Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

UEFA Champions League: Round of 16 Preview 3

Posted in European Football by peterbein on February 22, 2010
Girondins de Bordeaux

Girondins de Bordeaux celebrated league and cup success in France last season. Can they add European glory to their honours this season?

In the third installment of our UEFA Champions League previews “Stoppage Time” focuses on the two games that will be played tomorrow night with the second leg played on Wednesday, March 17th:

OLYMPIAKOS (Greece) v GIRONDINS DE BORDEAUX (France)

Perennial Greek champions Olympiakos are finding it tough going in the domestic Super League this season, trailing behind eternal rivals Panathinaikos in the table. However the UEFA Champions League represents a chance for the Piraeus based side to show what they’re made of, especially in front of their fanatical supporters who make their Karaiskakis Stadium a real fortress against visiting teams. FC Girondins go into tomorrow’s clash with a three point lead and a game in hand in France’s Ligue 1 and coach Laurent Blanc will look for his players to repeat the impressive form they’ve shown thus far in Europe’s elite competition remaining unbeaten against FC Bayern, Juventus FC and Maccabi Haifa in their Champions League group.

Olympiakos, usually so dominant at home having won the league and cup double four times in the last five seasons, have endured mixed emotions by their usual high standards. Since qualifying second in their Champions League group behind Arsenal FC Thrylos (The Legend), as the club modestly call themselves, have won just half of the ten Super League games they’ve played. But despite suffering defeat to three of the top five sides, Aris, AEK Athens and PAOK, Olympiakos find themselves just two points of the pace due to Panathinaikos’ inability to pull away from their rivals. With only seven games left in the Super League there is a great chance that Olympiakos can claim their 13th championship in 14 years. Girondins de Bordeaux, a good outside bet for Champions League glory, won the French championship last season to end Olympique Lyonnais’ seven year domination and followed it up with success in the Coupe de la Ligue (League Cup). Since qualification for the Champions League Les Girondins are leading the way in Ligue 1 again and have reached yet another Coupe de la Ligue final, their third in four years, where they meet Olympique de Marseille on March 27th. Alas their chances of a domestic treble were dashed when they lost in the Coupe de France (French Cup) Round of 16 to AS Monaco, the Monégasque winning 2-0 away in Bordeaux.

Marouane Chamakh is becoming one of Europe’s most sought after footballers attracting interest in particular from English Premier League clubs. His 13 goals last season helped Girondins to their double triumph and he has scored ten more (two in Champions League) to keep Girondins ahead of the competition. Yoann Gourcuff is the playmaker through which most of Bordeaux’s goals come plus he has scored nine times in all competitions. For the Greek side Konstantinos Mitroglu has scored eleven goals (three in Champions League) and they will rely on his talent in front of goal as well as their vociferous support in the first leg if they are to have any chance of progressing into the last eight of the competition.

VfB STUTTGART (Germany) v FC BARCELONA (Spain)

Had this game taken place before Christmas VfB Stuttgart would’ve feared the worst going into the contest. After all memories of Barça’s first half destruction of FC Bayern at Camp Nou in last season’s Champions League are still very fresh to German football supporters. However the Swabians can go into the game against the European champions with new confidence thanks to coach Christian Gross who has really turned it around for Stuttgart. FC Barcelona though will still be huge favourites to progress to the next round. After winning their third UEFA Champions League last season the Blaugrana will want to successfully defend the title for the first time in their history.

Stuttgart have improved since Gross’s arrival only losing once in nine games in all competitions so far, that defeat coming at home to a Ruud van Nistelrooy inspired Hamburger SV a fortnight ago. Since VfB were victorious in a winner-takes-all clash at home to Unirea Urziceni on Matchday 6 of the Champions League group stage Stuttgart’s six wins in eight Bundesliga matches have propelled them from 15th up to ninth including a 5-1 away day demolition of 1.FC Köln on Saturday. Cacau scored four times to increase his tally to eight goals for the season. FC Barcelona also won their most recent league game by four goals comfortably defeating Racing Santander 4-0 at the Camp Nou. Barça have won ten of their thirteen games since the group stage, two of those wins helping secure their FIFA Club World Cup triumph in the UAE in December.

There are any number of matchwinners for Barcelona but the irreplaceable Lionel Messi is the man who really makes them tick. With sixteen goals and just as many assists his presence in the team ensures that they go into any game as favourites. If he should have an off day then any one from Thierry Henry, Xavi, Pedro, Iniesta or Ibrahimović can dig Barcelona out of any hole. Stuttgart have Cacau’s goals but also have Pavel Pogrebnyak coming into form at the right time and the industry of on-loan Barça star Alexander Hleb although the injury to left-back Arthur Boka is a huge blow to the German side.

Bundesliga Preview: FC Bayern not such big fans of The Hoff

Posted in European Football by peterbein on January 15, 2010
FC Bayern v TSG 1899 Hoffenheim

Ivica Olic quietens the crowd as he scores in the 1-1 draw between Hoffenheim and FC Bayern on the opening day of the 2009-10 Bundesliga

Thankfully, for all fans of Baywatch, FC Bayern have not taken a dislike to cult hero David Hasselhoff. After a shorter than usual winter break the German Bundesliga returns tonight with a modern day rivalry between FC Bayern and nouveau riche club TSG 1899 Hoffenheim.

Since the promotion of the latter into the First League in 2008 there has been no love lost between the two clubs who indulged in public spats last season as both teams were hoping to challenge for the title. Despite winning the unofficial “Herbstmeister” (Autumn champion) title, upstarts Hoffenheim gradually fell away in the second half of the 2008-09 season but, generally, had given the Bundesliga a shot in the arm. Ultimately both clubs had to take a back seat while surprise team VfL Wolfsburg won the title. However, after a slow start this season, both clubs are in a healthy position going into the “Rückrunde” (latter half of the season). The bad blood from last season has been replaced with words of respect from both coaches Louis van Gaal (Bayern) and Ralf Rangnick in a game both teams must win if they’re to build on any hopes of a title challenge. FC Bayern could go top for the first time in 51 matchday rounds (since May 2008) whilst a win for Hoffenheim would see them go into joint sixth with Werder Bremen (seven points behind leaders Leverkusen) before the weekend’s other games.

On Saturday the current “Herbstmeister” Leverkusen will hope to retain the unbeaten record they had at the midway point of the season (Played 17, won 9, drawn 8, points 35) but will have it tough against the league’s surprise package 1.FSV Mainz 05 who have hopes of fighting it out for a European spot. Fourth place Hamburger SV are looking for a third consecutive victory as they face lowly SC Freiburg whilst Werder Bremen will hope to gain revenge for an opening day defeat against Eintracht Frankfurt whose coach, Michael Skibbe, has threatened to quit the club at the end of the season after he accused his employers of lacking ambition due to the lack of funds available for new players during the January transfer window. Ex-Frankfurt coach Friedhelm Funkel has his work cut out at bottom club Hertha BSC who accumulated the lowest number of points ever after 17 games (a measly six) and is up against Hannover 96, a team still suffering from the death of goalkeeper Robert Enke, and who are in danger of being dragged into the “Tabellenkellar” (relegation zone) as they lie in 14th place, five points away from 1.FC Nürnberg in the second automatic relegation spot. Borussia Mönchengladbach will hope to keep up their good form, 13 points from the last seven games, against a VfL Bochum side who currently lie in the relegation play off 16th spot. In the Saturday night game Armin Veh, who has a mixed record since taking over at champions VfL Wolfsburg, will hope for three points at his old stomping ground in Stuttgart, who he led to the 2006-07 championship. Now under new management following the dismissal of Markus Babbel, Stuttgart and their new coach Christian Gross will hope to start ascending up the league to the relative safety of mid-table.

In the Sunday games Felix Magath will hope to keep up the pressure on the top teams as his Schalke 04 side play at home against struggling 1.FC Nürnberg whilst Jürgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund travel to 1.FC Köln, for whom local hero Lukas Podolski has only scored one goal in the Bundesliga following his much publicised return from FC Bayern at the start of the season. No wonder then that “Die Geißböcke” (Billy Goats) find themselves as the league’s least prolific team in front of goal having only scored ten times in 17 games.

European Leagues: Winter Break Round-up

Posted in European Football by peterbein on December 22, 2009
Samuel Eto'o

Samuel Eto'o is all smiles as his club Internazionale lead Italy's Serie A

With the exception of England, Scotland and France, most of the league championships in Europe have taken a well earned break for Christmas time. “Stoppage Time” reviews the season so far in Europe’s top leagues:

SPAIN

This looks like it will be a two horse race between arch-rivals FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. The Spanish, European and World champions FC Barcelona (39 points from 15 games) hold a slim two point advantage over ‘El Real’ whose performances haven’t always been great but whose capability of getting results has improved. Sevilla looked for a while like a potential ‘stalking horse’ candidate for the title, keeping close to the top but they have slipped off the pace in recent weeks. At the bottom of the table newly promoted sides such as Xerez (7 points from 15 games) and Real Zaragoza have found the going tough. A traditional giant of the Spanish game, Atlético Madrid find themselves just one point from the cellar after a string of poor displays.

ITALY

FC Internazionale of Milan (39 points from 17 games), including striker Samuel Eto’o (pictured) find themselves in charge of Serie A yet again. Going for a fifth consecutive championship, the Nerazzurri’s only challengers to date appear to be local enemies AC Milan, who are eight points behind with a game in hand. The Rossoneri have come back strongly after a really poor start under the stewardship of Leonardo. Juventus appeared to be going well under new coach Ciro Ferrara but have lost their last three games and remain a point further behind Milan having played a game more. At the bottom of the league six points separate Udinese in 14th place from AC Siena in last place (12 points after 17 games), signalling that a tight relegation battle could be just around the corner.

GERMANY

Bayer 04 Leverkusen (35 points from 17 games) remain unbeaten to be crowned the unofficial “Herbstmeister” (autumn champions) in the Bundesliga. However the ‘Werkself’ (Work’s Eleven) have drawn a lot a games meaning that their lead is a narrow one point margin from nearest challengers Schalke 04, who have done well considering their financial troubles. Despite Bayern Munich’s less than impressive start to the season the Bavarian giants are a further point behind Schalke. Louis Van Gaal has withstood the criticism and has guided Bayern to third place at the halfway stage with 33 points. The surprise of the season so far is 1. FSV Mainz 05, who were promoted from the second division last season, who have a respectable eighth place finish after 17 games. Hertha Berlin is the surprise team at the bottom of the table (6 points/17 games), all the more surprising considering they won on the opening day against Hannover 96. Other big clubs close to the bottom are 1. FC Nürnberg, who sacked their coach Michael Oenning on Monday, and VfB Stuttgart, who replaced Markus Babbel with former Tottenham Hotspur coach Christian Gross in early December.

PORTUGAL

The Portuguese Superliga normally has three contenders for the title but one of this year’s contenders is an unfamiliar one: Sporting Braga. They lead the table jointly with SL Benfica (33 points from 14 games) with perennial champions FC Porto four points behind. Many hope that Braga can keep up with the big two especially since the tradional third power of Portuguese football, Sporting, are struggling domestically (21 points/14 games) but performing well in Europe. Also many remember last season’s surprise package Leixões, who led the table early on in 2008-09, falling away late in the season. Could Braga really become only the sixth club (after Benfica, Porto, Sporting, Belenenses and Boavista) to win the Portuguese championship? At the bottome Leixões’ glory days from last season are well and truly behind them as they now are fighting against relegation lying just one point above the bottom two clubs Olhanense and Belenenses (10 points/14 games).

HOLLAND

Steve McClaren has done an impressive job at FC Twente (47 points/17 games) thus far and he’s already hoping to go one better than last season. The club from Enschede were runners-up in both league and cup in 2008-09 but McClaren’s men currently lead the Eredivisie by two points from PSV Eindhoven. PSV’s coach Fred Rutten has given new purpose to the Philips owned club after they lost direction last season under Huub Stevens which led to them weakly giving up their run of four consecutive titles. Ajax, coached by Martin Jol, have suffered a few defeats and are nine points off the pace. Their arch-rivals Feyenoord Rotterdam have also been rejuvenated under new coach Mario Been and a further point behind having played a game more. At the bottom RKC Waalwijk (12 points/18 games) will hope to avoid the automatic relegation spot at the end of the season as they are not far off the teams above NEC Nijmegen, ADO Den Haag and Willem II Tilburg.

GREECE

It’s the same old story in Greece as champions Olympiakos Piraeus are involved in a two-way tussle with league leaders Panathinaikos (38 points/15 games) for the championship. As usual PAOK Thessaloniki threaten to make a fight of it but end up dropping too many points but they should easily get a place in Europe. Athen’s third club AEK have struggled for form and consistency in both Greek and European competition thus far and lie in eighth place on 21 points. At the bottom of the table it’s been a dreadful time for promoted Panthrakikos who remain without a win after fifteen games. They have only two points at this stage and are dead certs for the drop. Above them the likes of Giannina, Levadiakos (14 points), Larissa and Iraklis (15 points) will hope to avoid joining them in the second division next season.

TURKEY

The Turkish Superlig could be one of the most exciting for years. Fenerbahçe (37 points/17 games) lead at the halfway stage by just one point from eternal rivals Galatasaray. Then there are two unexpected title chasers in Bursaspor and Kayserispor (35 and 34 points respectively) as well as last season’s champions Beşiktaş (32 points). “Fener” will miss on the services of Roberto Carlos after the winter break as he heads back to Brazil to finish his career at Corinithians. Last season’s surprise package Sivasspor struggled in the early weeks of the season but will hope that they can take recent good form into the second half of the season. They are ten points ahead of second bottom Denizlispor (7 points/17 games) and seventeen ahead of Ankaraspor who are pointless (numerically speaking, of course) at the halfway stage and look certain for the drop.

Champions League – Group Stage Round-Up: Part Two

Posted in European Football by peterbein on December 10, 2009
Fiorentina v Liverpool

Gamberini (left) competes with Liverpool's Fernando Torres in Fiorentina's 2-0 win on Matchday 2

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.