Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

Stoppage Time 2012 Coach of the Year is Vicente del Bosque

Posted in European Football, International Football by peterbein on December 31, 2012

Vicente del Bosque (left) coached Spain to international football history in 2012

Due to the Spanish national team’s historic success at the 2012 UEFA European Championship, Stoppage Time’s Coach of the Year award goes to Vicente del Bosque. Having won the FIFA World Cup in South Africa in 2010, del Bosque led his team to European success this year and has helped, more than anybody, to bury the ghost of past Spanish teams who went into major tournaments as favourites but were unable to justify the hype.

This current generation of Spanish talent had already been helped along by Luis Aragonés when winning the 2008 UEFA European Championship but their place in footballing history has been cemented by del Bosque whose teams have yet to concede a goal in the knockout stages of a major international competition. Vicente del Bosque helped Spain win three consecutive international tournaments and also made personal history by becoming the first coach to have won the UEFA Champions League, which he achieved twice with Real Madrid CF in 2000 and 2002, as well as the two major international titles of UEFA European Championship and FIFA World Cup. A quite remarkable set of achievements which also tie in with Spain’s position as the number one team in the FIFA World Rankings table, del Bosque certainly deserves all the praise he gets and with Spain in pole position in Group I for 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying there is every possibility that further history could be created in the next eighteen months.

Advertisements

“O Timão” on top of the world leaves Chelsea feeling blue

Posted in European Football, South America Football, UK Football by peterbein on December 16, 2012

Corinthians celebrate their second FIFA Club World Cup title following their 1-0 victory over Chelsea FC

The recent European dominance in the FIFA Club World Cup came to an end today in Japan’s second city of Yokohama as Copa Libertadores champions Corinthians became world champions for the second time with a narrow 1-0 defeat of UEFA Champions League holders Chelsea FC in a final which will hardly go down as a classic but which for followers of O Timão will go down as another chapter in their famous history.

Since fellow Brazilian club Internacional of Porto Alegre won the 2006 version of the FIFA Club World Cup, South American teams had struggled in this competition with European champion clubs winning the previous five tournaments in a row including two victories for FC Barcelona (2009, 2011) and one each for AC Milan (2007), Manchester United (2008) and Internazionale (2010). Corinthians’ victory in today’s final broke the dominance and added to Brazilian football’s wonderful history in this tournament with four title wins comparing to their South American neighbours, no other nation from that particular continent providing a winner of this tournament since it changed its format in 2005.

Corinthians had won the inaugural version of this event in 2000 when a dour final, played against compatriots Vasco da Gama, was decided by a penalty shoot-out following 120 minutes of goalless action. The second title win will perhaps be more celebrated due to the fact that Chelsea FC went into the game as most pundits’ favourites to win the title. Chelsea had qualified for the final with an easy 3-1 win over North and Central American champions Monterrey CF whilst Corinthians had to work harder to overcome the challenge of African champions Al-Ahly in a semi-final which was decided by a single goal from the Brazilians’ Paolo Guerrero, whose presence would ultimately also prove influential in the final.

With twenty minutes remaining, and the game stuck at 0-0, the deadlock was finally broken when Guerrero took advantage of some confused Chelsea defending to head home from close range and spark a mass frenzy of celebration amongst the Corinthians supporters, up to 30,000 of whom are said to have made the journey to Japan to transport the spirit of their São Paulo home Pacaembu stadium to FIFA’s showpiece event.

For interim Chelsea coach Rafael Benítez, the winning coach when Internazionale won the title in 2010, today’s final was a bitter disappointment and there is no doubt that those fans who have failed to warm to him will use this as a stick to beat him with. For Corinthians’ coach Tite, however, legendary status is now assured. Having taken over the coaching role in 2010, Tite led the Paulista club to their fifth Campeonato Brasiliero title in 2011 before sealing the club’s first ever Copa Libertadores title this year following a 3-1 aggregate win over six-time South American champions Boca Juniors. With the world title now in the trophy cabinet it is fair to say that Tite will bask in the celebrations as much as those fans who travelled all that way to see their team triumph in Japan.

Europe: 2012 Champions League final preview

Posted in European Football by peterbein on May 19, 2012
UEFA Champions League trophy

Who will get their hands on the UEFA Champions League trophy tonight?

It may not be the “dream final” that the majority of the world’s football fans had craved but for tonight’s UEFA Champions League final opponents, FC Bayern München and Chelsea FC, the culmination of their own dream is so near. FC Bayern, playing in their home stadium tonight, can join the European elite by winning the competition for the fifth time to rank alongside great names such as Real Madrid CF, AC Milan and Liverpool FC. Chelsea, on the other hand, are desperate to claim a maiden title in this competition, especially as their only other final appearance ended in heartache when losing the 2008 final to Manchester United on penalties.

FC Bayern’s European pedigree is without question. Their first continental title came in 1967 when defeating Scottish giants Glasgow Rangers in the Cup Winners’ Cup. The club’s heyday came in the mid-1970’s when the likes of Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Müller and Sepp Maier helped the club win three European Cups in a row from 1974-76. The Münchener then became only the fourth club ever to have all three European titles in the trophy cabinet when defeating Girondins de Bordeaux in the 1996 UEFA Cup (the other clubs are Juventus FC, Ajax Amsterdam and FC Barcelona). The Bavarians’ most recent European triumph came in 2001 when a nervy UEFA Champions League final against Valencia CF had to be settled on penalties following a 1-1 draw in Milan’s San Siro stadium.

Chelsea’s European success came on the back of two victories in the Cup Winners’ Cup but their regular participation in the UEFA Champions League over the last decade has ensured that they are now regarded as one of the game’s heavyweights despite the lack of success in the main competition. Chelsea’s first Cup Winners’ Cup triumph came in 1971 when they needed extra-time to defeat Real Madrid whilst the second title came at the hands of VfB Stuttgart in the penultimate version of that competition in 1998. As well as the 2008 final, Chelsea have appeared in five Champions League semi-finals in the last decade but if the Stamford Bridge side are to finally get their hands on “Old Big Ears” then this is arguably their greatest opportunity to do so.

FC Bayern have been one of the strongest teams in this season’s competition. The Germans finished top of what was arguably the toughest group in the tournament, finishing above Napoli SSC, Manchester City and Villarreal CF. After easily disposing of Swiss champions FC Basel 1893 in the Round of 16, Bayern reached the final by virtue of eliminating Olympique Marseille and Real Madrid in the latter stages. Chelsea, on the other hand, have often been on the back foot this season. The Londoners, following a Matchday 5 defeat away at Bayer 04 Leverkusen in the group stage, were on the cusp of elimination only for a Matchday 6 victory at home to Valencia CF to save their season. In the knockout rounds Chelsea saw a change of coach midway through their Round of 16 tie against Napoli SSC in which an Andre Villas-Boas led team crashed to a 3-1 first leg defeat but turned it around under the tutelage of Roberto di Matteo when winning the return fixture 4-1 at Stamford Bridge. The Italian has continued to work his magic with subsequent victories over SL Benfica in the quarter-finals and, most famously, over defending champions FC Barcelona in the semis.

After claiming their places in the UEFA Champions League final both teams have completed their domestic campaigns. FC Bayern, normally the dominant force in the Bundesliga, had to be content with second place whilst watching Borussia Dortmund win their second consecutive championship. If that weren’t enough Dortmund thrashed Bayern 5-2 in last weekend’s German Cup final to leave the latter empty-handed domestically for a second successive year. Chelsea, following a poor start, did finish the English football season by claiming the FA Cup for the fourth time in six years when defeating Liverpool FC 2-1 in the final. However Chelsea could only finish sixth in the Premier League meaning that qualification for next season’s Champions League hinges on the result of tonight’s final. Win and Chelsea will displace Tottenham Hotspur as England’s fourth representative next season, but lose and Chelsea will end up in the Europa League.

Much attention has been placed before tonight’s final on those who will be absent, most prominent among them being the Chelsea captain John Terry. Following a stupid off-the-ball attack on Barcelona’s Alexis Sánchez in the semi-final, Terry must sit it out tonight although UEFA have given him permission to lift the Champions League trophy as winning captain should Chelsea prove successful. Terry, along with Ramires, Raul Meireles and Branislav Ivanović, are all suspended for Chelsea whilst FC Bayern must play without the services of David Alaba, Luiz Gustavo and Holger Badstuber. Both sides, though, possess many potential match winners with FC Bayern, in particular, well equipped in this area. The Germans’ front five of Mario Gómez, Arjen Robben, Franck Ribéry, Thomas Müller and Toni Kroos have scored an impressive 94 goals between them this season. The Londoners’ main threat comes from Didier Drogba who has scored eight goals in as many cup finals in his time at Chelsea and was instrumental in his team’s success against Barcelona. Frank Lampard is also a dangerous player, whether it is from open play or from a set-piece, and he is desperate to bring the big one to Stamford Bridge as it is the only major trophy missing from his collection. If Fernando Torres is in one of his big game moods then there is every chance that he can also add to his collection of big game medals alongside those he has won with the Spanish national team.

Although both sides have a very good chance to win the trophy it is FC Bayern who will go into the match as favourites due to their home advantage. Before their 2001 victory over Valencia, Bayern fans held up a banner which read “heute ist ein guter Tag, um Geschichte zu schreiben” (“Today is a good day to write history”). Will it be they who write another chapter into their glorious history or will Chelsea upset the odds once more and write an entirely new chapter of their own? It should prove to be a fascinating final….

UEFA: English clubs involved in glamour European ties

Posted in European Football, UK Football by peterbein on December 16, 2011

UEFA logoFollowing today’s draws in the European club competitions one can’t help but feel that there could’ve been some tastier matches upon the horizon going into the knockout rounds of each competition. Nonetheless the teams that do remain in each tournament will have their eyes firmly focused on the big prize.

In the UEFA Champions League the tie of the round appears to be that between seven-time European champions AC Milan and English side Arsenal FC. The former, following a couple of lean years since they won their most recent Champions League title in 2007, are hoping to show Europe that they mean business once again. Arsenal, however, have gradually built up confidence and consistency since a terrible beginning to the current campaign and these sides look more evenly matched than in recent years. Amongst the other games there is a big welcome to Cypriot champions APOEL Nicosia who, having topped their group, will meet French side Olympique Lyonnais in the next round and SSC Napoli whose maiden Champions League campaign will continue with an interesting tie against Chelsea FC. Defending European champions FC Barcelona have been given a fairly easy tie on paper, due to go up against German vice champions Bayer 04 Leverkusen.

UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE ROUND OF 16 DRAW

Lyon v APOEL Nicosia

Napoli SSC v Chelsea FC

AC Milan v Arsenal

FC Basel v FC Bayern

Bayer 04 Leverkusen v FC Barcelona

CSKA Moscow v Real Madrid

Zenit Saint Petersburg v SL Benfica

Olympique Marseille v Internazionale

In the UEFA Europa League the English clubs have been given some fascinating ties. Manchester United, who will now play for the only trophy yet to be won by Sir Alex Ferguson in his wonderful career, begin their quest with a tie against four-time European champions Ajax Amsterdam. Manchester City, fresh from elimination from arguably the toughest Champions League group against SSC Napoli, FC Bayern and Villarreal CF, will meet defending Europa League title holders FC Porto. Stoke City, for whom this is a first European campaign since 1974, play 2004 UEFA Cup winners Valencia CF. Amongst the other ties 2010 Europa League winners Atletico de Madrid plays against the last ever Cup Winners Cup champion SS Lazio and last season’s defeated finalists Sporting Braga continue their Europa League odyssey with a tough encounter against Turkish side Besiktas.

UEFA EUROPA LEAGUE ROUND OF 32 DRAW 

FC Porto v Manchester City

Ajax Amsterdam v Manchester United

Lokomotiv Moscow v Athletic Bilbao

Red Bull Salzburg v Metalist Kharkiv

Stoke City v Valencia CF

Rubin Kazan v Olympiakos

AZ Alkmaar v RSC Anderlecht

SS Lazio v Atletico de Madrid

Steaua Bucharest v FC Twente Enschede

Viktoria Plzen v Schalke 04

Wisla Krakow v Standard Liege

Sporting Braga v Besiktas

Udinese Calcio v PAOK Thessaloniki

Trabzonspor v PSV Eindhoven

Hannover 96 v Club Brugge

Legia Warszawa v Sporting Lisbon

FIFA: Club World Cup Team Guide – FC Barcelona

Posted in European Football by peterbein on December 11, 2011

FC Barcelona club badgeFC Barcelona will compete in this year’s FIFA Club World Cup following a sensational UEFA Champions League triumph in 2011. The Catalans must first face AFC Asian Champions League winners Al Sadd before they can start dreaming of the possibility of winning the world crown for the second time in three years.

FC Barcelona qualified for this tournament having won their fourth European title in the glorious setting of Wembley Stadium in May this year. On their way to the final Barça topped their group over Danish champions FC København, Russian Premier League side Rubin Kazan and Greek Super League champions Panathinaikos before disposing of Arsenal, Shakhtar Donetsk and arch rivals Real Madrid CF in the knockout stages leading up to a second final in three years against Manchester United. Having seen off United in Rome in 2009, Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola would again get one over his United counterpart Sir Alex Ferguson watching the Blaugrana turn on the style. A 3-1 victory saw Pedro, Lionel Messi and David Villa get on the score sheet, Wayne Rooney bagging a consolation for United, and a fourth European triumph saw Eric Abidal lift the famous cup aloft and seal a place in the FIFA Club World Cup.

Since Barcelona’s Champions League triumph the club has maintained its push for honours across the board. The club started off the current campaign the way it ended the last one by winning silverware. A controversial Spanish Super Cup victory over Real Madrid was followed up with a 2-0 win against Iberian neighbours and UEFA Europa League winners FC Porto in the European Super Cup. In Europe Barcelona topped their 2011-12 UEFA Champions League group over Italian giants AC Milan, Czech champions Viktoria Plzen and perennial Belarussian title holders BATE Borisov. Barça are, however, facing a tougher challenge domestically this time from Real Madrid with the Catalans currently on the same number of league points as their rivals from the Spanish capital having played a game more.

Barcelona celebrated a 3-1 win over Real Madrid in last night’s El Clásico meaning that they were able to fly out to Japan straight after the match in order to prepare for world glory in a competition in which they’ve suffered mixed emotions. Barcelona have never beaten Brazilian opposition in either the former Intercontinental Cup (lost to São Paulo in 1992) or the FIFA Club World Cup (lost to Internacional in 2006) whereas the Argentinians of Estudiantes de La Plata were put to the sword in 2009 as the final part of the Catalans’ sextuple triumph. Should they meet Santos FC in this year’s final then history will be against Barcelona but with the current team – Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi et al – rated as the greatest ever then a second world title could be winging its way back to the Camp Nou very soon.

FC BARCELONA v MANCHESTER UNITED – CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL GOALS

UEFA: Manchester duo dumped out of Champions League

Posted in European Football by peterbein on December 7, 2011

UEFA Champions League trophyThe two Manchester clubs have been sensationally dumped out of the UEFA Champions League following the final round of matches this evening.

Three-time European champions Manchester United are out of this year’s tournament having suffered a 2-1 defeat away to Swiss champions FC Basle 1893. United only needed a point to progress but found themselves two goals down with ten minutes of the match remaining, with Basle’s Marco Streller and Alexander Frei getting the goals, before Phil Jones pulled one back to make it an anxious finish for the Swiss side. United finished third in Group C behind Basle and group winners Benfica SL, who finished their campaign with a 1-0 win over Romanian champions Otelul Galati, and must now contend themselves with a place in the UEFA Europa League early next year.

Manchester City, meanwhile, needed a win against FC Bayern München and hope that Spanish side Villarreal CF would do them a favour by taking points from Italians Napoli SSC. Despite getting the win they needed, a 2-0 victory thanks to David Silva and Yaya Toure, City had to be satisfied with a third place finish in Group A finishing one point behind the Italians and three behind Bayern after the Neapolitans won by the same score line away in Spain. For all the money spent, City are still a work in progress and will hope to have learnt some of the lessons by the time the UEFA Europa League comes round again. City went out of that competition last season at the hands of Ukrainian side Dynamo Kyiv.

UEFA: Trabzonspor shock San Siro; CL Review

Posted in European Football by peterbein on September 14, 2011

The opening round of group matches in the UEFA Champions League were completed on Wednesday with a shock in Milan, predicted wins for the likes of FC Bayern and Real Madrid proving true whereas the Manchester duo of City and United had to be content with a point in two difficult matches.

Ondřej Čelůstka proved to be the hero in the San Siro stadium as his 76th minute goal proved to be the winner in a 1-0 victory over 2009-10 Champions League winners Internazionale. The Turkish side can find themselves fortunate to be in the competition following Fenerbahçe’s expulsion from the competition but they have taken advantage of their reprieve in fine style. The Italians now find themselves under pressure already after an opening day loss in Serie A at the weekend has been coupled with defeat on home soil tonight. In the other Group B match French champions Lille OSC were just moments away from victory but were punished by CSKA Moscow’s Seydou Doumbia whose brace allowed the Russian side a share of the spoils in a 2-2 draw in northern France.

Real Madrid, hoping to win a tenth European Cup this season, have started this season’s campaign with a win but were made to work hard by Croatian champions Dinamo Zagreb. The only goal of the game was scored by Ángel di María in the 53rd minute of the match but it far from easy for the Spanish giants who were made to play the final seventeen minutes with ten men following Marcelo’s sending off for a second bookable offence. Real Madrid top Group D as the other two teams in the group, Ajax Amsterdam and Olympique Lyonnais, played out a goalless stalemate in the Dutch capital.

FC Bayern München have high hopes in this year’s competition especially given the fact that this season’s final will take place in their home Allianz Arena stadium. It was fitting, therefore, that they should start off the current campaign in fine mood with a 2-0 win away at Spanish side Villarreal CF proving to be light work as Toni Kroos and Rafinha proved to be the unlikely goal scorers helping them on their way to three points in this Group A fixture. The other tie in the group saw Manchester City make their first appearance in European football’s top competition since 1968-69 but had to come from behind to gain a point against Italian side Napoli in a 1-1 draw which saw Aleksandr Kolorov cancel out Edison Cavani’s opener.

Last season’s defeated finalists Manchester United also had to settle for a point but would’ve been more satisfied to do so than their city neighbours were in Manchester. United had to travel to Portuguese giants SL Benfica in a match which had all the history and tradition of the 1967-68 final behind it. The home side took the lead after 24 minutes thanks to Óscar Cardozo’s but an old campaigner in Ryan Giggs got United back on level terms just three minutes before half-time and the score line didn’t change from there although both sides had chances to win the game in the second half. The loss of two points for both these clubs has allowed Swiss champions FC Basel 1893 to steal a march in Group C as an Alexander Frei penalty in the 84th minute proved to be the winner against tournament debutants Oțelul Galați in a 2-1 triumph.

Tagged with:

UEFA: Milan salvage point at Camp Nou; CL Review

Posted in European Football by peterbein on September 14, 2011
Thiago Silva

Thiago Silva scored Milan's crucial equalizer in Barcelona on Tuesday

Concerns over FC Barcelona’s defence continued after the first of this season’s UEFA Champions League matches were played throughout Europe last night.

The defending Spanish and European champions had home advantage in their Group H encounter against AC Milan but were behind after just 25 seconds with Alexandre Pato scoring the fastest goal ever scored in the competition. The hosts, who lost a two goal lead in a 2-2 draw against Real Sociedad last weekend, had turned it around by early in the second half with Pedro and David Villa getting on the score sheet for the Catalans. As the seconds ticked towards the end the Italian champions, who had also drawn their most recent league match 2-2 against Lazio, won a corner which was turned home by Thiago Silva deep into stoppage time to ensure that the score line would be replicated in this match. Fortunately for them neither of the other teams in their group were able to capitalize as Czech champions Viktoria Plzeň, making their debut in the UEFA Champions League, drew 1-1 at home to Belarussian champions BATE Borisov with Marek Bakoš  and Renan Bressan scoring the respective goals.

Other Champions League action on Tuesday saw the English come out on top in a double Anglo-German battle. Premier League runners-up Chelsea FC defeated their Bundesliga counterparts Bayer 04 Leverkusen by two goals to nil whilst Arsenal FC were moments away from a famous win against Borussia Dortmund only for Ivan Perišić to score at the death as the German champions salvaged a 1-1 draw in the Group F fixture. Chelsea top Group E with a two point lead over both Racing Genk and Valencia CF, both of whom played out a turgid 0-0 stalemate in Belgium, whilst Olympique de Marseilla took control of group F with a 1-0 win at Greek champions Olympiakos with Lucho González’s goal proving decisive. Group G saw two come-from-behind wins for Portuguese champions FC Porto and Cypriot title holders APOEL Nicosia with both sides coming from a goal down to win 2-1 against Shakhtar Donetsk and Zenit Saint Petersburg respectively.

Tagged with:

UEFA: 2011-12 Champions League group stage draw

Posted in European Football by peterbein on August 25, 2011

UEFA Champions League trophyThe draw for the 2011-12 UEFA Champions League has taken place amid some controversy in Monaco this afternoon. Less than 24 hours after Turkish champions Fenerbahçe were forced to withdraw from the competition by the Turkish Football Federation, the inclusion of Turkish League runners up Trabzonspor in the draw raised some eyebrows. After all Trabzonspor, who were knocked out of the Champions League 2nd qualifying round by SL Benfica, are also involved in the same match-fixing allegations that have beset Fenerbahçe. Alas, UEFA saw fit to include Trabzonspor in the group stage draw at such short notice and the Black Sea port team have been rewarded by being placed in Group B alongside 2009-10 European champions Internazionale, French champions Lille OSC  and Russian side CSKA Moscow.

Outside of the controversy the group stage draw has thrown together some wonderful pairings. The tie of the round should come in Group H where, in a repeat of the 1994 Champions League final, defending European champions FC Barcelona will face off against Italian champions AC Milan. There will be another repeat of a classic European Cup final in Group D where 1968 finalists Manchester United and SL Benfica will feature. Real Madrid will once again meet recent adversaries Olympique Lyonnais who they have met in the last two seasons in this competition while a meeting in Group G between Russian champions Zenit St Petersburg and their Ukrainian counterparts Shakhtar Donetsk will spice things up in Eastern Europe. Former Valencia star Juan Mata will be going back to his former club as his new side Chelsea FC were paired with the two-time Champions League finalists in group E.

Here is the full draw for the 2011-12 UEFA Champions League group stage:

GROUP A: Bayern München; Villarreal CF; Manchester City; SSC Napoli

GROUP B: Internazionale; CSKA Moscow; Lille OSC; Trabzonspor

GROUP C: Manchester United; SL Benfica; FC Basel 1893; Oţelul Galaţi

GROUP D: Real Madrid; Olympique Lyonnais; Ajax Amsterdam; Dinamo Zagreb

GROUP E: Chelsea FC; Valencia CF; Bayer 04 Leverkusen; Racing Genk

GROUP F: Arsenal FC; Olympique de Marseille; Olympiakos; Borussia Dortmund

GROUP G: FC Porto; Shakhtar Donetsk; Zenit St Petersburg; APOEL Nicosia

GROUP H: FC Barcelona; AC Milan; BATE Borisov; Viktoria Plzeň

Tagged with:

UEFA: Euro draws ensure the new season isn’t too far away

Posted in European Football by peterbein on June 20, 2011

UEFA TrophiesThe draws for the first two qualifying rounds of the two main European club competitions were made in Nyon, Switzerland this afternoon just 23 days after FC Barcelona claimed their fourth UEFA Champions League crown at Wembley Stadium.

The UEFA Champions League begins on June 28th with two-legged ties involving the bottom four ranked national champions from UEFA’S Co-Efficient table which measures the progress of each country’s clubs in European competition over a five year period. San Marino champions Tre Fiori will kick off the 2011-12 campaign against Maltese representatives Valletta FC whilst Luxembourg’s finest F91 Dudelange will face-off against Andorra’s Santa Coloma. The winners of these games will be rewarded with ties in the second qualifying round against Lithuania’s FK Ekranas and Slovenia’s NK Maribor respectively. There are a number of interesting ties with a number of first-time national champions making their debut in this competition including Albania’s Skënderbeu Korçë (v APOEL Nicosia), Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Borac Banja Luka (v Maccabi Haifa), Macedonia’s FK Shkendija (v Partizan Belgrade), Hungary’s Videoton FC (v Sturm Graz), Kazakhstan’s FK Tobol (v Slovan Bratislava), Czech Republic’s Viktoria Plzeň (v Pyunik Yerevan) and Moldova’s Dacia Chişinău versus fellow first-timers Zestafoni FC from Georgia.

Amongst the biggest clubs to play at this stage of the competition are Polish champions Wisła Kraków who face off against Latvian record champions Skonto Riga. Demand for this game seems to be hot with the official Skonto Riga page on Facebook reporting that their website had received overwhelming amounts of traffic coming from fans from Poland. Perennial Norwegian champions Rosenborg BK are back in contention and should fancy their chances against Icelandic counterparts Breiðablik whilst Dinamo Zagreb will take part in another qualifying campaign by starting off against Azerbaijan’s Neftchi Baku. In the British Isles Bangor City, Linfield FC and Shamrock Rovers – the respective champions of Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – have been dealt some potentially tricky ties in the form of HJK Helsinki, BATE Borisov and Flora Tallinn. 1980 European Cup finalists Malmö FF will begin their campaign with an easy(ish) looking tie against Faroe Islands masters HB Tórshavn whilst the list is completed with Bulgaria’s Litex Lovech due to play FK Mogren from Macedonia.

The draw for the first two qualifying rounds of the 2011-12 UEFA Europa League were also made today and there are so many games that it would take too much space to write about them all here. However the first qualifying round will see 2009-10 losing finalists Fulham FC make an appearance as they gained a place thanks to UEFA’ s Fair Play table last season. The English club, under new management in the form of Dutch coach Martin Jol, will begin their campaign against Faroe Islands outfit NSÍ Runavík. Hungarian giants Ferencváros, who won one of this tournament’s predecessors in 1965 when it was called the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, will make a return to Europe after a six year absence against Armenian side Ulisses FC. In total fifty clubs will play in the 1st quali-round and the winning teams will join 55 more clubs in the next round. Many of the matches in the 2nd quali-round are already known, amongst the biggest is the clash between Polish league runners-up Śląsk Wrocław and Scottish side Dundee United, who were runners-up in the old UEFA Cup in 1987. The UEFA Europa League will get under way on Thursday, June 30th.