The UEFA Europa League is back and has reached the Round of 32 stage. There are plenty of matches that whet the appetite in this competition and “Stoppage Time” has a guide to all sixteen ties in the first knockout round:
EVERTON FC (England) v SPORTING (Portugal)
The first leg of this game took place last night to avoid a clash with Liverpool FC’s home game against Unirea Urziceni on Thursday. Everton have a slight 2-1 advantage going into the second leg thanks to goals from Steven Pienaar and Sylvain Distin. However French defender Distin was sent off late in the game for a foul on Liedson and Miguel Veloso (pictured) was able to pull one back for Sporting from twelve yards out. An intriging return game in Lisbon awaits.
AJAX AMSTERDAM (Netherlands) v JUVENTUS (Italy)
This is a game worthy of Champions League status with both clubs sharing six European Cup triumphs between them. Ajax are currently third in the Dutch Eredivisie whilst Juventus are sixth in Serie A. With both teams harbouring realistic ambitions of Champions League qualification next season they may decide to play weakened sides in Europe. Nonetheless this should be a fascinating contrast of styles between two great clubs.
ATHLETIC BILBAO (Spain) v RSC ANDERLECHT (Belgium)
The Basque side should have more motivation to progress as the Europa League is the club’s only realistic hope of silverware this season. Anderlecht, one of three Belgian clubs remaining in the competition, comfortably lead the Jupiler League but may find Athletic a tough proposition. Although if the Mauves can get an away goal in the first leg in Bilbao then the tie could be in the balance.
ATLÉTICO DE MADRID (Spain) v GALATASARAY (Turkey)
The Spanish giants are in good form having reached the Copa del Rey (Spanish Cup) final and beaten Spanish, European and World champions FC Barcelona 2-1 at the weekend. Galatasaray are top in the Turkish Süper Lig, at the moment, and are taking this competition seriously having won it in 2000 becoming the first Turkish team to win a European trophy. With both stadiums expected to be at their intimidating best these two legs won’t be for the faint hearted.
CLUB BRUGGE (Belgium) v VALENCIA CF (Spain)
Club Brugge haven’t been such a force in Belgian football in recent years having to put up with their big rivals Standard Liège and RSC Anderlecht win the last four league titles. Valencia, despite being a distant third in the Spanish League, have high hopes of winning this competition and are likely to include big hitters such as David Villa and David Silva in order to progress to the next stage.
FULHAM FC (England) v SHAKHTAR DONETSK (Ukraine)
London outfit Fulham FC will have to get a good result at home if they want to progress in this competition as their away record this season is really bad, just one win in thirteen Premier League games on the road. However Shakhtar, the last ever winners of what was the UEFA Cup last season, haven’t played a league match since December as the Ukrainian championship is still in its winter break until February 27th so will be lacking in match fitness.
HAMBURGER SV (Germany) v PSV EINDHOVEN (Netherlands)
The German side will want to go one better than last season, when they were knocked out at the semi-final stage by rivals Werder Bremen, especially as the inaugural UEFA Europa League final takes place at their home stadium.PSV Eindhoven, currently top of the Eredivisie, are accustomed to the Champions League but have done well in the second competition having qualified for this stage with an unbeaten record so will be a tough grame for HSV.
HERTHA BSC (Germany) v SL BENFICA (Portugal)
Benfica are huge favourites to advance to the next round. The Portuguese giants are leading the Liga Sagres back home whilst the German capital team are propping up the rest of the German Bundesliga and were in second place behind the other Lisbon giants Sporting in the group stage. The second leg, to be played in Lisbon, will take place on Tuesday, February 23rd to avoid a clash with Sporting’s home game against Everton FC two days later.
KØBENHAVN (Denmark) v OLYMPIQUE DE MARSEILLE (France)
The Danish champions, known locally as FCK, have played well against big clubs in Europe in recent years but fail to score many goals. FCK will also be lacking match practice as the SAS Superligaen has been in hibernation since early December. Marseille, currently lying in fifth position in Ligue 1, should have too strong a squad and will want to go all the way having lost in their two final appearances in 1999 against AC Parma and Valencia CF in 2004.
LILLE OSC (France) v FENERBAHÇE (Turkey)
“Fener” are involved in a title battle with eternal rivals Galatasaray in the Turkish Süper Lig so may decide to rest a couple of players in the two games against a Lille side who lie in third place in Ligue 1, seven points behind leaders FC Girondins de Bordeaux. The Turkish side will be slight favourites as they play the second leg at their intimidating Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium which hosted the UEFA Cup final last season.
LIVERPOOL FC (England) v UNIREA URZICENI (Romania)
Both teams are in the Europa League having finished third in their respective Champions League groups. Liverpool’s recent results have improved even if their performances aren’t always easy on the eye. However coach Rafael Benítez will want to win this trophy for a second time having previously won the title with Valencia CF in 2004. Romanian champions Unirea finished above Scottish champions Glasgow Rangers in their Champions League group but have seen coach Dan Petrescu jump ship to obscure Russian second league outfit FC Kuban Krasnodar during the winter break so may find it difficult against The Reds.
PANATHINAIKOS (Greece) v AS ROMA (Italy)
The Italian capital side are on fire, at the moment, having gone unbeaten in 14 Serie A matches stretching back to late October and have one foot in the Coppa Italia (Italian Cup) final with a 2-0 semi-final advantage over Udinese Calcio. Panathinaikos, including in-form striker Djibril Cissé, may be top of the Greek league but have stumbled in the last fortnight with their lead now just three points from perennial champions Olympiakos.
RUBIN KAZAN (Russia) v HAPOEL TEL AVIV (Israel)
The Russian side have had a dream couple of years winning back-to-back championships. However they’ve been out of action since the end of November and face a Hapoel side lying in second place of the Ha’Al League. If the Israeli side can sneak an away goal in the first leg then they may fancy their chances against rusty Rubin.
STANDARD LIEGE (Belgium) v RED BULL SALZBURG (Austria)
This is a fascinating contest between Champions League drop-outs Standard Liège and Red Bull Salzburg, who were the only team to qualify from the Europa League group stage with a 100% record. If Huub Stevens’ Austrian side can get a win in Belgium then expect the second leg to be a formality. However the Liègeois have one of the noisier stadiums in the competition and will make it difficult despite Standard having disappointed in the Belgian Jupiler League this season.
TWENTE ENSCHEDE (Netherlands) v WERDER BREMEN (Germany)
Steve McClaren, having taken unfashionable Middlesbrough FC to a UEFA Cup final in 2006, would love to take the Dutch side to the final in May. However Thomas Schaaf’s Werder side will be motivated to make up for last season’s disappointment in Istanbul against Shakhtar Donetsk by taking the short trip to Hamburg and, with their experience, will be favourites to go through.
VILLARREAL CF (Spain) v VfL WOLFSBURG (Germany)
Both teams have massively disappointed in their domestic leagues this season especially Wolfsburg who were surprise Bundesliga champions last season but who currently lie in 11th place this time around. Villarreal’s current form is slightly better, at the moment, and they seem to save their best performances for Europe.
Who’s the biggest club NEVER to win the Champions League (formerly European Champions Cup)? There are clubs who have a decorated history in the other UEFA club tournaments over the past fifty years but have, sadly for them, failed to lift the greatest prize of all. The UEFA Champions League resumes next week and “Stoppage Time” is conducting a poll with a difference. We have selected six clubs who, we think, could be considered the best of the failures. Do you agree with any of our choices? If so please place your vote otherwise there is a space to choose another team if you so desire:
ARSENAL FC (13x English League, 10x English Cup, 1x Fairs Cup, 1x Cup-Winners’ Cup)
It still irritates the fans of Arsenal that, for all their domestic success, their North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur have won more trophies at European level, winning three to Arsenal’s two. However Arsenal’s success since the formation of the Premier League in 1992-93 has led them to be regular contenders for the UEFA Champions League but, thus far, they’ve failed to deliver the big prize to their loyal fans. The club’s first European final was the 1970 Fairs Cup (now Europa League) where they beat Belgian side RSC Anderlecht 4-3 on aggregate. Ten years later Arsenal would lose their first European final on penalties as they failed to beat Spanish giants Valencia CF in the 1980 Cup-Winners’ Cup. The nineties saw the “Gunners” reach back-to-back Cup-Winners’ Cup finals winning one against Italian team AC Parma (1994) but losing the other to Real Zaragoza (1995), the Spanish team winning in the last minute of extra-time thanks to a former Spurs player’s goal from the halfway line. Two further European defeats in the 2000 UEFA Cup (now Europa League) final to Galatasaray (losing on penalties) and, most painfully, the 2006 Champions League final to FC Barcelona rubbed more salt into Arsenal’s European wounds.
DYNAMO KYIV (13x Ukraine League, 9x Ukraine Cup, 13x USSR League, 2x Cup-Winners’ Cup, 1x European Super Cup)
Dynamo Kyiv are an institution in Ukraine and were very much the flagship club during the heyday of the Soviet era. Dynamo were the most successful team before the USSR broke up in 1991 with 13 domestic championships and, since independence, have continued to dominate the new Ukrainian set-up having won their 13th title in the 2008-09 season. In Europe Dynamo enjoyed Cup-Winners’ Cup success in 1975 defeating Hungarian side Ferencvaros 3-0 (following this up with a win in the European Super Cup against FC Bayern Munich) and in 1986 winning their second CWC against Spanish giants Atletico de Madrid (also 3-0). In terms of the Champions League Dynamo have reached the semi-finals, most notably against FC Bayern in 1999, but sadly the final continues to elude them.
GALATASARAY (17x Turkish League, 14x Turkish Cup, 1 UEFA Cup, 1x European Super Cup)
“Gala” created history when they defeated Arsenal in the 2000 UEFA Cup final to become the first, and so far only, Turkish team to win a European trophy. This was followed up by a 1-0 European Super Cup victory against European champions Real Madrid to create a new chapter in the history of this massive Turkish club. The fans of Galatasaray always provides a hostile welcome to visiting teams, most famously their ‘Welcome to Hell’ episode against Manchester United in 1993-94, but even this doesn’t give Gala an advantage as they have yet to even reach a semi-final of Europe’s elite competition. Despite the regular domestic success and a massive fan base Gala’s record in the Champions League is not worthy of their place amongst Europe’s biggest clubs.
GLASGOW RANGERS (52x Scottish League, 33x Scottish Cup, 1x European Cup-Winners’ Cup)
Despite being the world’s most titled club (over 100 domestic trophies if you include the Scottish League Cup triumphs) the blue side of the “Old Firm” are forever in the shadow of their eternal rivals Glasgow Celtic when it comes to European success. Whilst the Hoops won the 1967 European Champions Cup with the famous Lisbon Lions side, Glasgow Rangers could only muster a solitary European Cup-Winners’ Cup triumph in 1972 when defeating Dinamo Moscow 3-2 in Barcelona. All the other finals that Rangers have participated in have ended in defeats: 1960-61 CWC final against Fiorentina, 1967 CWC final against FC Bayern and, most recently, the 2008 UEFA Cup final against Zenit St. Petersburg. The best that Rangers have done in the elite competition is the semi-final of the 1959-60 tournament where a heavy 12-4 aggregate defeat to German champions Eintracht Frankfurt denied them a ‘home’ final at Hampden Park against the mighty Real Madrid. In the first ever Champions League of 1992-93 Rangers reached the group stage, the winners of which would go on to contest the final, but just didn’t have enough luck as they narrowly failed to top the group losing out to eventual winners Olympique de Marseille.
SPORTING LISBON (18x Portuguese League, 15x Portuguese Cup, 1x European Cup-Winners’ Cup)
Sporting Clube do Portugal, to give their correct name, are very much the third force of Portuguese football having never won the European Champions Cup nor Champions League in contrast to their rivals SL Benfica and FC Porto who have each been European champions on two occasions. Sporting’s only European success came in 1964 after they defeated Hungarian side MTK Budapest in the Cup Winners’ Cup final 1-0 after a replay. They had a great chance in 2005 to add to their honours as they reached the UEFA Cup final which was played at the club’s home stadium. However Russian side CSKA Moscow shocked the expectant ‘home’ support in the stadium by winning the game, therefore adding to Sporting’s European woes.
VALENCIA CF (6x Spanish League, 7x Spanish Cup, 2x Fairs Cup, 1x Cup-Winners’ Cup, 1x UEFA Cup, 2x European Super Cup)
Valencia’s record on the European stage is remarkable and would be truly complete if they could win the Champions League. Valencia’s run of success began when they won two consecutive Fairs Cups against FC Barcelona in 1962 and Dinamo Zagreb in the following year before losing their first final in 1964 against compatriots Real Zaragoza. Their next European success came via a penalty shoot-out against Arsenal FC in the 1980 Cup-Winners’ Cup final following that with a Super Cup win over Nottingham Forest. It would be another two decades before Valencia reached another European final but when they did it was in two consecutive Champions League finals where they lost convincingly to Real Madrid in 2000 and unluckily to FC Bayern on penalties in 2001. In 2004 Valencia won the UEFA Cup beating Olympique de Marseille 1-0 before going on to claim their second Super Cup later that year beating FC Porto 1-0.
In the second half of our UEFA Europa League group stage round-up “Stoppage Time” looks at the groups that concluded on Thursday, December 17th:
GROUP A (RSC ANDERLECHT, AJAX AMSTERDAM, DINAMO ZAGREB, FC TIMISOARA)
Blessed with years of European experience and tradition, Benelux neighbours Ajax Amsterdam and RSC Anderlecht of Brussels easily negotiated their way through this group. Their Matchday 6 match in Amsterdam still had some importance, though, as Anderlecht’s 3-1 win meant that they topped the group on account of a better head-to-head record over their Dutch challengers, both teams finishing on eleven points. Dinamo Zagreb were optimistic of further progress earlier in the competition as they had three points from two matches but they failed to build on their good start. Champions League Play-Off losers FC Timisoara scored a respectable five points on their maiden Europa League campaign but still finished fourth in the group table.
GROUP B (VALENCIA CF, LILLE, GENOA FC, SLAVIA PRAGUE)
Valencia secured qualification and the top spot on Matchday 6. They went into their game away at Genoa needing only a point to be certain of going through to the last 32 whilst hosts Genoa needed all three points to finish at least second. With the game tied at 1-1 in stoppage time, David Villa was gifted the ball from Genoa goalkeeper Alessio Scarpi to secure the victory in the 94th mnute. Elsewhere Lille’s 3-1 win at home to Slavia Prague ensured that they finished second, two points behind the leaders. Slavia, who have dominated the Czech league in the last two seasons, have been struggling domestically this season and this form was transferred into Europe as they remained without a victory after six games.
GROUP C (HAPOEL TEL AVIV, HAMBURGER SV, GLASGOW CELTIC, RAPID VIENNA)
Israeli side Hapoel were the surprise winners of this group finishing two points ahead of German giants Hamburg. Their Matchday 6 encounter in Tel Aviv ended as a 1-0 win for the hosts and it was they who leapfrogged “HSV” into first place. The biggest disappointment of the group were Scottish club Celtic who were unable to re-create their many great European nights under new coach Tony Mowbray. Among the highlights of the group were the encounters involving Celtic and Austrians Rapid Vienna, whose little known rivalry dates back to a controversial European Cup Winners’ Cup second round match in 1984-85. Both games ended drawn but the Matchday 6 encounter would’ve felt like a win for the Glasgow giants as they came back from 3-0 down after 18 minutes to draw 3-3 with virtually the last kick of the game and demote their Austrian hosts to last place.
GROUP G (RED BULL SALZBURG, VILLARREAL CF, SS LAZIO, LEVSKI SOFIA)
The only team who finished their campaign with a 100% record was Austrian side Red Bull Salzburg suggesting that they could be a good outside bet to go far in the competition. Huub Stevens’ men beat all challengers home and away to finish a clear nine points ahead of second place Villarreal. Italian capital side Lazio frustrated their followers as they could only win two of their six games and finished three points behind the little Spanish village team. Bulgarians Levski Sofia fared little better than their local rivals CSKA (see previous blog) finishing bottom with three points.
GROUP H (FENERBAHCE, FC TWENTE ENSCHEDE, STEAUA BUCHAREST, FC SHERIFF TIRASPOL)
Steve McClaren’s FC Twente were looking comfortable after two games but then nearly blew their qualifications chances. After Turkish side Fenerbahce secured the leadership of the group, FC Twente were relying on them to do them a favour on Matchday 6. Twente needed a win away at 1986 European champions Steaua Bucharest but could only manage a 1-1 draw in very cold, frosty conditions played in front of a sparse crowd. However the surprise team FC Sheriff from Moldova had to win against the already-qualified “Fener” to grab the second spot but the Turkish team did McClaren’s a favour beating the Moldovans 1-0.
GROUP I (SL BENFICA, EVERTON FC, BATE BORISOV, AEK ATHENS)
No surprises in group I were Benfica and Everton went through to the Round of 32 with one match to spare. Benfica, in particular, showed their class in their two matches with nearest challengers Everton scoring seven goals without reply in their two games (5-0 at home and 2-0 away). The Merseysiders, however, did progress thanks to three wins out of four against their eastern European opponents, the only defeat coming on Matchday 6 at home to Belarussian champions BATE Borisov but Everton were already through to the next round and played a very young team on the night. Benfica finished top with 15 points (only a shock defeat away at a very poor AEK Athens denied them a 100% record), Everton scored nine points, BATE avoided the wooden spoon scoring seven points compared to AEK’s four points.