Tournament hosts Russia emerged victorious for the second year in a row in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Cup today following a 4-2 win over arch-rivals Ukraine in St Petersburg.
The form guide going into the final suggested that Ukraine were the favourites over Russia. The Ukrainians finished top of Group C ahead of Lithuania, Moldova and Turkmenistan with a 100% record before fate decided that they would meet two of their group opponents in the knockout rounds; Moldova were thrashed 5-0 in the quarter-finals before Ukraine won by the odd goal in three in their semi-final against Lithuania. Russia, on the other hand, won one and drew the other two games in Group B but still managed to top the group ahead of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan who they also beat in the quarter-finals before they won their semi-final match against Belarus by two goals to one.
The final, played before a 10,000 crowd at St Petersburg’s Sports and Concert Complex, turned out to be a goal fest. Russia took the lead after just five minutes through Nikita Bocharov only for Vladyslav Kalitvintsev to equalize just ten minutes later. The Russians would end the first half holding a 2-1 advantage following Andrei Panyukov’s 38th minute strike but Ukraine levelled matters for a second time after the break when Vitali Ivanko made it 2-2 just after the hour mark. Panyukov bagged his second goal of the game in the 75th minute to re-establish Russia’s lead for a third time, one which they would fail to relinquish. The deal was sealed in stoppage time when Emin Makhmudov scored from the penalty spot and gave the host nation title glory for the second year in a row.
Having begun as a pre-season tournament for champion club sides from the former Soviet republics, the CIS Cup decided to change in 2012 in order to incorporate national youth teams. This was as a result of the waning interest shown to the competition by various club sides that preferred either to spend pre-season training in warmer climes or to participate in much more financially lucrative pre-season competition elsewhere. Nevertheless the competition has gained a renewed sense of purpose under its current guise and today’s final between two talented teams of youngsters shows that this competition might just have a vibrant future yet.
In the final blog looking ahead to the 2012 UEFA European Championship, which begins on Friday June 8th, we preview Group D which contains co-hosts Ukraine as well as two-time winners France, England and Sweden.
ENGLAND: Best Performance = Semi-Finals 1968, 1996
Despite their status in the international game England still remains one of football’s great underachievers. It is perhaps for this reason, along with the fact that there are so many strong teams in this tournament, why the Three Lions go into Euro 2012 with dampened enthusiasm. Perhaps a downgrade in expectations could actually do the English some good as the pressure to perform in this year’s championship isn’t anywhere near as great as it has been in the last ten years or so. After all England have only ever reached the semi-finals of the European Championships on two occasions and even failed to qualify as recently as 2008. England qualified comfortably from qualifying Group G finishing unbeaten in eight games and topping the table six points ahead of Montenegro. It was against Montenegro, however, that Wayne Rooney picked up his three match ban, which was reduced to two on appeal, which will see him miss the first couple of matches in the tournament. In his absence the likes of Danny Welbeck and Andy Carroll will be expected to step up whilst Theo Walcott will also be required to show that he has finally matured into a top class international.
COACH: Roy Hodgson
FIFA WORLD RANKING = 7
FRANCE: Best Performance = Winners 1984, 2000
It now seems like so long ago that the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry et al were setting the world alight with their free-flowing football and winning silverware. Twelve years since they won their second European Championship the French seem to be getting back on track following a turbulent couple of years in which internal strife and splits within the camp took centre stage rather than the action on the pitch. Under Laurent Blanc many fans of les Bleus will hope that they will show hunger and desire as well as purpose. Despite a shock 1-0 defeat the beginning of the campaign the French finished top of qualifying Group D by just a single point over Bosnia & Herzegovina. Franck Ribéry is the centre figure of the French team and with players of the quality of Karim Benzema and Samir Nasri around him they will be strong in attack and could score plenty of goals.
COACH: Laurent Blanc
FIFA WORLD RANKING = 16
SWEDEN: Best Performance = Semi-Finals 1992
The Swedes will be making their fifth appearance at a tournament finals since they made their debut in 1992. In that year Sweden, in front of their home supporters, reached the semi-finals but were unable to seize the initiative against Germany and went out 3-2. Since then the Swedes have failed to progress beyond the quarter-finals and not many expect to see them do so this time. Sweden, it must be mentioned, are a very capable side who are physically strong and resilient at the back. They qualified from Group E just three points behind the Netherlands and didn’t have to take part in the play-offs as they went straight through to the finals on the back of having the best record amongst runners up. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the undoubted major star of the team but much is also expected from 24 year old Rasmus Elm who is attracting some other Europe’s biggest clubs.
COACH: Erik Hamren
FIFA WORLD RANKING = 17
UKRAINE: Best Performance = Winners 1960 (as part of the Soviet Union)
Like their near neighbours Russia, Ukraine was a major contributor to the great Soviet Union sides of yesteryear. Since independence, however, Ukraine has failed to match the expectations of its public having only qualified for one major tournament in the last 16 years (i.e. 2006 FIFA World Cup). As joint hosts Ukraine will, therefore, enjoy its first experience in the European Championships and will fancy their chances of upsetting the big boys in their group. Veteran Andriy Shevchenko is hoping for one last swansong in front of his adoring fans but, whatever happens, it is a fitting stage for the legendary Dynamo Kyiv star to bid farewell to international football. Young stars Yaroslav Rakytyski and Andriy Yarmolenko have the ability to excite and to provide the firepower for Shevchenko and his striking partner Artem Milevskiy.
COACH: Oleg Blokhin
FIFA WORLD RANKING = 50
GROUP D FIXTURES
11/06/12 France v England
11/06/12 Ukraine v Sweden
15/06/12 Ukraine v France
15/06/12 Sweden v England
19/06/12 Ukraine v England
19/06/12 France v Sweden
The draw for the 2012 UEFA European Championship, to be held in Poland and Ukraine from 8th June – 1st July next year, has been made in the Ukrainian capital city of Kyiv this evening. Sixteen nations will contest this competition for the last time before the next tournament, to be held in France in 2016, will see an increase in the number of finals entrants to 24.
A glowing tribute to former Wales national team coach Gary Speed was made before the draw and then a host of former European Championship winners, such as Horst Hrubesch, Marco Van Basten, Marco Van Basten and Zinedine Zidane, helped to perform the draw in front of a packed audience in the hall.
Here is the UEFA 2012 European Championship draw in full.
GROUP A: Poland, Greece, Russia, Czech Republic
GROUP B: Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Portugal
GROUP C: Spain, Italy, Republic Of Ireland, Croatia
GROUP D: Ukraine, Sweden, France, England
Another chapter was written in Ukraine’s biggest club rivalry tonight as Dynamo Kyiv started off the 2011-12 campaign with a 3-1 victory over arch-rivals Shakhtar Donetsk in the Ukrainian Super Cup.
Shakhtar were the favourites going into the match having won the league and cup double last season. Dynamo, however, were not in the mood to let Shakhtar win the first piece of silverware in the new domestic season and started off well in Vorskla Stadion, Poltava, by taking the lead after just five minutes thanks to Oleg Gusev converting from the penalty spot.
Parity was restored just eight minutes later as Fernandinho, one of Shakhtar’s significant Brazilian contingent, equalized with a well-struck shot from inside the penalty area. But the game swung back Dynamo’s way just after the half-hour mark when Papa Diakhate regained the lead for the capital side having risen highest in the box to get his head on a Gusev free-kick.
The game would be sealed late in the game with Artem Malevskiy converting from close range following a wonderful breakaway move to give Dynamo a two goal lead they would never relinquish. It was some revenge for Dynamo who have had to take a back seat in the last couple of seasons as Shakhtar have enjoyed the status as Ukraine’s top club side after winning back-to-back championship titles. Some consolation can at least be had following their fifth win in Ukraine’s traditional season opening fixture which they also won in 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2009.
Both teams begin their Ukraine Premier League campaign this weekend with home fixtures. Champions Shakhtar face off against Obolon Kyiv, who finished in 10th place in the 2010-11 campaign whilst Dynamo Kyiv have a potential tricky fixture against Metalist Kharkiv, who are an established third force in Ukrainian football having finished in third place for the last five seasons.
Following the sacking of Dynamo Kyiv coach Valeri Gazzaev last week the Ukrainian capital club faced a difficult task on Sunday in trying to recapture the league leadership from arch-rivals Shakhtar Donetsk. Both clubs have dominated Ukrainian football since the second championship of an independent football league in 1992-93 and this season looks like both teams will be the likely contenders for the title yet again. Therefore it was important for both teams to gain a psychological advantage for the current campaign with Shakhtar just two points ahead of record champions Dynamo before Sunday’s match kicked off in Donetsk.
The match was played in the impressive setting of the Donbass Arena in Donetsk which is a testament in itself to the amount of work put into building the club by chairman Rinat Akhmetov. Having beaten Dynamo Kyiv to last season’s league title and the UEFA Cup in 2008-09 the club located in eastern Ukraine have been a thorn in Dynamo’s side in recent years but it was the visitors who looked the most likely to score in the first half with the likes of Andriy Shevchenko and Oleh Husyev having good chances to score. However it was Shakhtar who ended the half stronger and, despite the 0-0 scoreline at half-time, continued to attack their more illustrious opponents in the second half.
The breakthrough came on 64 minutes when Brazilian Luiz Adriano turned the ball home from close range following a deflected effort from Yaroslav Rakytskyi. The game wasn’t settled until the second minute of stoppage time when another Brazilian, Alex Teixeira, coolly slotted the ball home to increase the home side’s advantage and gain another notch into their battle for domestic superiority with Dynamo. For Dynamo the defeat signalled that the balance of power has shifted eastwards once again and makes the timing of Gazzaev’s sacking all the more questionable. Not only do Shakhtar have the advantage over Dynamo in the table (the gap between the top two increased to five points in Shakhtar’s favour) the Donetsk club also have UEFA Champions League football this season whilst Dynamo must slum it in the UEFA Europa League after they were knocked out in the Champions League qualifying rounds to Ajax Amsterdam. Unless the momentum changes Shakhtar are in a great position to win a second consecutive championship and keep Dynamo where they want them.
WATCH SHAKHTAR v DYNAMO HIGHLIGHTS HERE:
There may be a world cup happening later this year but for the European teams competing in South Africa this summer there is something to take their focus off that tournament. On Sunday (12:00 CET) the draw for the 2012 UEFA European Championship qualifiers will take place at the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw.
The 2012 tournament will be the third European championship to be held jointly in two countries. Poland and Ukraine are the hosts for the forthcoming competition and will follow in the footsteps of the joint ventures between the Netherlands/Belgium in 2000 and Austria/Switzerland in 2008. To help with Sunday’s draw will be four legends of the game from the host nations, Zbigniew Boniek and Andrzej Szarmach representing Poland, Oleg Blokhin and Andriy Shevchenko representing Ukraine.
At the end of the draw there will be six groups of six teams and three groups of five teams. Because the host nations qualify automatically for the tournament the defending champions Spain must go through the qualifying process. The teams in each pot have been chosen according to UEFA’s national team coefficient table. Here are how the pots look ahead of the draw:
POT 1 – Spain, Germany, Holland, Italy, England, Croatia, Portugal, France, Russia
POT 2 – Greece, Czech Republic, Sweden, Switzerland, Serbia, Turkey, Denmark, Slovakia, Romania
POT 3 – Israel, Bulgaria, Finland, Norway, Rep. of Ireland, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Austria, Bosnia & Herzogovina
POT 4 – Slovenia, Latvia, Hungary, Lithuania, Belarus, Belgium, Wales, Macedonia, Cyprus
POT 5 – Montenegro, Albania, Estonia, Georgia, Moldova, Iceland, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Liechtenstein
POT 6 – Azerbaijan, Luxembourg, Malta, Faroe Islands, Andorra, San Marino
In the second half of our look at the Champions League group stage “Stoppage Time” focuses on groups E-H:
GROUP E (OLYMPIQUE LYONNAIS, FIORENTINA, LIVERPOOL FC, DEBRECENI)
The biggest disappointment in this year’s competition, without any doubt, was five-time European champions Liverpool. After the opening group match against Hungarian champions Debreceni the Reds were caught short against group rivals Lyon and Fiorentina. Too many mistakes at crucial times proved Liverpool’s undoing and this was emphasized in the last minute of Matchday 6 where Alberto Gilardino was able to capitalize on a defensive error to give Fiorentina the three points needed to top the group. Lyon were impressive throughout especially in their games against Debreceni, against whom they scored eight goals without reply in two matches. Fiorentina finished top on fifteen points, two more than Lyon, whilst Liverpool have to be content with a Europa League place finishing on a dismal seven points in a group they were widely expected to qualify from. Debreceni’s maiden Champions League finished, as expected, in last place but no doubt their team would’ve enjoyed the experience.
GROUP F (FC BARCELONA, INTERNAZIONALE, RUBIN KAZAN, DYNAMO KYIV)
This was the most open group in the Champions League. All four teams harboured hopes of qualification to the Round of 16 prior to Matchday 6. In the end the big boys, FC Barcelona and Internazionale, managed to qualify but they were made to work hard for their place. Jose Mourinho’s Inter had the upper hand in their final game at home against Russian champions Rubin Kazan thanks to goals from Samuel Eto’o and Mario Balotelli whilst European champions FC Barcelona had to come from behind to beat Dynamo Kyiv in Ukraine 2-1. Goals from Xavi and Lionel Messi were sufficient for the Catalans to finish top of the group, two points clear of Inter. Rubin Kazan’s first season in the Champions League provided much drama, the 2-1 win against Barcelona in the Camp Nou was one of the highlights of the tournament so far. However they just didn’t have enough killer instinct to put the group to bed but at least they can be content with a Europa League place. For Andriy Shevchenko and his Dynamo side it’s another disappointing exit from a European campaign but they should be back next year barring a dismal second half to the domestic season in Ukraine.
GROUP G (SEVILLA CF, VfB STUTTGART, UNIREA URZICENI, GLASGOW RANGERS)
Sevilla were the clear winners of the group remaining undefeated through the campaign. Their 4-1 win over Rangers at Ibrox Park on Matchday 2 was their most convincing of the tournament thus far. The chase for second became a Matchday 6 “cup final” between VfB Stuttgart (who fired coach Markus Babbel and replaced him with Christian Gross in the weekend prior to the game) and Unirea Urziceni (coached by Chelsea legend Dan Petrescu). The German side started like a train and were 3-0 up inside eleven minutes. Despite Unirea pulling a goal back early in the second half the Germans managed to preserve their lead and the three points allowed them to overtake the Romanians into second place. Unirea go into the Europa League whilst Glasgow Rangers must swallow their pride and be hopeful that they can be back next season.
GROUP H (ARSENAL, OLYMPIAKOS, STANDARD LIEGE, AZ ALKMAAR)
Arsenal were comfortably the best team in the group and had already qualified for the Round of 16 when they went to Greece to play Olympiakos on Matchday 6. They played a young team with an average age of 21 but Arsene Wenger’s men couldn’t maintain their unbeaten record in Athens going down 1-0. Zico’s Olympiakos finished second thanks to some good results earlier in the tournament against Standard Liege and AZ Alkmaar. The third and fourth placed teams came up with some drama of their own on Matchday 6 in Belgium. Dutch champions AZ took the lead in the first half through Jeremain Lens and they held on to their advantage until five minutes into stoppage time. A free-kick was whipped in at pace and among the crowd of players in the penalty box was Standard’s goalkeeper Sinan Bolat who headed home to gain the ‘Liegeois’ a precious point and a place in the Europa League.