Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

FIFA: International Round-Up

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 5, 2010
Didier Drogba

Didier Drogba's World Cup could be over before it's even begun after breaking his arm in the Ivory Coast's game against Japan

Before any FIFA World Cup there are many international friendlies which adourn the footballing calendar in order to prepare each squad for the oncoming four weeks of competition. However this is also the time when crucial players can pick up injuries which either threaten to or actually prevent players from competing at football’s biggest tournament. Stoppage Time – International Football Blog looks back at the last few weeks and informs of the latest pre-World Cup developments.

Much of the build-up has been taken up by injuries to some of the game’s big stars before a ball has even been kicked in South Africa. Germany’s Michael Ballack was injured in the English FA Cup final and his non-participation was confirmed only a couple of days after that game, Germany choosing Philipp Lahm to replace him as captain. England captain Rio Ferdinand injured his knee in training just a day after arriving in South Africa and has had his tournament plans destroyed with the news that the injury would keep him sidelined for six to eight weeks. Steven Gerrard now fulfils the role of wearing the armband in Rio’s absence. On Friday Didier Drogba broke his arm in the Ivory Coast’s 2-0 victory over Japan but his team’s medical staff seem hopeful that he can play a part in the tournament if he undergoes emergency surgery so it’ll be interesting to see if he can defy the pain barrier and star for the Elephants during the tournament. Add to that the sad plights of Ghana’s Michael Essien, Nigeria’s John Obi Mikel and Slovakia’s Martin Škrtel and it is clear that the tournament will be a poorer place without these players’ talents on show on the biggest stage of all.

As for the on-field action there has been friendly action aplenty and there have been varying amounts of pre-tournament success for the teams involved. European teams such as England, Spain and Germany have won all of their games ahead of the big kick-off. England beat Mexico 3-1 at Wembley Stadium but the Three Lions were very fortunate to come through against a spirited Japan side who led for a long time before they were unlucky to put through their own net twice in a 2-1 defeat. The Spanish struggled to assert their authority over lesser opponents Saudi Arabia and South Korea, both of whom lost by one goal to the European champions. Saudi Arabia put up a good fight before going down 3-2 whilst the Koreans put up more resistance but ultimately went down to a lone Jesus Navas goal in a 1-0 defeat. Germany have beaten Malta, Hungary and Bosnia-Herzegovina putting three goals past each of their opponents in each case. In the most recent game against the Bosnians, played in Eintracht Frankfurt’s Waldstadion, Edin Džeko gave the away side the lead having got the better of Philipp Lahm but the Nationalmannschaft came back with Lahm atoning for his earlier mistake to equalize. Two penalties from Bastian Schweinsteiger gave the Germans a 3-1 win in front of their fans. Watch Match Highlights HERE:

Some teams have had a bit of a scare before the tournament by being on the receiving end of an unexpected defeat. Arguably the biggest surprise was China’s historic 1-0 victory over 1998 World Cup winners France with a free-kick from Deng Zhouxiang in the 68th minute to further aid the air of pessimism surrounding the French camp at the moment.  Another pre-tournament shock was suffered by Serbia who went down to a 1-0 defeat by fellow World Cup participants and rank outsiders New Zealand, Shane Smeltz’s goal proving the difference between the two teams. Goals from Carlos Vela and Alberto Medina secured a 2-1 win for Javier Aguirre’s Mexico in their encounter against current world champions Italy allowing the Mexicans to put previous friendly defeats to England and the Netherlands behind them. Italy saved face on Saturday with a 1-1 draw against Switzerland, Fabio Quagliarella cancelling out Gökhan Inler’s strike for the Swiss. See Switzerland v Italy highlights HERE:

The Brazilians have been delighting their fans in southern Africa by playing a friendly match in Harare defeating home side Zimbabwe 3-0 with Michel Bastos, Robinho and Elano on the score sheet. Their South American rivals Argentina have only played two friendly matches in May and won them both against Haiti (4-0) and Canada (5-0) whilst Uruguay’s sole friendly game saw them easily beat Israel by four goals to one. Ghana beat Latvia in the English town of Milton Keynes on Saturday with Quincy Owusu-Obeyie scoring the winning goal in the 89th minute to give the Africans victory. The hosts South Africa have played a multitude of games in preparation for the tournament and remained unbeaten in games against Bulgaria (1-1), Colombia (2-1), Guatemala (5-1) and Denmark (1-0). Algeria, England’s opponent’s in their opening group game, won their friendly match on Saturday against the United Arab Emirates by a goal to nil with Karim Ziani scoring from the penalty spot. Watch Algeria’s goal HERE:

The Socceroos of Australia won two of three games against New Zealand (2-1) and Denmark (1-0) but lost to the United States (1-3) who, in turn, had lost two games against Netherlands (1-2) and Czech Republic (2-4) before beating Turkey (2-1) and the Australians in their last games before flying to South Africa. Cameroon were involved in a humdinger of a match against Serbia on Saturday and were unlucky to lose by the odd goal in seven as the home side won 4-3 in Belgrade. Honduras could only draw their games against Belarus (2-2) and Azerbaijan (0-0) before going down convincingly to a 3-0 defeat against non-qualifiers Romania. Tournament outsiders North Korea’s two games in May saw them lose to Paraguay (1-0) but gain a credible 2-2 draw against Greece. See United States v Australia goals HERE:

Away Days: Liverpool FC v Lille OSC Métropole

Posted in Away Days by peterbein on March 19, 2010
Liverpool FC v Lille OSC

The two teams line-up before kick-off at Anfield

Strictly speaking this isn’t really an away day for me at all. Anfield is a stadium that I’ve visited on many occasions as for many years I used to live in the Liverpool district of the same name. Admittedly the hallowed turf of Anfield has been a less familiar place for me in recent years as I have indulged in other passions, such as travel, and have begun to follow other teams too. I make no secret of a passion for German club Eintracht Frankfurt and Latvian record champions Skonto Riga having made many visits to both clubs since 2005. However it is still imperative that I can get to see The Reds on that all too rare occasion that the ground doesn’t actually sell out and the UEFA Europa League Round of 16, 2nd leg tie with French side Lille OSC Métropole provided me with the perfect opportunity.

There are many pubs where fans could possibly meet up ahead of a game at Anfield but I tend to choose The Arkles, a pub just on the corner of Anfield Road where Liverpool FC paraphernalia adourns the walls especially that regarding the club’s recent great European nights such as the 2005 UEFA Champions League in Istanbul. However, on this occasion, I couldn’t help but think that I’d taken a wrong turning and somehow ended up in Northern France as this traditional watering-hole for Liverpool supporters had been taken over by fans of Lille OSC. It was a struggle to get to and from the bar as this pub can get packed with supporters before a game but it made a change, admittedly a strangely nice one, to be saying “excusez-moi, s’il vous plaît” rather than “can I get past there, mate” as I tried to find space to stand ahead of a meeting with my good friend Jörg, with whom I was going to enjoy this European encounter. After our first pint things began to get a little too rowdy amongst the Lille fans, many of whom acted like they were in a mosh pit in the middle of the pub, therefore we decided to leave and make our way to the stadium.

Having taken our seats in the world famous Spion Kop section of the stadium our thoughts began to focus on the game ahead. In the first leg of this tie seven days previously the French side, known as Les Douges (The Mastiffs), had secured a 1-0 victory late in the game thanks to an Eden Hazard free-kick which was taken from the left-side touchline and crept into Liverpool’s goal at the far post having avoided a mass of bodies in the penalty area. Things could’ve been worse as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang struck a shot against a post just moments after the goal and Liverpool were relieved to see out the first leg with just a one goal reverse. Therefore we were optimistic that if Liverpool scored first in the tie then we would be able to finish the French side off and progress to the quarter-finals. Before the game news was announced that Fulham FC, the other English team left in the UEFA Europa League, had beaten Italian giants Juventus FC 4-1 in their match, thus securing a 5-4 aggregate victory and a cheer from the Liverpool fans in the process. After the traditional rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone the teams came out to the comparable strains of the official UEFA Europa League anthem which, try as it might, doesn’t give that sense of importance as the UEFA Champions League anthem does. Nonetheless there was a game to be played and at 20:05 it kicked off in earnest.

Steven Gerrard

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard prepares to take a corner kick.

Liverpool started the game in a lively fashion, no doubt spurred on by the 4-1 defeat of Portsmouth FC in the English Premier League three days earlier, and it was after just seven minutes that the game’s first major incident occurred. Brazilian midfielder Lucas Leiva, a player who splits opinion amongst Liverpool supporters, won a penalty after being fouled in the box by Lille defender Adil Rami and talismanic captain Steven Gerrard disposed the penalty with great aplomb, leaving Lille keeper Mickaël Landreau no chance. Liverpool had levelled the tie early and were in the mood to attack further. Despite further chances in the first half from Fernando Torres, Glen Johnson and Daniel Agger Liverpool were unable to score any further goals in the first 45 minutes and were, ultimately, grateful at half-time to goalkeeper Pepe Reina who kept out a shot from Eden Hazrd who had burst his way through the middle of Liverpool’s defence late in the half.

After the break Liverpool began the second half as much as they did the first by looking for a goal and this they duly did just four minutes after the restart. A hopeful punt upfield from Ryan Babel reached Fernando Torres who, with a typically cool head, ran at Landreau before slightly lifting the ball over him into the bottom corner to give The Reds a 2-0 lead on the night, 2-1 on aggregate. From then, rather than attack further, Liverpool seemed to switch off and allowed Lille OSC the opportunity to gradually build up pressure especially during the last twenty minutes of the game. The French went close in the 73rd minute when Ludovic Obraniak’s free-kick found Aubameyang who had a great chance to score in front of the Kop but his shot hit the ground and bounced over the bar. With Liverpool fans starting to get anxious Dirk Kuijt finally reminded everybody that he was on the pitch as he made two hopeful attempts at goal from distance late on. Finally, on 88 minutes, the third goal came thanks to Fernando Torres shooting home from close range after Steven Gerrard’s initial shot had been parried out by Landreau.

The final whistle blew and Liverpool had won 3-0. This game may not have been as legendary as previous Liverpool victories in European competition but it was just as important in the context of the season as a whole. The team seems to be saving its better performances for European competition and the UEFA Europa League does provide a final attempt to salvage something from what’s been a frankly disappointing season. If Liverpool can reach the final in Hamburg on Wednesday, May 12 then some respect will have been brought back to the club but there is still a long way to go in the competition and the quarter-final draw will make interesting viewing.