surprise with New Zealand gaining another point in the competition at the expense of world champions Italy who are failing to find their form. This draw means that Paraguay are top of Group F having beaten Slovakia 2-0 earlier in the day. In the final match of the day Brazil ensured that a sense of normality remained at the tournament with a 3-1 victory over the Ivory Coast to remain top of Group G although the game was marred by a controversial red card shown to Kaká.

With one point already in the bank after a dramatic last-gasp equalizer in their opening match against Slovakia, New Zealand were hoping not to be on the receiving end of a heavy defeat to world champions Italy. The Azzurri had to play Federico Marchetti in goal in place of the injured Gianluigi Buffon but were otherwise unchanged from the team that scraped a 1-1 draw against Paraguay. Sadly for the Italians they would have to come from behind again as an early New Zealand free-kick found Shane Smeltz, the Australian A-League’s top scorer in the last two seasons, unmarked in the box although there was a heavy suspicion of offside about the goal. Alas, for Italy, the linesman kept his flag down and the All Whites were ahead but not for long. Ricardo Montolivo had already come close to scoring when his long-range effort hit a post before Daniele de Rossi, who scored the equalizer for Italy in their first game, was brought down in the box after Tommy Smith had pulled his shirt. Vincenzo Iaquinta was at hand to convert the penalty in the 28th minute and restore parity for Italy.

The second half would see a flurry of chances from Italy with New Zealand’s defence resisting wave after wave of attack from the defending World Cup holders. Perhaps the best chance of the second half, though, fell New Zealand’s way when substitute Chris Wood evaded the attention of Fabio Cannavaro and shot narrowly wide of the post with just three minutes remaining. Had that have gone in it would’ve set-up one of the great World Cup shocks but, nevertheless, the All Whites got what they deserved from this game even though they were under pressure for significant periods of the game.

Earlier in the afternoon a rather less exciting game was decided in favour of Paraguay who were relatively untroubled from a Slovakia side who didn’t have enough creativity to break down the solid defence from Gerardo Martino’s men. After a pretty dire opening twenty-five minutes of the game Enrique Vera scored the opening goal for Paraguay as he received a pass just inside the penalty box and shot with the outside of his right foot to give La Albirroja the lead. If anybody expected the Slovakians to wake up from their slumber after the goal then they were to be disappointed as the Eastern Europeans had no answer to Paraguay’s superior play. The only surprise was that it took until five minutes before time until Paraguay sealed the deal through a Cristian Riveros power driver from the edge of the box after an Aureliano Torres free-kick had eventually worked its way to him. With two games played in Group F it is Paraguay who lead the way with four points, followed by Italy and New Zealand on two and Slovakia prop up the rest with one point. The final games in the group take place at 16:00 local time on Thursday with Paraguay winning the group should they overcome New Zealand and Italy hoping to secure at least second place with a win over Slovakia.

Luis Fabiano

Luis Fabiano was on target twice in Brazil's 3-1 win over Ivory Coast

In the final game played on Sunday Brazil impressed in a 3-1 victory over Sven-Göran Eriksson’s Ivory Coast to stay top of the group with a perfect six points from six. Luís Fabiano found his scoring boots in the 25th minute when put through by Kaká to fire the ball into the roof of the net and Dunga’s troops never looked like losing it from there. Just five minutes into the second half and Brazil had doubled their lead although there was a suspicion of handball in the build-up to Luís Fabiano’s second goal in which he took on three defenders before firing the ball home from twelve yards out. Brazil were coasting it thirteen minutes later as Kaká went down the left hand side and pulled the ball back to Elano who caught the Ivorian defence napping and slipped it past the keeper from close range. Didier Drogba did pull one back for the Ivory Coast on 79 minutes when converting a right-sided cross from Yaya Touré with his head to bring an ounce of respectability back to the score.

Sadly the match began to get tetchy and, with two minutes of normal time to play, Kaká was the victim of the most ridiculous refereeing decision of the tournament so far when he was adjudged to have hit Abdel-Kader Keïta in the face although they merely touched shoulders at worst. Keïta went down holding his face and the referee showed the red card to the Brazilian star who could face anything from a 1-4 match ban depending on the outcome of a FIFA enquiry into the incident. Thankfully there were no further flashpoints after that but Dunga’s night would’ve been soured somewhat after the incident. Nonetheless Brazil should be happy with their night’s work and they will end the group phase of the competition on Friday with their match against Portugal in Durban.

FIFA: World Cup Guide – Part Three

Posted in European Football, International Football by peterbein on June 2, 2010
Morten Olsen

Can Morten Olsen guide Denmark beyond the group stage in South Africa?

In the final part of our build up to the FIFA World Cup, which kicks off on Friday, June 11th, Stoppage Time – International Football Blog looks at those teams that qualified from Europe (FIFA world rankings correct on May, 26th):

DENMARK – Winners of Europe Group One; FIFA World Ranking = 36

The Danes qualified from a tough group including Portugal, Hungary and arch-rivals and neighbours Sweden. Although not expected to win the competition Morten Olsen’s men will prove tough opponents and history has proven that anybody that takes the Danes lightly does so at their peril. Their group opponents are the Netherlands, Japan and Cameroon so may fancy their chances of reaching the last sixteen.

Coach: Morten Olsen

Star Player: Niklas Bendtner

PORTUGAL – 2nd in Europe Group One (won in play-off); FIFA World Ranking = 3

Portugal were in danger of not even getting a play-off place after a dreadful start to the campaign. A strong finish saw them placed second, one point ahead of Sweden and Hungary. In the play-off they then beat Bosnia-Herzogovina 1-0 in each leg; Bruno Alves deciding the first game in their favour, Raul Meireles scoring the only goal in the second leg. Expected to get past the group stage.

Coach: Carlos Queiroz

Star Player: Cristiano Ronaldo

SWITZERLAND – Winners of Europe Group Two; FIFA World Ranking = 24

The Swiss qualified fairly comfortably in a group where Greece were the only real rivals for the first place position and Latvia threatened on occasions to spoil the party. Solid if not spectacular, Switzerland will see anything beyond the second round as a successful World Cup but first they must negotiate their way past a group containing Spain, Honduras and Chile. Can the wily old fox Ottmar Hitzfeld get the best from a limited squad in these finals?

Coach: Ottmar Hitzfeld

Star Player: Tranquillo Barnetta

GREECE – 2nd in Europe Group Two (won in play-off); FIFA World Ranking = 13

Otto Rehhagel steered the Greeks to the World Cup after a two-legged play-off against the Ukraine. The 2004 European champions drew the first leg at home 0-0 but managed to win the away leg 1-0 thanks to a strike from Dimitrios Salpingidis. Like the Swiss not many pundits expect the Greeks to go beyond the second round but could, at the very least, qualify for the last sixteen from a group containing Argentina, South Korea and Nigeria.

Coach: Otto Rehhagel

Star Player: Theofanis Gekas

SLOVAKIA – Winners of Europe Group Three; FIFA World Ranking = 34

Slovakia qualified from what was an open group containing neighbours Czech Republic, Poland, Northern Ireland and Slovenia. A 1-0 away win in Poland on the final matchday of the qualifiers secured their place and succumbed Slovenia to a play-off. In a group involving Italy, Paraguay and New Zealand so will definitely be involved in a fight for second place but may just lack some quality to get to the knockout phase. Sadly for Slovakia they will have to play without their defensive talisman Martin Škrtel who injured himself in a friendly game before the tournament.

Coach: Vladimír Weiss

Star Player: Robert Vittek

SLOVENIA – 2nd in Europe Group Three (won in play-off); FIFA World Ranking = 25

Slovenia surprised everybody by finishing second in the group above heavyweight eastern Europe neighbours Czech Republic and Poland. They surprised everybody again by beating the mighty Russians in the play-offs on away goals. After a narrow 2-1 defeat in Moscow, the Slovenians scored on the edge of half-time in the return fixture in Maribor thanks to Zlatko Dedič and the away goal proved to be the crucial difference between the two teams. Slovenia have a tough draw and may struggle for the third spot behind England and the United States but recent history proves that they can cause a shock on their day.

Coach: Matjaž Kek

Star Player: Milivoje Novakovič

Michael Ballack

Michael Ballack (left) will be a huge loss for Germany but they should still progress far in the tournament

GERMANY – Winners of Europe Group Four; FIFA World Ranking = 6

The Germans remained unbeaten in a relatively easy group although impressive home and away victories against Russia proved to be crucial as they won their group by four points. Joachim Löw will be quietly optimistic about his side’s chances in South Africa despite a list of pre-tournament injuries including the likes of Michael Ballack, Simon Rolfes and René Adler to name but three. With new captain Philipp Lahm ready to take charge the Nationalmannschaft will hope to progress from the group stage and reach the last sixteen with, perhaps, a potential clash with old foes England on the cards.

Coach: Joachim Löw

Star Player: Bastien Schweinsteiger

SPAIN – Winners of Europe Group Five; FIFA World Ranking = 2

It’s been a vintage couple of years for the Spanish national team; European champions in 2008, a 100% record in World Cup qualifying and a spell at number one in the FIFA world rankings, can they go all the way and be the best team in South Africa? Last year’s FIFA Confederations Cup saw them surprisingly knocked out by the United States at the semi-final stage so they will still have to be weary of so-called ‘lesser opposition’. Having been written off as chokers in previous tournaments the likes of Fernando Torres, David Villa and Xabi Alonso will be determined to do it for Spain when it really matters and a group containing Honduras, Chile and Switzerland shouldn’t cause too many problems.

Coach: Vicente del Bosque

Star Player: David Villa

ENGLAND – Winners of Europe Group Six; FIFA World Ranking = 8

Fabio Capello’s men easily saw off the likes of Ukraine and Croatia in their group and qualified with two matches to spare. Hopes are high that the so-called “golden generation” including Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney et al will perform in South Africa but will there be the usual disappointment to follow all the hype? Fabio Capello thinks not and one can say that England are real candidates for the title mainly because of the Italian’s stewardship. The group stage shouldn’t cause too many problems but the mentality of the squad will be questioned once the knockout stages get under way.

Coach: Fabio Capello

Star Player: Wayne Rooney

SERBIA – Winners of Europe Group Seven; FIFA World Ranking = 15

Although Serbia could only get one point out of six against group favourites France other results in the group went in their favour and, therefore, they went through by topping the group by one point against their more illustrious opponents. Will be tough to beat and contain a number of technically skillful players with experience from many of Europe’s top leagues. They will find it tough in Germany’s group but can progress if they make full use of their ability.

Coach: Radomir Antic

Star Player: Dejan Stanković

FRANCE – 2nd in Europe Group Seven (won in play-off); FIFA World Ranking = 9

Les Bleus started the qualifying campaign in terrible fashion only collecting one point in their first three games. In the next seven games they took 17 from 21 points and, though never convincing, did what they had to do to secure a play-off place. France later played Republic of Ireland in a two-legged play-off and despite the controversy that surrounded Thierry Henry’s infamous handball leading up to the goal that secured France’s passage to South Africa the French will be considered one of the favourites to provide a strong challenge in South Africa although they are in an open group containing the host nation, Uruguay and Mexico so they’re not far from certain to qualify for the Round of Sixteen just yet.

Coach: Raymond Domenech

Star Player: Franck Ribéry

ITALY – Winners of Europe Group Eight; FIFA World Ranking = 5

The current world champions were taken all the way by the Republic of Ireland in their group but a late equalizing goal from Alberto Gilardino in Dublin secured the point that the Italians needed to top the group. If Marcello Lippi can steer the Azzurri to further World Cup glory in South Africa then they will join Brazil as record champions of the competition with five wins each. Should qualify with relative ease from their group which contains Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia and, despite an ageing squad, are expected to go far in the tournament.

Coach: Marcello Lippi

Star Player: Andrea Pirlo

NETHERLANDS – Winners of Europe Group Nine; FIFA World Ranking = 4

It’s difficult to judge just how tough an opponent the Dutch will be in South Africa. They qualified with a 100% record from arguably the weakest group in qualifying including Norway, Scotland, Macedonia, and Iceland. As usual there have been pre-tournament reports of internal arguments so it seems that the Dutch, despite their potential, never learn the lessons from previous mistakes. A further setback for the Dutch is the injury in a pre-tournament friendly against Hungary to Arjen Robben who may miss some, if not all, of the tournament with a hamstring problem. At the very least they should easily get past a group containing Japan, Denmark and Cameroon without too many problems but anything beyond that remains questionable knowing past history.

Coach: Bert Van Marwijk

Star Player: Robin Van Persie

Italy National Team

Will the Italians be celebrating World Cup success yet again in South Africa?

Eastern Europe: Season Review (+video)

Posted in European Football by peterbein on May 27, 2010

It has been another eventful season in eastern European football with some established powers such as Crvena Zvezda and Dinamo Zagreb adding to their list of historical successes along with some of the game’s new powers such as MŠK Žilina and CFR Cluj continuing to upset the old guard in their respective countries. “Stoppage Time – International Football Blog” reviews the end of season in many of eastern Europe’s most prestigious league and cup competitions:

ROMANIA (CFR Cluj 34 games/69 points; Unirea Urziceni 34/66; FC Vaslui 34/62)

CFR Cluj won their second ever Romanian Liga I title by scraping over the line from 2008-09 champions Unirea Urziceni with a final day 4-2 victory over already relegated Ceahlaul Piatra Niamt. For the Transylvanian club it was their second title in three years – their maiden title came in the 2007-08 season – and they followed it up on Wednesday evening with their first ever Romanian league and cup double but only after surviving the lottery of a penalty shoot-out over cup final opponents FC Vaslui after the game remained goalless after extra-time. CFR Cluj enter the group stage of next season’s UEFA Champions League whilst Unirea must undergo a play-off to qualify for the group stage. FC Vaslui enter the UEFA Europa League along with Steaua Bucharest, FC Timişoara and Dinamo Bucharest.

POLAND (Lech Poznań 30/65; Wisła Kraków 30/62; Ruch Chorzów 30/53)

Lech Poznań won their first league title since 1993 having pipped defending champions Wisła Kraków to the post by three points. Lech defeated Zagłębie Lubin by two goals to nil on the final day to make sure of their sixth Ekstraklasa title but their nearest challengers could only draw 1-1 at home to Odra Wodzisław Śląski so the trophy would’ve gone to Poznań in any case. In the Polish Cup final Ruch Chorzów’s chances of winning a trophy to add to their third place league finish were dashed by outsiders Jagiellonia Białystok – a club featured in Stoppage Time’s Away Days section earlier this season – who won 1-0 thanks to an Adrius Skrela goal in the 49th minute gifting Jagiellonia their first major honour in Polish football.

See Lech clinch the title HERE:

CROATIA (Dinamo Zagreb 30/62; Hajduk Split 30/58; Cibalia 30/57)

The league table looks a lot closer than the championship race actually was with Dinamo Zagrab winning their fifth consecutive Prva HNL title with four games to spare. On Matchday 26 of the campaign Dinamo drew with local neighbours NK Zagreb 1-1 and the point took Dinamo twelve points clear of Hadjuk Split and a goal difference over thirty goals better off. Hajduk did gain some consolation in the Croatian Cup after a convincing 4-1 aggregate win over NHK Šibenik in the two-legged final. Dinamo must take part in the third qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League next season whilst Hajduk, Cibalia and NHK Šibenik enter the UEFA Europa League.

SERBIA (Partizan 30/78; Crvena Zvezda 30/71; OFK Beograd 30/50)

Serbia’s very own Old Firm continue to fight it out between them in the SuperLiga with the black and white of Partizan continuing to maintain domestic dominance after securing their third consecutive title with a game to spare. The important match came in Matchday 28 when Partizan beat their old rivals Crvena Zvezda 1-0 thanks to a Radosav Petrović strike late in the game to give the home side a four point cushion with two games left. That victory gave Partizan the psychological edge and they secured the championship with a 3-0 win over third place OFK Beograd on Matchday 29. Crvena Zvezda did, however, manage to claim the Serbian Cup with a convincing 3-0 win over Vojvodina Novi Sad thanks to goals from Aleksandar Jevtić, Kadu and Miloš Trifunović. See highlights of the Serbian Cup final HERE:

CZECH REPUBLIC (Sparta Prague 30/62; Jablonec 30/61; Banik Ostrava 30/60)

The Czech Gambrinus Liga came to an exciting climax this season with just a point separating the top three teams going into the final matchday of the season. Sparta were the favourites going into the final game as their goal difference was five better than Banik Ostrava’s so Sparta had to match their result in order to claim the title. Jablonec were waiting in the wings in the event that both of the others slipped up but, in the end, Sparta did a professional job in beating fourth place FK Teplice 1-0. In the event Banik could only draw away to 1.FK Příbram whilst Jablonec stole second spot with a 2-0 home win over Dynamo České Budějovice. Sparta enter the UEFA Champions League at the second qualifying round next season. FK Jablonec had the chance of some silverware in the Czech Cup but were made to pay by a determined FC Viktoria Plzeň side who were the better side on the day to claim the cup thanks to a 2-1 win and claim the final UEFA Europa League place.

BULGARIA (Litex Lovech 30/70; CSKA Sofia 30/58; Levski Sofia 30/57)

The big two of Bulgarian football could only watch as Litex Lovech strolled to their third A PFG title with a twelve point cushion from nearest challengers CSKA at the end of the season. Matchday 28 saw Litex clinch the league championship thanks to a 3-0 win against Lokomotive Plovdiv and a place in the second qualfying round of the UEFA Champions League awaits the Lovech based side. CSKA and Levski have struggled by their usual high standards with neither gaining any consolation in the domestic cup which was won for the first time by PFC Beroe Stara Zagora in a 1-0 win over surprise finalists Chernomorets Pomorie from the second tier of Bulgarian football.

HUNGARY (Debreceni VSC 30/62; Videoton FC 30/61; Győri ETO 30/57)

Debreceni VSC continue to be the dominant force in Hungarian football although this title wasn’t as comfortable as any of their previous four championship wins. DVSC were separated from nearest challengers Videoton FC by a solitary point going into the final set of league matches. But, in an unbelieveable climax to the season, Debreceni sensationally lost 1-0 away to mid-table Kecskeméti TE to leave their title defence hanging in the balance. Fortunately for DVSC third place Győri ETO did their bit to help the champions by beating Videoton FC 1-0 to provide the championship with a grandstand finish. Perhaps buoyed by the excitement Debreceni VSC claimed a double triumph by defeating Zalaegerszegi TE 3-2 in an exciting cup final. Watch Debreceni’s final day defeat and subsequent title celebrations here:

SLOVAKIA (MŠK Žilina 33/73; Slovan Bratislava 33/70; Dukla Banská Bystrica 33/56)

MŠK Žilina secured their fifth Corgoň Liga title on the penultimate matchday of the season when defeating DAC Dunajská Streda 4-0 at home whilst Slovan Bratislava, five points behind going into the same round of matches, were also winning at home, in their case 2-0 against third placed Dukla Banská Bystrica. The gap going into the final set of matches was too big for Slovan to bridge and gave the eastern Slovakian side the championship. Slovan, arguably the biggest and most famous club in Slovakia, did gain some consolation with an impressive 6-0 thumping of hapless opponents Spartak Trnava in the Slovakian Cup final.

SLOVENIA (Koper 36/73; Maribor 36/62; Gorica 36/55)

FC Koper were this season’s dominant force in Slovenian football claiming their maiden championship in fine style. FC Koper secured the league championship trophy with four matches left to play when gaining an unassailable lead after their Matchday 32 win over Rudar Velenje. This result, coupled with a draw for NK Maribor at home to NK Domžale, provided a fifteen point cushion with four games left and the side from south west Slovenia, close to the Italian border, will experience their first taste of UEFA Champions League football next season. NK Maribor did gain some success in the domestic cup final though after beating NK Domžale in a closely fought encounter by three goals to two. David Bunderla scored the winning goal in the last minute of extra-time to give NK Maribor their sixth success in the Pokal Hervis.

FIFA World Cup draw – The Verdict

Posted in International Football by peterbein on December 5, 2009
Charlize Theron

Charlize Theron hosted the World Cup draw in South Africa

The draw for the 2010 FIFA World Cup took place in Cape Town, South Africa, yesterday. Presented by Charlize Theron (pictured) and including a host of figures from the football world including FIFA president Sepp Blatter and perhaps  the most recognisable sporting icon in the world David Beckham, the draw did throw up some intriguing individual ties and some interesting groups. “Stoppage Time” assesses the groups and the matches that should shape the fortunes at the beginning of the tournament:

GROUP A: SOUTH AFRICA, MEXICO, URUGUAY, FRANCE

The host nation should find it very tough in a group which looks like it will be very close. The French will be favourites to go through but their clash against Mexico could decide who wins the group. However the South Africans may harbour hopes of surprising Mexico in the opening game of the tournament. Uruguay, with their deadly strike force of Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez, will certainly fancy their chances of finishing in the top two. Their final group game against Mexico could be amongst the most intense of the championship.

GROUP B: ARGENTINA, NIGERIA, SOUTH KOREA, GREECE

Almost an exact copy of Group D in the 1994 FIFA World Cup (Argentina, Nigeria and Greece played in a group that contained Bulgaria instead of South Korea). Despite qualifying the tough way Argentina should top this group quite comfortably, the opening match against Nigeria will probably be their toughest assignment. However the Greeks may wish to spring a surprise in much the same way that they did in EURO 2004 when they became European Champions. South Korea can only expect to finish bottom.

GROUP C: ENGLAND, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, ALGERIA, SLOVENIA

Almost after the draw had finished the English media were in overdrive, hyping up their country’s chances of winning the 2010 World Cup. It’s true that they should expect to top this group with relative ease. The only match of real interest is England’s opening clash with the USA, a game that throws back terrible memories for the “Home of Football”. If the Americans can repeat their 1-0 victory in the 1950 World Cup (so unbelieveable a result in those days that the English media initially reported a 10-0 victory for England!) then it would leave the group wide open. The match will have a personal edge involving the LA Galaxy footballers David Beckham and US Captain Landon Donovan, a war of words between the two earlier in the season may add a bit of extra spice to this match. Algeria and Slovenia will be fighting to avoid the wooden spoon.

GROUP D: GERMANY, AUSTRALIA, SERBIA, GHANA

Not as easy for Germany as it may appear on paper. The Australians were very unlucky to lose to the Italians in the 2006 World Cup (a dubious penalty tucked away by Francesco Totti five minutes into stoppage time) and they will hope to put up a challenge for the top spot in this group. Serbia are competing in their first finals as an independent nation and have a leader in Manchester United player Nemanda Vidic. Ghana could be a team that plays open, attacking football but their defence will concede plenty of goals. Germany are quietly optimistic that they can go far in this tournament. The matches between themselves, Australia and Serbia should determine the outcome of the group.

GROUP E: NETHERLANDS, DENMARK, CAMEROON, JAPAN

This group looks to be a fairly comfortable one for the Dutch. As I reported in my blog “FIFA World Cup draw preview – Part Three” the Dutch had a very easy group in qualifying and they will look to take that form into this group. Cameroon will be a strong contender for second place and with players like Samuel Eto’o and Geremi can give the Danes a tough challenge when they meet in their second group match. Japan have improved as a nation in the last decade but won’t be expected to trouble the other three too much.

GROUP F: ITALY, PARAGUAY, NEW ZEALAND, SLOVAKIA

The current world champions Italy won’t have too much trouble getting through this group. The opening group game between themselves and Paraguay should be among one of the better ones in the group stages. Slovakia are a tough team on their day and won’t go down without a fight. However they may be just a little too inexperienced at this level and will find it tough to get to the Round of 16. New Zealand will be ecstatic to be in South Africa but their squad is very limited, therefore expect defensive tactics from a nation that will want to avoid embarrassment in this tournament.

GROUP G: BRAZIL, NORTH KOREA, IVORY COAST, PORTUGAL

There’s a 1966 World Cup feel to this group; it was Portugal who, literally, kicked Pele and his great Brazilian team off the park (Goodison Park to be precise) and it was Portugal who had to come back from 3-0 down to defeat the surprise package of the tournament North Korea 5-3. This time, though, matches in this group involving North Korea should be more clear-cut as they’re the outsiders of this tournament. The Ivory Coast, involved in a tough group including Argentina and Holland in the 2006 World Cup, will be expecting as tough a time in 2010 but some will feel that they can beat Portugal, whose qualification for the World Cup was only confirmed via a play-off. If the Ivorians can get three points against Portugal in the opening group match then they should reach the second round.

GROUP H: SPAIN, SWITZERLAND, HONDURAS, CHILE

The current European champions Spain are currently the favourites to win the FIFA World Cup and they will be encouraged further having seen the draw. They should easily overcome the challenges of their group rivals leaving the rest to fight it out for second place. Honduras qualified thanks to events elsewhere (see blog “FIFA World Cup draw preview – Part One) but aren’t expected to get through this group, therefore the match between Switzerland and Chile (both teams’ second group match) should prove to be amongst the more important.

FIFA World Cup draw preview – Part Three

Posted in International Football by peterbein on December 3, 2009
Italy 2006 World Cup

Fabio Cannavaro lifts the World Cup for Italy in 2006

In the final part of our build up to tomorrow’s FIFA World Cup finals draw “Stoppage Time” looks at those teams that qualified from Europe:

DENMARK – Winners of Europe Group One; FIFA World Ranking = 26*

The Danes qualified from a tough group including Portugal, Hungary and arch-rivals and neighbours Sweden. Although not expected to win the competition Morten Olsen’s men will prove tough opponents and history has proven that anybody that takes the Danes lightly does so at their peril.

PORTUGAL – 2nd in Europe Group One (won in play-off); FIFA World Ranking = 5

Portugal were in danger of not even getting a play-off place after a dreadful start to the campaign. A strong finish saw them placed second, one point ahead of Sweden and Hungary. In the play-off they then beat Bosnia-Herzogovina 1-0 in each leg; Bruno Alves deciding the first game in their favour, Raul Meireles scoring the only goal in the second leg.

SWITZERLAND – Winners of Europe Group Two; FIFA World Ranking = 18

The Swiss qualified fairly comfortably in a group where Greece were the only real rivals for the first place position. Solid if not spectacular, Switzerland will see anything beyond the second round as a successful World Cup.

GREECE – 2nd in Europe Group Two (won in play-off); FIFA World Ranking = 12

Otto Rehhagel steered the Greeks to the World Cup after a two-legged play-off against the Ukraine. The 2004 European champions drew the first leg at home 0-0 but managed to win the away leg 1-0 thanks to a strike from Dimitrios Salpingidis. Like the Swiss not many pundits expect the Greeks to go beyond the second round.

SLOVAKIA – Winners of Europe Group Three; FIFA World Ranking = 34

Slovakia qualified from what was an open group containing neighbours Czech Republic, Poland, Northern Ireland and Slovenia. A 1-0 away win in Poland on the final matchday of the qualifiers secured their place and succumbed Slovenia to a play-off.

SLOVENIA – 2nd in Europe Group Three (won in play-off); FIFA World Ranking = 33

Slovenia surprised everybody by finishing second in the group above heavyweight eastern Europe neighbours Czech Republic and Poland. They surprised everybody again by beating the mighty Russians in the play-offs on away goals. After a narrow 2-1 defeat in Moscow, the Slovenians scored on the edge of half-time in the return fixture in Maribor thanks to Zlatko Dedic and the away goal proved to be the crucial difference between the two teams.

GERMANY – Winners of Europe Group Four; FIFA World Ranking = 6

The Germans remained unbeaten in a relatively easy group although impressive home and away victories against Russia proved to be crucial as they won their group by four points. Joachim Loew will be quietly optimistic about his side’s chances in South Africa. If experienced campaigners such as Michael Ballack and Miroslav Klose can gel with the upcoming talent such as Mesut Ozil, Marko Marin and, if chosen, Stefan Kiessling then the “Nationalmannschaft” could be a real threat in the championship.

SPAIN – Winners of Europe Group Five; FIFA World Ranking = 1

It’s been a vintage couple of years for the Spanish national team, known to all as “La Seleccion”; European champions in 2008, a 100% record in World Cup qualifying and number one in the FIFA world rankings, can they confirm their status as the world’s best team by going all the way in South Africa? Having been written off as chokers in previous tournaments the likes of Fernando Torres, David Villa and Xabi Alonso will be determined to do it for Spain when it really matters.

ENGLAND – Winners of Europe Group Six; FIFA World Ranking = 9

Fabio Capello’s men easily saw off the likes of Ukraine and Croatia in their group and qualified with two matches to spare. Hopes are high that the so-called “golden generation” including David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney et al will perform in South Africa but will there be the usual disappointment to follow all the hype? Fabio Capello thinks not and one can say that England are real candidates for the title mainly because of the Italian’s stewardship.

SERBIA – Winners of Europe Group Seven; FIFA World Ranking = 20

Although Serbia could only get one point out of six against group favourites France other results in the group went in their favour and, therefore, they went through by one point against their more illustrious opponents. Will be tough to beat but not expected to go too far in their first World Cup since independence.

FRANCE – 2nd in Europe Group Seven (won in play-off); FIFA World Ranking = 7

“Les Bleus” started the qualifying campaign in terrible fashion only collecting one point in their first three games. In the next seven games they took 17 from 21 points and, though never convincing, did what they had to do to secure a play-off place. France then played Republic of Ireland in the two-leg play-off and despite the controversy that surrounded Thierry Henry’s part in the goal that secured France’s passage to South Africa the French will be considered one of the favourites to provide a strong challenge in South Africa.

ITALY – Winners of Europe Group Eight; FIFA World Ranking = 4

The current world champions (see picture above) were taken all the way by the Republic of Ireland in their group but a late goal in Dublin secured the point that the Italians needed to top the group. If Marcello Lippi can steer his charges to further World Cup glory in South Africa then they will join Brazil as record champions of the competition with five wins each.

NETHERLANDS – Winners of Europe Group Nine; FIFA World Ranking = 3

It’s difficult to judge just how tough an opponent the Dutch will be in South Africa. They qualified with a 100% record from arguably the weakest group in qualifying including Norway, Scotland, Macedonia, and Iceland. Usually the Dutch flatter to deceive in the big tournaments, will they do the same again despite their world ranking?

* FIFA world rankings correct on December 1st, 2009.