Tag Archives: europa league

Super Cup = Super Farce

Soccernet called today’s meeting of the Champions League, er, champions and the Europa League winners as the “creme de la creme” of European football.

Puh-leez.

The title is a farce. It made sense when the European Cup Winers played the Cup Winners’ Cup holder.  But now the latter has been abolished and melted into some bastard tournament that also features a rank mix of Champions League losers and domestic also-rans.

Case in point: Atletico Madrid took the inaugural EL title by winning a total of three proper European games. Three.

After qualifying for the Champions League group stages, they were demoted to Europa after failing to win a single game. They managed a win before needing away goals in the next two rounds to advance. They then made it to the final after beating Liverpool on aggregate, winning the first leg and then squeaking an extra-time goal in 2-1 loss.  An overtime defeat of Fulham in Hamburg made them unlikely champions of a Mickey Mouse tournament.

So Atletico entered today’s game as heavy underdogs… underlined by their ninth place finish in La Liga last season (which would not even have earned them their current berth in this season’s Europa League — a place guaranteed for the title holders) .  They should have crumbled at the feet of Italy’s treble winners.  Enter Rafa Benitez.

What other reason could there be for Atletico’s defeat of mighty Internazionale? The newly-installed Benitez started 10 of the 11 starters from last season’s CL final.  It was a squad heavy with superstars, laden with hardware from this season’s draw ceremony.  So what other excuse could there be for a dull first-half without a single shot on goal?

No Inter success for Rafa Benitez

Rafa’s past seems to bite him in the ass. It was two former Liverpool players — Djibril Cisse and Sebastian Leto — who got the better of Inter when they played Panathinaikos in Toronto last month.  Rafa has had to follow the footsteps of a bitter rival to the north of Italy when Mourniho took the helm of the Spaniard’s true’ love, Real Madrid. And tonight, it was the Spanish capital’s lesser light that got the better of Rafa’s supposed ready-made superpower. Atletico wouldn’t even allow him the consolation of a penalty, after Los Rojiblancos’s keeper made a brilliant save.

But to what end? Can Atletico now say they are the real champions of Europe? Unlikely.  It’s one more of UEFA’s byzantine methods to create more games for more gate and more TV revenue, while allowing some substandard team to put a piece of silverware in the trophy case.

If this is the creme de la creme, then UEFA should kill the cow… because they are just diluting the product.

Brent Lanthier

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Filed under Champions League, La Liga, Serie A

Luck of the draw? Yids learn CL fate

Welcome to the Champions League, Tottenham. And just in case you weren’t sure who the best team in the tournament was, it became painfully evident as teammate after teammate from reigning title holders Inter Milan sauntered up to the stage during today’s draw in Monaco (a painfully long event but one surprisingly well photographed by audience members) to receive player of the tournament awards. Goalkeeper Julio Cesar, defender Maicon, midfielder Wesley Sneijder and striker Diego Milito (who also won player of the year) were each honoured with a small trophy and the opportunity to pick little balls out of a cup and reveal the teams within. And when all was said and done, Spurs found themselves in Group A alongside Inter’s star-studded cast. Will the Italian treble winners still be the same team with Rafa Benitez at the helm? We’ll find out when the Serie A gets rolling this weekend.

Of course, it’s a better draw for Spurs than they would have faced in Group G, whose teams have won a combined 20 Champions League crowns and finished runner-up nine times. At least, with Germany’s Werder Bremen and Holland’s FC Twente rounding out Group A, the last three teams are fairly evenly balanced, meaning second place and passage to the knockout round should be up for grabs. Despite their lofty UEFA coefficient, I’d rather face Bremen (third in the Bundesliga last year) from Pot 2 than any of Real Madrid, Roma, Valencia, Marseille, Panathinaikos or Benfica. Twente, who won their first Eredivisie title last season but saw Schteve leave for Germany over the summer, were one of the highest ranked teams in Pot 4. It’s also a kind geographical draw for Spurs, with no lengthy excursions to Kazan, Donetsk or Tel Aviv required.

Whoever the opponent, health of key players is a big issue for Spurs with the first matchday just over two weeks away. I’ll be happy as long as Welsh winger Gareth Bale, who set up all four goals in Wednesday’s famous 4-0 win over Young Boys, is healthy and ready to run. He’s been become  simply brilliant since Arry told him to stop messing with his barnet.

Fans of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United, all Pot 1 teams, are undoubtedly feeling pretty comfortable about their team’s chances of progression to the round of 16, with all three London clubs dreaming of a berth at the Wem-ber-lee final. In Manchester, the police force is already bracing for trouble when Rangers visit, based on their experience from the UEFA Cup Final in 2008, while the tie gives Sir Alex gets a chance to face his former team.

What’s also shocking is the number of big names  who’ll be watching from the wings this Champions League season, including Liverpool, Sevilla, Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Porto, Sporting Lisbon, Olympiacos, Villareal, Zenit St. Petersburg, Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe.

In today’s Europa League playoffs, a reeling Aston Villa met their match in Rapid Vienna for the second successive year, with a Stiliyan Petrov penalty miss proving fatal, while Celtic’s European misery continued with a 4-0 defeat at Utrecht. Liverpool and Manchester City, however, both booked passage to the group stages, with the Reds reversing an early 1-0 deficit at Trabzonspor and Citeh easing to a 2-0 win over Timisoara.

On this side of the Atlantic, current MLS champions Real Salt Lake watched a 3-1 lead turn into a 5-4 defeat at Mexico City’s Cruz Azul in CONCACAF Champions League play Wednesday night, meaning all four teams in Group A, including Toronto FC, have a win and a loss through two matches. As for TFC, they were busy today announcing Doneil Henry as the first academy player to sign a pro contract.

Ian Harrison

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Filed under Bundesliga, Champions League, English Football, Eredivisie, Europa League, MLS, Premier League, Scottish Premier, Serie A

Dr. Z breaks down the Serie A

The Doctor is back. Fearless prognosticator Hadi ‘Dr. Z’ Zogheib, who broke down every group at World Cup 2010 this summer, returns to forecast the new Serie A season in Italy. With the start of the Calcio just a few days away, here’s a look at some notable transfers and what to expect in the coming campaign.


INTER MILAN

In – Mancini ( AC Milan),  Nicolas Burdisso (loan return, Roma),  David Suazo (loan return,  Genoa),

Out – Mario Balotelli ( Man. City),  McDonald Mariga (Parma),  Luis Jiminez (Parma)

No major changes to last season’s treble winners and, after last season, why change?  The loss of Balotelli is more a loss of potential, but this squad will once again rely on guile and experience in attempting a repeat of last season’s success.  The big question is how the players respond to new manager Rafa Benitez after Jose Mourinho’s defection to Real Madrid.  Nonetheless, the Nerazzurri will once again be the team to beat.

ROMA

In – Fabio Simplicio (Palermo), Guillermo Burdisso (Rosario Central)

Out – Nicolas Burdisso (Inter, loan return)

Cash-strapped Roma have so far failed in their attempts to re-sign Argentine international Nicolas Burdisso (although there is still time), so little brother Guillermo will have to do for now.  Fabio Simplicio was a wonderful coup, given his talent and recent success at Palermo.  The club that pushed Inter all the way to the end last season will hope Francesco Totti and co. can utilize their wonderful team chemistry to have another successful season in the capital.

JUVENTUS

In – Simone Pepe (Udinese, loan),  Marco Storari ( AC Milan),  Leonardo Bonucci (Bari), Niccolò Giannetti (Siena, loan), Milos Krasic (CSKA Moscow), Alberto Aquilani (Liverpool, loan)

Out – Sebastian Giovinco (Parma), Tiago (Atletico Madrid,  loan), Christian Poulsen (Liverpool), S. Almiron (Bari)

Big changes in Turin as Juve hope to bounce back from a dismal 2009/10 campaign which saw them finish seventh. Storari will carry the load in goal until Gigi Buffon is fit again, while Italian international Pepe will provide the width and speed that were lacking last season. Can Milos Krasic be the next Pavel Nedved? Juve fans certainly hope so.

SAMPDORIA

In – Luciano Zauri (Lazio, loan),  Nicola Pozzi (Empoli), Simone Zaza (Atalanta),  Daniele Dessina (Cagliari, loan return), Paolo Sammarco (Udinese, loan return)

Out –  Luca Castellazi (Inter), Daiele Padelli (Bari, loan), Robero Soriano (Empoli, loan)

Last season’s surprise outfit will have a tougher time finishing high in the table this season as it they’ll have to battle on multiple fronts (Serie A and Europa League). Giampaolo Pazzini and Antonio Cassano formed one of Serie A’s most lethal strike forces last year and they will have to reproduce their form if they have any hope of another top four finish. Once again, home results should carry Sampdoria to the top half of the table.

AC MILAN

In – Kevin Prince Boateng (Genoa, loan),  Sokratis Papastathopoulos (Genoa), Mario Alberto Yepes (Chievo), Marco Amelia (Genoa, loan)

Out – Marco Storari (Juventus),  Marcus Paixao Diniz (Parma, loan), Mancini (Inter, loan return)

Lots of big names leaving, but so far none are coming the other way. Dzeko and Ibrahimovic remain transfer targets, but unless they land a big name or two in the coming week, look for another so-so season for the Rosseneri.

NAPOLI

In – Cristiano Lucarelli (Parma), Edinson Cavani (Palermo, loan), M. Bogliacino (Chievo, loan)

Out – German Denis (Udinese), Matteo Contini (Zaragoza), Luca Cigarini (Sevilla, loan), Jesús Alberto Dátolo (Espanyol, loan)

The southerners will be stronger as a result of their off-season moves, especially the additions of Lucarelli and Cavani. Poor finishing cost this team a Champions League berth last season, so the greater scoring punch of these new additions could see them make a significant move up the table.

PALERMO

In – Ezequiel Muñoz (Boca Juniors), Francesco Benussi (Lecce), Massimo Maccarone (Siena), Mauricio Pinilla (Grosseto),

Out – Simon Kjaer (Wolfsburg), Mark Bresciano (Lazio), Roberto Guana (Chievo), Edinson Cavani (Napoli), Fabio Simplicio (Roma)

Palermo will have a tough time repeating last season’s fifth place finish, especially with the loss of defender Kjaer, midfielders Simplicio and Bresciano, and striker Cavani.  These pieces are simply too tough to replace, and the men in pink will suffer as a result.

Dr. Z’s Serie A Predictions:

1 – Roma

2 – Inter

3 – Napoli

4 – AC Milan

5 – Juventus

6 – Sampdoria

7 – Palermo

Hadi Zogheib

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Thumbs up for Young Boys

Don’t worry, I’m not going all NAMBLA on you with this one. But I must say I am not-so-secretly delighted that Tottenham have drawn Swiss side Young Boys in the playoff round of Champions League qualifying. Based on the alternatives, which included dangerous opponents such as Kiev or Sampdoria, or testing trips to Auxerre and Braga, the boys from Bern are, on paper at least, a far more favourable opponents for my lads from North London. Besides, who wouldn’t want to play a game in the new Wankdorf Stadium, which now features a “hot seat” where team newcomers are traditionally greeted with a lap dance (no, I am not making this stuff up).

So, Spurs have arguably the easiest opponent in the final round of qualifying before the group stages and they’ll be coming home for the second leg…no wonder Young Boys sporting director Alain Baumann says his team has been handed the hardest possible draw. Sure, the Bern boys beat Turkey’s Fenerbahce to get here. But still, there’s no way we can screw this up, is there? Gawd, I hope not. Jermain Defoe is so pumped up, he already thinks the Yids will progress further than Arsenal. We’ll find out Aug. 17 and 25th, once the ties are done.

Meanwhile, Liverpool are looking at a 2000 mile trip to play Turkey’s Trabzonspor in Europa League playoffs, with Man Citeh facing Romania’s FC Timisoara and Aston Villa set for a rematch with Austria’s Rapid Vienna, who knocked them out at this stage last season.

Elsewhere in North London, Gooners are celebrating that another young boy, better known Cesc Fabregas, has not been seduced by the attentions of Barcelona and committed himself to the attentions of Arsene.

And if all the talk of man-love is a little much for you, we’ll throw you a bone. A Portuguese pal and Sporting fan is concerned about Tottenham’s pursuit of Lisbon-based striker Yannick Djalo (which our ’Arry has rubbished, for what it’s worth) because it would deprive Sporting supporters of chances to spot his lovely wife Luciana Abreu in the stands. Take a look and you’ll see why nine out of 10 young boys say she’s magnificent.

Ian Harrison

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