Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

UEFA: Sion lose appeal as Celtic look ahead to Europa League

Posted in European Football by peterbein on September 13, 2011

European football’s governing body UEFA has decided against allowing Swiss club FC Sion back into the 2011-12 UEFA Europa League, thus maintaining Glasgow Celtic’s place in Group I of the competition which begins this Thursday.

UEFA badgeFC Sion qualified for this season’s competition following an aggregate victory against the Scottish giants in the Play-Off round but were subsequently expelled following a protest from the Parkhead club who claimed that a number of the Swiss club’s players were ineligible.

FC Sion, last season’s Swiss Cup winners, lodged an appeal through a civil court case in Switzerland which found in the club’s favour. However the Swiss court’s judgement has had no impact upon UEFA’s final decision and means that Celtic can finally look forward to the opening game of the group stages against 2009-10 UEFA Europa League winners Atlético Madrid to be played in the Spanish capital on Thursday.

FC Sion, meanwhile, are considering further action and could take the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

UEFA: Fenerbahçe thrown out of Champions League

Posted in European Football by peterbein on August 24, 2011

Turkish champions Fenerbahçe have been thrown out of the 2011-12 UEFA Champions League following their involvement in match-fixing allegations.

Developments over the last 24 hours have been contentious to say the least with the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) forced by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) to withdraw Fenerbahçe’s place in the competition or face further action in the event that they fail to decline their place. An extraordinary meeting of the Board of Directors, which was held today, resulted in the TFF forfeiting the Istanbul club from the competition, a move which has angered Fenerbahçe who had earlier refused to withdraw. The move would have affected last season’s league runners-up Trabzonspor too but for the fact that they had already been eliminated from the qualifying rounds by Portuguese club SL Benfica.

Investigations into match-fixing have already delayed the kick-off to this season’s Turkish Süper Lig which is now due to begin on September 9th. At the time of writing it is not known how Fenerbahçe will be replaced in the UEFA Champions League but with less than 24 hours to go before this season’s group stage draw is made in Monaco there will be some interesting developments anticipated in the coming hours.

UEFA: Romania plays host to Under-19 Championship

Posted in International Football by peterbein on July 20, 2011

UEFA U-19 Championship logoRomania plays host to the UEFA European Under-19 Championships from today with eight teams hoping to take the title which was won by the French last year. The champions, however, will not be there to defend their title as they failed to get past the qualifying rounds this time around.

The team that eliminated France in the Elite Round of qualifying is Greece who topped Group 3 over Les Bleus as well as Slovakia and Belarus. The Greeks, whose tournament best is a runner-up showing in the 2007 tournament, will face tough opposition in Group A against the likes of the Czech Republic, 1998 winners Republic of Ireland and hosts Romania who also have one title to their name but that was won a distant 49 years ago.

Spain are the favourites to win not only Group B but the tournament itself as the country has won the trophy four times in the last nine years as well as finishing runners-up to France in last year’s competition. Spain, seven times winners in total, will face three more countries who have, in one or another, claimed this title in the past. Serbia, who have experienced success at Under-19 level when playing under the banner of Yugoslavia in 1951 and 1979, Turkey and Belgium who have both won this tournament on one occasion each.

The group stage will run from July 20th-26th with the top two from each group going through to the semi-finals. The last four will begin the knockout rounds on July 29th and the tournament will terminate with the final on August 1st.

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UEFA: Spanish triumph ensures bright future

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 26, 2011

UEFA Under-21 LogoThe Spanish Under-21 national team was celebrating on Saturday night after defeating a dogged Switzerland team by two goals to nil in Århus , Denmark. The win sealed Spain’s third title in this tournament (the others were in 1986 and 1998) and ensured that the future, as well as the present, for Spanish football remains bright.

Both of the tournament finalists had deserved to reach this stage of the tournament with Spain and Switzerland topping their groups before getting past tough opponents in the form of Belarus and the Czech Republic respectively in the semi-finals. Switzerland hadn’t even conceded a goal before Saturday’s final whilst the Spanish were the tournament’s top scorers having scored nine goals compared to Switzerland’s seven. Both teams could also lay claim to having arguably the tournament’s two most influential players with Spain’s Adrián López and Switzerland’s Admir Mehmedi featuring prominently at the top of the goalscoring charts.

When the final got under way it took a while for both teams to settle with a slow pace dictating the mood of the final for the first half an hour. Mehmedi came closest to getting on the score sheet for Switzerland, his powerful shot midway through the first half forcing Spanish keeper David De Gea into making the first real save of the match. The deadlock, however, was broken just four minutes before the half0time break as Dídac Vilà’s perfectly weighted cross from the left was headed home by Ander Herrera from close range. The second half also proved to be frustrating for the Swiss who had no difficulty in going forward but who proved wasteful in front of goal especially midfielder Innocent Emeghara who had a great chance to equalize in the 52nd minute. The game was settled as a contest in the 81st minute when a thunderous 40 yard free-kick from Thiago Alcântara took everybody by surprise and fired its way past Swiss keeper Yann Sommer into the back of the net.

It was a shame for the Swiss who had given a good account of themselves in the tournament and whose presence in this final, as well as having won the FIFA Under-17 Championship two years ago, bodes well for the future of football in Switzerland. Meanwhile the Spanish are enjoying a fantastic run of success on the international stage after many years of underachievement. With the national team currently holding both the FIFA World Cup and UEFA European Championship trophies, the Under-21 side becoming European champions and the Under-20 side about to participate in the FIFA U-20 World Championship in Colombia from late July this is without doubt Spanish football’s golden generation coming to fruition and it looks likely to continue for some time yet.

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UEFA: Same old story for England as Swiss and Spanish impress

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 20, 2011

UEFA Under-21 LogoThe group phase in the 2011 UEFA Under-21 European Championship had many reaching for the superlatives in order to describe the overall contribution to the tournament from the Swiss and the Spanish whilst many could only look on in dismay as the English, who had reached the final of this competition two years ago, went out with a whimper rather than a bang.

The Swiss seem to be going through a purple patch at youth level at the moment. Having won the FIFA World Under-17 Championship against hosts Nigeria two years ago, the Swiss are hoping to add to that success and have shown that they possess plenty of ability as they won all of their three group matches against hosts Denmark, Belarus and Iceland. Players such as Admir Mehmedi and Xherdan Shaqiri have impressed greatly as the Swiss scored six goals without reply in Group A to become the only team to win their group with a 100% record and their reward is a semi-final match-up against Czech Republic. The Czechs only needed a draw in their final group B match against England to ensure progression to the next stage but their dreams seemed to be wilting late on after Danny Welbeck had scored his and England’s second goal of the tournament to give the Three Lions the lead with just fourteen minutes to play. This didn’t deter the Czechs from sticking to their gameplan, however, and their patience was rewarded with two goals in stoppage time from Jan Chramosta and Tomáš Pekhart. England were going home after playing some less than adventurous football whilst the Czechs remain in the tournament after sticking to their tactics until the dying minutes.

If Switzerland are a favourite to become a finalist in this tournament then so too are Spain. The Spanish suffered a minor setback in their opening group B game against England, in which they dropped two points late on following a late Danny Welbeck equalizer in a 1-1 draw, but got through unscathed in their remaining two matches against the Czech Republic and Ukraine. Two players have stood out in particular for the Spanish as Adrián and Juan Mata have scored all but one of their six goals between them and they most certainly will carry the biggest threat to a Belarus side who could only qualify for the semi-finals by virtue of having a better head-to-head record over Iceland and Denmark in Group A after each team had finished the group on three points. Nevertheless, for Belarus to get this far in a tournament they’re participating in for only the third time is a great achievement especially as they failed to get beyond the group stage in their previous two appearances in 2004 and 2009.

The semi-finals will be played on Wednesday, June 22nd.

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UEFA: Under-21 Championship Preview

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 8, 2011
Germany U-21 Champions 2009

Germany won the last tournament in 2009. Who will win this year?

Germany may have won the most recent edition of the UEFA U-21 Championships, easily beating England 4-0 in Sweden two years ago, but that will now count for nothing as their current crop of youngsters failed to qualify for this year’s tournament in Denmark which begins on Saturday. There is no representation from record title holders Italy either as they were knocked out at the Play-Off stage by Belarus. With a couple of experienced nations such as England and Spain mixing it with relative newcomers such as Belarus and Ukraine, this year’s competition should be every bit as exciting as the last one. Here is Stoppage Time – International Football Blog’s preview of the 18th edition of the UEFA U-21 Championships.

GROUP A

BELARUS reached their third tournament finals after finishing behind Scotland on goal difference in the first qualifying stage and then dumping out the Italians 3-2 on aggregate in the Play-Offs. In two previous attempts the Belarussians have never got beyond the group phase, finishing third in their group in 2004 behind eventual champions Italy and bottom in 2009. Pavel Nekhaychik has gained a lot of experience at home and abroad with BATE Borisov and could be a player to watch.

DENMARK are the tournament hosts, which allowed them automatic qualification into this year’s competition, and will compete in their fifth UEFA u-21 finals. They last featured in this tournament five years go in Portugal where they failed to progress beyond the group stage. Denmark’s best finish came in 1992 where they reached the semi-finals only to lose out to eventual winners Italy. Christian Eriksen, who has been targeted by a number of top European clubs in recent months, has been highlighted as the one to watch for the Danes .

ICELAND are welcome newcomers to this tournament having never qualified for the finals before. In their first qualifying stage group they finished second behind Czech Republic by six points but nevertheless reached the Play-Offs having finished ahead of the German team. The Iceland side showed their Scottish counterparts what they could do in the Play-Offs by defeating them 2-1 home and away to chalk up a 4-2 aggregate success to send them to Denmark. Hoffenheim star Gylfi Sigurðsson, who was so instrumental in Iceland’s Play-Off success, is the leading man to watch out for.

SWITZERLAND, like group rivals Belarus, have reached the finals for the third time and they would like to replicate their 2002 performance where, as tournament hosts, they reached the last four. They reached Denmark by finishing top of Group 2 in the first qualifying stage, a convincing four points ahead of Turkey, and followed that up by putting five goals past Sweden in the Play-Off round. A marvellous 4-1 first leg victory at home was coupled with a 1-1 draw in the away leg and allowed the Swiss their passage into their first finals since 2004. Fabien Frei has chipped in with some crucial goals throughout qualifying and could make a telling contribution in this year’s finals.

UEFA Under-21 Championship logoGROUP B

CZECH REPUBLIC have qualified for their fifth tournament finals and have realistic hopes of going far in the competition. The Czechs are two-time finalists and have experienced the highs and lows that the competition can bring; in 2000 they lost out to Italy in the final but two years later won the competition for the first time by defeating France on penalties. They qualified this time around by topping their group from Iceland in the first qualifying round before emphatically beating Greece in the Play-Offs scoring five goals without reply. Tomáš Pekhart’s goals during the qualifying campaign stand him out as one to watch in Denmark.

ENGLAND, along with group rivals Spain, are the most experienced nations in this competition as they will be making their eleventh appearance at a tournament finals. England qualified having reached the Play-Off stage by coming second in Group 9 behind Greece and then overcoming Romania by the odd goal in three in a tough two-legged encounter which sealed their participation in Denmark. England have won this tournament twice but a long time has passed since their back-to-back successes in 1982 and 1984 and they will have to put their disappointment of losing the most recent final two years ago against a rampant German side firmly behind them. Chelsea FC player Daniel Sturridge could be an important source of goals for England after enjoying a fruitful spell on loan at Bolton Wanderers.

SPAIN, similarly to England, is a two-time champions and are most people’s favourites to win the competition. Spain’s named was etched onto the trophy in 1986 after defeating Italy on penalties after a two-legged final, and 1998 after a narrow 1-0 victory over Greece. Having finished second in Group 4 just two points behind the Netherlands, Spain won their Play-Off tie 5-1 against Croatia to reach their eleventh finals. There are a few names who one could pick from the Spanish team, such is the experience that they have accumulated with their club sides, but if pressed to name one it would have to be Bojan Krkić who has won a glittering array of titles with FC Barcelona at the ripe old age of 20.

UKRAINE are making their second appearance in this tournament having made their maiden adventure just five years ago in Portugal where they reached the final but lost out to a superior Netherlands team. The Ukrainians qualified by scraping past Belgium and France into first place in qualifying first stage Group 8 before going on to gain revenge over the Dutch by winning on away goals following an eventful two-legged tie which ended up 3-3. Team captain Taras Stepanenko will be a key figure for the Ukrainians especially with the experience he has gained already with club side Shakhtar Donetsk with whom he won a league and cup double in his maiden season.

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UEFA: Czechs win as Qualifying begins for Under-17 tournament

Posted in European Football, International Football by peterbein on March 9, 2011
England U-17

England Under-17 team emerge triumphant in 2010

The month of March is going to be busy for the various Under-17 national teams hoping to make it to the UEFA U-17 Championship finals which will be held in Serbia later this year. Defending champions England, who defeated Spain in the 2010 final in Liechtenstein, begin their campaign on March 26th against Northern Ireland and will play three matches in the space of five days, the others coming against a revenge seeking Spanish side as well as Belgium.

The first games in qualifying kicked off today in Group 1 with the Czech Republic being the only team to enjoy a victory after beating neighbours Slovakia 1-0 thanks to a late Dan Fojtasek goal whilst Italy and Scotland could only muster a goalless draw. This is the only group which begins and completes in the first half of the month with the final round of games coming on March 14th.

Below is a list of the seven qualifying groups. The top team in each group qualifies for Serbia 2011:

GROUP 1: CZECH REPUBLIC, ITALY, SCOTLAND, SLOVAKIA

GROUP 2: AUSTRIA, CROATIA, NETHERLANDS, PORTUGAL

GROUP 3: DENMARK, GREECE, LATVIA, REPUBLIC OF IRELAND

GROUP 4: GERMANY, SWITZERLAND, TURKEY, UKRAINE

GROUP 5: BELGIUM, ENGLAND, NORTHERN IRELAND, SPAIN

GROUP 6: BELARUS, FRANCE, GEORGIA, NORWAY

GROUP 7: HUNGARY, ICELAND, ROMANIA, RUSSIA

UEFA: Montenegro still perfect in Group G

Posted in International Football by peterbein on October 9, 2010

 

Montenegro

Montenegro's national team play England on Tuesday

 

Mirko Vučinić’s 67th minute winning goal against Switzerland on Friday night saw the Montenegro national team make it three wins out of three matches in the current Euro 2012 qualifying campaign. Having already beaten Wales and Bulgaria in the previous two matches, the win against Switzerland sets up an intriging clash between the new Group G leaders and the only other team with a 100% record in the group England. Tuesday night sees the top two go head-to-head at Wembley Stadium in what should be a coming-of-age clash for international football’s newest national team.

Following many years of representation under different names the newly-independent state of Montenegro is finally starting to find its feet in the world, not just as a country but in the world of football. Montenegro voted for independence in 2006 having been a part of a wider nation with Serbia following the dissolution of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 2003. Since then Montenegro is trying to copy other states in the region in trying to make its mark on the wider world and football is one of the most prominent ways of being noticed on the international stage. Croatia, for example, has always used football as a way of creating an image for itself and other newly-independent states such as Bosnia-Herzogovina and Macedonia are trying to do likewise. What makes the case of Montenegro special is the rate of success in such a short time.

Having  joined UEFA in January 2007 Montenegro have climbed from an initial 199th (i.e. last) place to a respectable 40th in the latest FIFA World Rankings. Montenegro’s first official match as an independent nation came against Hungary just two months later and they managed to claim the scalp of their opponents winning 2-1. It is perhaps fitting that the country’s best known player, Mirko Vučinić, was the man who scored the country’s first ever goal in international football and he’s been putting them away for the Montenegrins ever since. Vučinić, who plies his trade in club football with Italians AS Roma, has scored eleven goals in 23 international appearances including two crucial strikes that have helped decide games. As well as the current good bout of form in this qualification campaign the federation has begun a programme of development they have appointed former Crvena Zvezda and AC Milan legend Dejan Savićević at the helm as president.

Although Montenegro could only finish fifth out of a six team group in the FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign it has proved a useful introduction to life at this level and they are now reaping the benefits in the UEFA Euro 2012 campaign. The opening game against Wales saw Vučinić score the only goal after thirty minutes in Montenegro’s 1-0 win in front of a home crowd in the capital Podgorica. The next test looked quite daunting, an away tie against experienced campaigners Bulgaria, but the hosts flopped and were unable to break down a compact, organised Montenegro defence. Elsad Zverotić’s goal from distance came against the run of play and it ultimately proved enough for Montenegro who sealed a second consecutive 1-0 victory. Last night saw another narrow one goal victory for Montenegro who put Switzerland to the sword and it was Mirko Vučinić who pounced once again to claim another three points for his country. Switzerland, who beat future FIFA World Cup champions Spain in their group in South Africa this summer, were humbled by Zlatko Kranjčar’s men and remain without a point after two games. Kranjčar has only been the coach of this team for nine months having taken over from previous coach Zoran Filipović in February 2010 and he is blessed with having a good collection of players who include AC Fiorentina striker Stevan Jovetić, midfielders Simon Vukčević from Sporting Lisbon and Vladimir Božović from Rapid Bucharest.

Montenegro can now travel to London and take on an England team who are still trying to get over the World Cup disappointment but who have also started off with a perfect 100% record following convincing wins over Bulgaria (4-0) and Switzerland (3-1). Tuesday’s game will be one to watch in the next round of matches in Euro 2012 qualifying.

England’s Premier League – a glorified SPL?

Posted in UK Football by peterbein on December 6, 2009
Manchester United 2008-09

Manchester United win yet another title in 2008-09, their eleventh in seventeen years

“The most exciting league in the world” is a phrase that’s become synonymous with Sky TV’s presentation of the Barclay’s Premier League, such is the TV station’s devotion to hyping up even the most dullest of matches.  Although there are great players and teams in the league, just how true is it to say that the English Premier League is “the most exciting league in the world”?

One couldn’t doubt the quality of the players on show in the Premier League, on the contrary it’s true to say that with players such as Fernando Torres, Wayne Rooney and Dider Drogba to name but three that the English Premier League contains some of the finest players in the modern game. However this discussion focuses on the concept that the league is branded as much about ‘entertainment’ as much as it is ‘sport’. When one thinks of last day cliffhangers they are very few and far between in the Premier League. As for the multitude of teams capable of winning the title in any given season then you can usually count them with a couple of fingers on one hand. If this criteria were applied to football then the English Premier League (EPL) would be no better than being a glorified Scottish Premier League (SPL).

When people in England talk about the SPL they will patronisingly refer to it as a ‘pub league’ and lament the fact that only two teams, Rangers and Celtic (the Old Firm), have any chance of winning the title. But it’s usually the case that only two teams have any chance of winning the EPL too, Manchester United and A.N. Other. The main challenger to United may change from time to time but it’s hardly any more exciting to see the Red Devils win title after title than it is to see two supposed ‘pub teams’ in Rangers and Celtic win title after title north of the border.

The only thing that maintains a sense of quality in England is the notion of the ‘Big Four’ (i.e. Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool) and their regular appearances in the UEFA Champions League, European football’s showpiece tournament, helping to preserve English football’s position in the UEFA Co-Efficient table (a place in the top three of this table guarantees a nation four places in the Champions League). It seems increasingly the case, however, that some teams are happy just to finish in a top four spot – ‘fourth is the new first’ if you want – and secure the riches that the Champions League provides. In the case of the Old Firm at least they have been punching above their weight in European competition. Regular Champions League appearances coupled with two UEFA Cup finals, Celtic in 2004 and Rangers in 2008, has seen the SPL maintain a respectable standing despite its lack of wealth and international exposure. There have been examples in recent years of  English teams qualifying for the Europa League (ex-UEFA Cup) then trying as hard to get knocked out of a competition that they’ve tried even harder to qualify for. When some English club managers talk about finishing in the top four rather than winning a trophy then it seems to strengthen the view that most clubs in the EPL have very limited ambitions.

Another thing which adds to the lack of real excitement in the overall picture of the English Premier League is the absence of any final day cliffhangers at the top of the table. There may be some exciting finishes at the bottom of the table but the lack of any meaningful matches in respect of the championship means that the EPL is not always so worthy of its hype. You would think this would worry the people at Sky TV seeing as they talk about “the most exciting league in the world” as if its an unquestionable truth. Despite the dominance of the Old Firm in Scotland at least there have been exciting climaxes on the final day in three of the last five seasons including the last two in 2007-08 and 2008-09. Since the English Premier League’s formation in 1992-93 there have been only two final day pieces of drama to witness: the 1994-95 season when Blackburn Rovers beat Manchester United to the title despite losing their final game against Liverpool and the 1998-99 season where Manchester United saw off a spirited Tottenham Hotspur performance at Old Trafford to beat nearest challengers Arsenal to the title by one point. All of the other Premier League titles have been decided on or before the penultimate matchday.

One may argue that it’s too early to write off the English Premier League as a contest but then there are teams such as Liverpool and Arsenal whose title challenges have been written off as early as December after some bad results therefore leaving Manchester United and Chelsea as the only realistic challengers. The irony is that the EPL doesn’t look as entertaining from a competition point of view as its northern neighbour at the moment where the Old Firm have a challenge from Hibernian and Dundee United. For those of you who enjoy a regular two-horse race then “the most exciting league in the world” may just be your best bet for the season.