Saturday, 27 August 2011

That Doctor Who Thing (Week 1)


I warned you.

So, Doctor Who. It's a TV show. A long running TV show. Think of any TV show and it's be on longer. What's that you say? Coronation Street? Meet the Press? Candid Camera?

Oh ok, it was hyperbole. I admit it, guilty as charged.

But what the show is, unquestionably, is brilliant. This is that use of the word "unquestionable" which means "according to the writers personal tastes, where he gives his own opinion as fact". I'm good at that version of the word. People will argue over what sections of the show are unquestionably brilliant. Maybe the earlier, edgier Hartnell era? The late 60s clowning Troughton? The man of action Pertwee? The intergalactic Tom? (That's not a reference to his Doctor, mind you, Tom Baker actually IS from another world. But that's a state secret.) The vet? The multicoloured man? The manipulator? The blink and you miss him guy in the 90s? The angry Navy guy? The foppish Scot? Or even the new guy?

Well, I'll be honest. All of it is brilliant, in its own way. Just some of it is more brilliant than others.

And some of it... is Underworld. But this blog is a NO UNDERWORLD ZONE. Phew!

What it will have, though, and we have to be careful here are... SPOILERS!






Yeah, any further and I'll unleash any number of spoilers, like how the policeman did it in The ABC Murders, and the brother did it in And Then There Were None. But they wont be made up.

Right, now you only have yourself to blame.

Bloody hell folks, didn't see the Zarbi returning like that!

Right, where were we?


What an interesting notion. Who said that?

Mels, apparently, who shows up 2 minutes into this latest episode of Doctor Who, stolen car, police chasing, gun in hand. The fiendish Scot - Steven Moffat, this is, not Amy Pond - had promised a new companion would show up in Episode 8, and here she was. Michael's first thoughts: Oh dear god.

Thankfully this wasn't a first impression, as we met the girl three years ago. Yes, it was actually River Song, in the regeneration before the one we all know and deal with. There was rumours that the Season 8 companion would be River Song for a whole season about a year ago, so if there was any truth in that, then we DID meet the new companion.

Thank goodness it was River Song and not a Lady Christina de Souza retake, is what I'll say.

So the TARDIS takes off, and we meet Hitler, which caused a big stooshy before transmission on certain parts of certain forums. Tom Spilsbury, editor of the Doctor Who Magazine, even had complaints for having Hitler on the front cover of his magazine, by fans fearing they would be taken for Nazi propaganda lovers, in WH Smiths of all places! (Ignoring in fact that every History magazine in existence either has Hitler or Lincoln on the front cover anyway*, and hardly any Historians have been arrested in WH Smiths for Nazi love.)

*Writer's Hyperbole. Far funner than normal hyperbole.

But you know, last night, I was speaking to my sister Cat, who is the biggest Doctor Who geek I know. (Sorry to everyone else in the running, and thank you for taking part!) At some point in the conversation, which, if rumours of my being a "subversive writer" are true, you can look forward to seeing published in The Sun within the week, I said:

"I would laugh, if, after all this hype, everything we have seen in the trailers - TARDIS crashing through the windows of the Riechstag, Hitler saying "You have saved my life" and Rory punching him - was all we saw of Hitler. The whole title comes from someone randomly saying "Let's Kill Hitler!""

We laughed. A lot.

And then it came true.

Well, they say in humour lies truth.

Yes, after all the Hitler hype, he is in the episode approximately 3 minutes tops, and gets 5 lines. Which is just as well really, we all remember how controversial the portrayal of Nixon was. (For controversial, read: not as one sided as people expected.) Now there's a whole discussion for another time, what parts of history are considered off limits for Doctor Who. Should Hitler be considered off limits? Personally, I think no, because we have a long history of Hitler on TV, and not just with him being treated deadly seriously. Michael Sheard after all made a life time of playing Hitler in everything from Indiana Jones to The Tomorrow People to Grange Hill. Ok, the last one just felt like it. It's what we do: we take terrible things, and make light of them, as a nation. As a world.

But they played it safe anyway, even in the cameo. No grudging respect for the celebrity history figure this time out. Fear from Amy, undisguised loathing from the man of action Rory, and a brilliant mix of anger and confusion from The Doctor (he really doesn't understand humans, ones who allow bad things to happen even less so). Then he gets punched and locked in the cupboard.

Because the story isn't about Hitler. It's about River Song.

Oh, ok. It's actually about four hundred tiny people in a human sized robot (which can shape-shift into anything) which kills war criminals.

But it's actually about River Song. An alternative title could well have been "Genesis of River Song", as the girl who was Mel(ody) regenerates into River (after being shot by Hitler, in a scene which felt straight out of Quantum Leap) and then kills the Doctor. But she can't kill him now as she is going to kill him in Episode 13, which we saw in Episode 1, so she saves him.

Not confusing at all.

After people asked the question: "Why didn't River regenerate in the Library?" we get the answer: because she used up all her regenerations saving the Doctor from incurable poison.

Bloody obvious when you think about it, really. I guess.

The whole Moffat era isn't really about Spoilers. Well, it is, but it isn't. The Spoilers aren't the big things we'd expect, like Daleks v Cybermen or River Song is Melody Pond. Despite them being played up as so. It's sleight of hand. We already know (and man, am I going to look foolish in six weeks here) that River Song kills the Doctor in Episode 13. (But the Doctor will get out of it somehow, as usual - unless Private Eye was RIGHT ALL ALONG!) We know the whats, it's the hows and whys we don't know yet. In some other series of Doctor Who, the Doctor being shot (by River) in Episode 13 would have been the BIG SHOCK MOMENT the series hinged on.

We got it five minutes into the series. It's not the surprise the series is about, its the journey to the surprise. Which might rub people up the wrong way - I understand if this most recent series of Doctor Who isn't someones cup of tea, in the same way I understand why people run away from the Pertwee or the McCoy era, and how I hope people understand why the Tennant era wasn't my favourite in the last fifty years.

But on a personal level, it interests me far more than putting a random word into the script and tie it together in week 13. Which isn't a put down of the "Bad Wolf" effect. Two entirely different ways of storytelling, I just prefer the more recent.

Casting? It was a story of the regulars. Hitler was in it for three minutes as I said, so Albert Welling barely gets any time to make an appearance. (Indeed, he looks less like Hitler than Ian McNiece does as Churchill, but that's being picky) We have some random extras, including our red shirt SS man at the beginning, who serves only to be done in. (And the actor is then required to play a rather wooden robot, so its not fair to judge him on the part!)

The crew of the robot - who look very suspiciously like Gangers! - are a nondescript lot, purely there to add a threat outwith the newly regenerated River trying to kill the Doctor.

So it is down to the TARDIS four. Thankfully, they are on their usual top form. Alex Kingston is growing into the role of River Song, and becomes more enjoyable by the appearance. She is also, as shown in ER, a bloody good actress, and managed to portray Younger River as being different to the Older River we know.

Rory and Amy continue to be what Harry and Sarah would have been if they got married.

And Matt Smith's Doctor is simply fantastic. What a brilliant actor. Who came from nowhere. And he's still young, yet has all the tools. Barring disaster, the man will grow into such a top notch actor, it's quite exciting.

So Lets Kill Hitler. What did we think?

Well, I've never been a fan of ***** ratings. Blame Meltzer.

And percentage ratings would get confusing, especially when people ask me why I rated Night Terrors 1% better than Daleks v Dinosaurs (to spoil Episode 13s title, I'm sure). (Thanks Menny for pointing this one out.)

So I've come up with a sure fire Reference Guide for Doctor Who episodes, inspired by the Lucky Lady Doctor Who thread on Gallifrey Base. Which isn't a plug.

Within this thread we have a variety of posters, and in tribute to some folk who have been very nice to me in the past, I'm going to rate the Doctor Who episodes based on them.

So first off we have Ziusudra. He loves Classic Who, and lots of it. Especially the Golden Era of the Seventies. say he is not fond of New Who is to put it mildly and charitably. He really really doesn't like it. At all.

Then we have Pete, who sort of likes some New Who, but mostly is comme ci comme ca about it.

Next up, McRani - who got mentioned before as a Fulham fan, for his sins - who is usually more optimistic, but isn't as fond of newer Who. Even so, he does like it, sort of.

And finally, Steve W. The most optimistic man in fandom. He loves everything. The show could be The Doctor yawning for 40 minutes then pressing an actual reset button, and he would defend it.

Zius - Rubbish, terrible, or just really really bad.
Pete - Ok, but could have been so much better.
McRani - Pretty good. Not perfect. Could have been improved, but pretty good for what we got.
Steve W - Bloody brilliant top notch Who.

Simple, easy to remember Rating System. I don't foresee using the Zius rating that often - I am a terrible positive person for someone so depressive, after all - but it does good to take precautions.

And with this said, Lets Kill Hitler, on the strength of our TARDIS four, gets a...


Which isn't that bad for an "opener".

It was a romp, but a romp in which all the incidental stuff like threats to the universe got put into later episodes, so we could be reminded who our characters, and what the main plot was again.

And in that, it succeeded.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Rapid Decline of Scottish Football?

Post on the "Rapid Decline of Scottish Football" published on Gallifrey Base, re-posted here by request of Jon Arnold.

It's not rapid though, is it?

I mean, right around the years the Old Firm did well in Europe, they were losing to Kaunas, Artmedia, and even a decade ago to Basel, Zizkov, etc. Aberdeen might pull off a memorable run, but then they don't qualify for Europe for a few seasons. Views on Europe tend to change via manager. Walter Smith always viewed Europe as a distraction until he started to do well at it. Mark McGhee, as noted before, claims to have put no effort into studying how Sigma played, and lost 8-1. On the other hand, Craig Brown could tell you more about Aalesund than their fans before Motherwell beat them in Europe. So competent managers and a lack of them is a big part, probably.

Look at Celtic. Ten years ago they had the financial clout to sign good players on big wages, and O'Neills men wiped the floor with most in Scotland, and produced great results in Europe. Strachan came in with less money and less respect, but was a good manager and they managed to do better in the CL after a nightmare start. He was removed anyway for not being "Celtic minded".

So now they have not a top class manager with not a top class squad. And that self-fufilling prophecy about away days in Europe. It wasn't even that prevalent 10 years ago, they beat Blackburn and Liverpool away in the UEFA Cup. But the press kept going about "No away wins", then suddenly the team and fans were, then its come to, any away game, they could lead and they fall apart. Its like England penalties. Once you think - "Oh we always lose these" you've lost mentally. Couple this with Fortress Parkhead being torn apart by a string of bad defeats, and now Celtic have no fear factor whatsoever. Once a team don't have a fear factor about them, they can be proved quite ordinary. Hell, look how bad Chelsea looked at times last season...then think of a team without that level of quality player.

Rangers have always been hopeless in Europe, with the odd year where things go well. For every 2008 Cup final, there is a Zizkov. Even the "nine in a row" side when they had a side who could beat the Premiership champions (and did) were ousted by AEK, Levski, Steaua, Grasshopper and Goteborg, none of them top class sides in the 90s.

Hearts are a mess. Dictatorial owner, managerial-go-round, players sacked then brought back, that they havent exploded yet is surprising. Makes me wonder how bad Tromso were, to be heavily beaten by a side who were heavily beaten by Hearts!

Dundee United did the plucky "brave defeat" thing, and were 2 things away from victory, as I mentioned here. Even at the end, they could have won, but missed an open goal, and if you miss those chances you go out. Last year they had the bad luck of drawing AEK Athens, and even then only went out 2-1 against a far superior side.

Motherwell did some good results - added 11 points to the Scottish Coefficient in the last 3 years, which is pretty impressive for a lower ranked Scottish side! - but again, their kids were outclassed in the Final Qualifying Round. Once by Steaua, once by Odense. The same Odense who just kicked Panathinaikos out of the CL and are currently beating Villarreal. Again, plucky, but too big a gulf.

Hibs never show as good as they might think they wish to be.

The rest show up in Europe once in a blue moon, are utterly inexperienced at that level, and inexperience is a massive killer as much as gulf in class. 9/10 surprise exits (Hi Mainz!) comes through team inexperience at European level, that's why we remember those who had impressive debut runs, because they are in a minority.

The bits below the Old Firm happen all the time. Nothing new here, really. Unless these sheiks suddenly decide to take over some Scottish sides, we wont see a change.

And given we have such a rubbish league format (3 x 11, and league split) and a closed league/non-league format, the chances of that happening - beyond the obvious - are slim to none.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Europa League Round 3

We are ever so slightly behind in the Europa League - Blame lots and lots of medicals, from which I hope to get some closure soon.

So this is a Roundup of the wonderfully exciting Round 3, minus the suspense.


Bnei Yehuda v Helsingborgs.

Henrik Larsson used to play for Helsingborgs, back in the day. Bnei Yehuda are a decent rising Israeli side, and I'd have earmarked them to win this one. The first leg went the way I expected, with BY taking a slim 1-0 victory back to Sweden. It all began to fall apart in the second leg, when Helsingborgs equalised the tie through Lindstrom barely 3 minutes in. The Israelis needed to rise to the occasion, but buckled, dropping another two goals in the second half to be ousted by a team I hadn't rated. Hadn't rated, despite them being top of the Swedish Allsvenskan, the Swedish topflight. A sad case of yours truly not doing his homework.

Bnei Yehuda 1-0 Helsingborgs
Helsingborgs 3-0 Bnei Yehuda
Helsingborgs won 3-1 on aggregate.


Slask Wroclaw v Lokomotiv Sofia

Slask, you may recall, knocked Dundee United out in the last Round. Don't worry, more Scottish humiliation to come. The Poles were still a relatively unknown force, and came up against another relatively unknown force. When it comes to Bulgaria, the best known sides remain Levski and CSKA Sofia, the two Sofian giants. In recent years, Litex Lovech had come to the forefront, winning the league, but finishing just short of getting into one of the European group stages. Lokomotiv were the team founded by the railway workers hence their name.

For reference when it comes to the old Soviet block teams:

Lokomotiv - were founded/run by the railway workers.
Spartak - trade unions
Dinamo - police
CSKA - army
Partizan - named after the WW2 Partisans.
Torpedo - car people, I think.

The old VSS meant all the teams of a name (say Shakhtars Soligorsk, Karagandy and Donetsk) had links to each other.

With the various groups involved in the teams always wanting to one-up the others. But if you want an indepth look at the history of the four, across Europe, and how sociopolitics and football shaped each other through the 20th Century, you will have to come back another time, as we already far offtopic!

This tie ended in two 0-0 draws. Extra time couldn't separate the teams. So the dreaded penalty shootout was called for. It was a nightmare for Ivanov and Dafchev, as they both missed their penalties for the Bulgarians. The Poles converted all four of theirs, and so were into Round 4.


AEK Larnaca v Mlada Boleslav

So, you may remember AEK got that slightly surprising 9-0 aggregate win last time out. Slightly surprising, as no one, bar the one fan of them I now know of, had ever heard of them. AEK that is. Floriana's ineptness was well known. However, in an attempt to bring some up to date journalistic info to you, I went and asked the source about his team. So...

- AEK Larnaca were founded in 1994 after the merger of two clubs from Larnaca, EPA and Pezoporikos.

- This is AEK's 3rd European run since the merger - both prior clubs had form in Europe though. IN 1996/7, they took on Barcelona, and you might think you know where this is heading, but Barcelona were held to a draw in Cyprus... then won the game in Spain. Still fairly impressive though. And more recently, in 2004, they took on the Israelis Maccabi Petah-Tikva, and won the first leg 3-0....only to fall apart 4-0 in the 2nd leg. Oh dear.

- Their best position in the League is the 4th place, obtained 5 times(1996,1997,1999,2008,2011). They also won a Cup(2004) and were finalists twice(1996,2006).

"The amazing thing is that after they got relegated to the 2nd Division in 2008/09 they came back to drive everyone crazy and qualify to Europe... thanks to the excellent coach, staff and board of directors that the club has. The coach is the Dutch Ton Caanen and the president is Costas Michaelides who is one of the richest people in Cyprus. Caanen brought many experienced Dutch players like Kevin Hofland, Gregoor van Dijk, Edwin Linssen who contributed the most to the success of AEK last year. Tim de Cler, Gonzalo Garcia, Koullis Pavlou, Giannis Skopelitis and Miljan Mrdaković, who was last year's top scorer in the League, were all great transfers made this year and will strengthen the team ever more. This year I expect them to obtain their best position in the League ever and qualify to Europe due to League standings and not due to their appearance in the Cup. In Europe if they qualify to the PO round(95% certain) and have a good draw there then they can even qualify to the group stage. Further economical boom, even greater transfers... It was time that Larnaca had a top team competing for the title."
aekFC4ever, Bert Kassie's site.

All info and quotes come right from him. And now you know more about the Cypriots than you do about your own team! Well, I think I do at least! Heh.

Mlada Boleslav did not win the Czech league recently, despite my foolish attempts to make Sporcle tell me they had. They did KO Marseille in a fine 4-1 win a few years back though.

All this said, 0-0 at HT was a pretty good result for the Cypriots, against the Czech side. Then on the hour everything seemed to go rather strange. Sirl hacked his man down in the box, giving a penalty to AEK! Van Dijk made no error from the spot, smashing it home, and the Cypriots lead!

How would the Czechs respond? By the goalkeeper falling asleep at a free kick, allowing Garcia to toe pock the ball over the line? 2-0 AEK? Surely some error.

The game finished in injury time when SEVEN Czech defenders were daydreaming in the box, allowing de Cler to score through them all and into the net, in the most preventable goal of the round. Then the full time whistle went.

Mlada have some European pedigree, ok, it's not that much, but still, they have KO'd good sides, scared others, and finished in the Czech league ahead of more favored teams like Slavia Praha, Slovan Liberec, Teplice.

AEK Larnaca...are known by no one. And yet they won the first leg 3-0. To say it was shocking is an overstatement, as bigger shocks were to come, but it ranked at a good 7/10 on the shock scale.

However, in the week between the first and second leg, the poor fans from Larnaca probably dreamt of Maccabi Petah-Tikva every night.

And it didn't look good, as Mlada BATTERED the Cypriots for most of the first half, dominating the entire game. Then suddenly, on the 45th minute a long ball saw Priso free and onside and he sprinted the rest of the way to slice the ball into the net. 0-1 AEK! Completely against the run of play, but none of the Cypriot fans cared about that! Now suddenly Mlada needed five goals to qualify.

They gave it a good try, and in the second half it was 2-1 Mlada through a Reznicek penalty and a Stohanzl goal. Soon after, AEK got a penalty of their own, and Mrdakovic made no errors. 2-2. The game petered out. A fantastic win for AEK Larnaca, who were now one tie away from a group stage.

But not to worry, they will lose comfortable 7-0 on aggregate to whoever they play. [/promise]

AEK Larnaca 3-0 Mlada Boleslav
Mlada 2-2 AEK
AEK Larnaca win 5-2 on aggregate.


Ventspils v Crvena Zvezda

The Latvians had qualified for the group stage a few seasons ago, where they got a few points but finished bottom, having already kicked the noteworthy BATE out of the Champions League. So they have form.

Crvena Zvezda - or Red Star Belgrade as you might know them, CZ being a straight translation of Red Star - won the Champions League in 1991, but have done little since then. They've been overshadowed by their neighbours, Partizan.

They did get a good 2-1 away win here, followed by a crunching 7-0 victory in Serbia, to emphatically move into Round 4.


Alania v Aktobe

Alania are Russian. Once a force, they fell on bad times lately, and this is their first European run in some time.

Aktobe are Kazak crack forces, and one of the most steadily improving European sides.

This was a brilliant tie. I watched every second of it, and don't regret much about that. Aktobe started very well, and their slick passing got their reward when Mane slide the ball home, to give them the away goal.

They threatened to add to that, but failed to, and it cost them as they dozed off from a looping ball, allowing Buraev to knock in the equaliser on the hour. 1-1 first leg result, despite bucketload of chances, and a good result to take to Kazakhstan.

The second leg's first half came and went, chances everywhere, none taken. Had Aktobe taken ANY Of their chances, the result would have changed. As it was, into the second half, Alania got two bites of the cherry on an attempted cross, and the cross met the unguarded head of Bikmaev, who scored an utterly preventable header. Suddenly the Russians were in the drivers seat after so long under the cosh.

This is where something astonishing happened. A lot has happened to Kazak and Azeri football in the nine years I've been a football fan. When I started watching, they were Round 1 cannon fodder. Suddenly a few years ago they started taking victories. But even then, when something went against them, they'd fall apart. Here, Aktobe did not fall apart. They roused themselves, and went at the Russians harder than before, leading to a totally deserving equaliser that had me jumping out of my seat in celebration!

A good flick over the top of the Russian defence, saw the cross meet Dilas and his header was expertly placed, with no chance for the keeper. 1-1 in Russia, 1-1 in Kazakstan, 2-2 on aggregate.

The Kazaks had the wind in their sails, and swept forward time and time again, but the Russians held on for dear life. Khomich in the Russian goal saw many saves to protect his side.

So extra time came, and neither side could get past the others goalkeeper, so onto penalties we went.

The first four penalties all scored. But then fate had its cruel say on a fine encounter. For Aktobe were to miss two penalties, and the two misses came from their two heroes in normal time, Dilas and Mane! Mane struck weakly, allowing Khomich to save. Dilas stood up confidently and whacked the ball, but Khomich made a far better save, taking the Russians through.

Terrible for the Kazaks, but hey, they'd done so well. They are one good result in Europe away from being quite feared. A lot of the Azeri and Kazak sides remind me a lot of how Shakhtar Donetsk were about eleven years ago, and we all know how they've come on.

So fair well to the Kazaks for this years Europa League, but next year could bring more excitement and advancing for them. In their league, 5 teams (Zhetysu, Karagandy, Astana, Irtysh and Aktobe) fight for four places, but Irtysh may have to win the Cup to qualify, being in 5th place and in the semifinals with lower sides Turaz, Ordabassy and Tobol.


Karpaty beat St Pats Athletic, of whom we've spoken before, 2-0 in the Ukraine. A player strike threatened to throw out the 2nd leg, but common sense came back, and St Pats showed up to lose 3-1 in Ireland. They probably wished they were on strike after all. Ignominious end for a good European run.

Atletico Madrid took little harm from Norwegians Stromsgodset, winning 2-1 in Spain and 2-0 away.

The well regarded Swiss side Young Boys had no trouble with Belgian underdogs Westerlo, winning 5-1 on aggregate.

Maccabi Tel Aviv had never lost to Zeljeznicar before (EDIT - because they haven't actually ever faced before! Oops!), and still haven't, as they thumped the Bosnians 8-0 on aggregate.

Sparta Praha also thumped Sarajevo, meaning any hopes of a Bosnian side in the group stages of the EL were swiftly dashed.

Also dashed were hopes for Czechs Jablonec, who were ousted 3-1 on aggregate by once feared Dutch side AZ. Wasn't turning out to be a very good year for the Czechs coefficient!

Some rather daft person predict a shock on the cards, for Gomel of Belarus to beat the unconvincing Bursaspor of Turkey. We shan't reveal the embarrassing name of the blog writer who predicted this, as Gomel lost 5-2 on aggregate. Oops.

Remember how Elfsborg were seeded to make Round 4? Do you also remember how impressive Aalesund had been in the cracking tie with Ferencvaros, and not as impressive in their still empathetic win over Welsh Neath? Well, Aalesund then took on the fancied Swedes, and thumped them 4-0 in the first leg alone. A 1-1 draw in the 2nd leg saw the Swedes out, and the ever increasingly impressive Norwegians were in Round 4.

Great result for Polish football time. Legia Warsaw won 1-0 in Turkey against Gaziantepspor, conquerors of Minsk who were conquerors of AZAL in the very first game we covered. A 0-0 in Poland, and a very good result for Legia, who advanced to a play off for the group stage against Spartak Moscow. I wonder if this will continue, and the EL winners will be the side who beat the side who beat the side who beat the side who beat the side who KO'd SPartak from the groups after they see off Legia. Serendipity, how AZAL won the Cup. Heh.

Vaduz may have knocked out Vojvodina, but Hapoel Tel Aviv are of a stronger quality than that, and won convincingly 4-0 in the first leg. Vaduz did win the second leg, 2-1, but a repeat of the Serbian shock was never on the cards.

Do you know how many times in history Danish sides have knocked Portuguese sides out of Europe? Absolutely never. So it was a tough tie for Midjytlland, to move from thumping a Welsh side, to taking on the often maligned but quite likeable Guimaraes. After a 0-0 in Denmark, the Danes threatened to end Portugals perfect record, but scoring the opener. But a Guimaraes goal on the stroke of half time calmed their nerves, and the winner was always coming. 2-1 it finished, and the Portuguese were in Round 4.

KR v Dinamo Tbilisi was a meeting of the underdog shock troops so far, and the Georgians were in killer mode, winning 4-1 in Iceland and 2-0 at home. Heavy defeat for the Icelanders, but they had done well to make it this far. For the Georgians, only one small task stood between them and an incredible group stage. Only mighty AEK Athens of Greece!

Omonia continued the great performances for Cyprus, with a 3-0 win of their own, but this one was over the Dutch side Den Haag! A good 8/10 on the seismic shock meter. The Dutch only managed a 1-0 win in Holland, and Omonia got another great result for Cypriot football, as they now had 2 sides in the Final Qualifying Round, plus APOEL in the Champions League stages guaranteed group stage football, either in the Champions league or Europa League.

Could Anorthosis make it four, as the most feared of the four Cypriot sides? A 2-0 loss at home to Rabotnicki made it difficult, and a 2-1 away win in Macedonia was not enough. So no, only 3 Cypriot sides left in Europe. Strange how those most confident of success against minnows were the only side to get knocked out!

And if you will allow me...


Hey, allow me that moment, I've seen half of Round 4, they aren't doing too well.

Salzburg got a good 4-0 aggregate win over Senica.

Club Brugge ruined my party winning 4-1 over Qarabag in Belgium. A 1-0 win for the Azeri at home, even though a welcome boost to the coefficient, was not enough. So its goodbye to Azeri football from this too. Oh well.

Differdange lost 6-0 on aggregate against Olympiakos Volos, and still qualifed, as the Greeks have been thrown out of Europe for involvement in a match fixing scandal in Greece. So instead of them facing my least favourite french side, PSG, it was the Luxembourgers. Great.

Vorksla saw off Sligo, 2-0 in Ireland after a 0-0 draw in the ukraine.

PAOK and Nacional got good wins over Valerenga and Hacken to qualify too.

Which leaves us with...ten ties to cover.


Split v Fulham
Stoke v Hajduk

English bit. It was England vs the City of Split, in Croatia. A bad draw for Croatia saw them fighting for their lives, coefficiently speaking. Stoke got a 1-0 home leg result over Hajduk, though it could have been far more, as the Croats were terrified of the ol' Rory Delap throw in. Fulham got a 0-0 in Split, a decent result, but then they had to win in London. Any score draw would take them out.

Stoke then finished the job with a good 1-0 away result in Split, Milecevic knocking the ball into his own net in injury time to sea the deal with an unfortunate own goal, after Hadjuk had knocked in vain for the equaliser.

In London, Fulham saw off RNK Split with a Johnson first leg goal added to by a Murphy second half penalty.

So the end result was England 2, Split 0. Good tests for both the English sides to come through, but a bad result for Croatia, two sides down in a crucial European battle.

Ried v Brondby

Reid are the Austrian Cup winners. Brondby are well regarded, and even if Odense are trying to take away their status as 2nd team in Denmark like FCK took away their status as top team, they still have a reputation built on 90s football that gives them a manner of respect through Europe.

So the 2-0 home leg result for Ried was quite surprising, Mader and Royer's goals giving them a good cushion over the Danes.

A good cushion they promptly gave up in Denmark, finding themselves easily 4-0 down, and letting me call them the idiots. For they were.

There was no way Kristanssen should have been allowed to score from outside the box, but Gebauer the captain fumbled it into the net anyway! Soon after Karner decided the best thing to do watching a cross come into the box was to take down McGrath! Penalty, Krohn-Delhi scored, 2-0, tie level. Into the second half, they let Akharraz score twice in a minute, first from being the only man awake at a free kick, then from being the same at a corner.

So you can see in fifteen minutes Ried gave away four utterly preventable goals. Idiots!

I was to eat my words though, as this turned out to be a tactical masterstroke. Brondby sat back, and a Nacho attempt which was saved found its way to Royer, whose strike was so vicious it smashed in off one post and hit the other on its way in. 4-1 in Denmark, and suddenly another Austrian goal would take Ried through! In the 88th minute, the corner was fumbled and Hadzic smashed into the net for 4-2! The idiots were through on away goals, and Brondby had let a great position handed to them on a golden platter fall away.

Look, as far as football tactics go, I'm not sure I rate the "fall four goals behind to lull your opponents into a false sense of security" one, but hey, it worked for the Austrians here. In future they may wish to go the clean sheet route though, it tends to work far more often.


Paks v Hearts

Oh no! Another Scottish moment. A rare Scottish away draw was aided by a penalty I jokingly claimed would be the Scottish highlight in Europe - "The away penalty scored in Hungary". The Hungarians were quite a dirty side, falling over and demanding cards, but even so I was quite surprised when Heart won 4-1 in Scotland for a comfortable qualification. Next up....Spurs.


Mainz v Gaz Metan

Last year Mainz were a shock promoted side in Germany, undefeated for the first several rounds of the Bundesliga and securing a creditable top 5 finish. So the sharks circled and stole their best players, as is often happening with shock sides. Gaz Metan weren't expected to be in Europe, until Timisoaras shock relegation, and had made hard work of KuPS in Round 2.

I expected nothing of the Romanians and seemed on track when Bungert knocked one in for Mainz from a header. The shock came in the 2nd half when Bawab knocked it in for 1-1. Unexpected draw in Germany.

You can see the drama from the second leg here. End to end, chances a plenty, a cracking cup tie. Risse's opener for Mainz was once more cancelled out by Bawab, and we went to penalties, where, to the shock of me, and probably quite a few others, Mainz went and lost.

So, Gaz Metan weren't expecting Europe, now they'd gone and knocked out a German side!


Palermo v Thun

Palermo don't really care about the EL. They made some half hearted attempts before Luthi knocked it in the net for Thun. You might remember the Swiss side from a Champions League run where they scared Arsenal several years ago. Palermo mixed in their usual scintillating passes with some dodgy falls in the box, and got an equaliser from nearly 1000 yards out from Illicic, in true "eat my goal" fashion. Palermo kept going forward but missing, and it was Thun who scored next. An injury time equaliser made it 2-2, a great away result for the Swiss.

And with a 1-1 draw in Switzerland, they finished the job, and once fancied Italians Palermo were out very early.


Dinamo Bucharest v Varazdin

If there was an award for Jekyll and Hyde performances in Europe, Dinamo would be a strong contender for it. Some years, they are quite good. Others, they...well, aren't, to be charitable.

After the Split disaster, much pressure was on Varazdin for a good result here.

1-0, Susac knocked it into his own net, after some fancy Romanian footwork left Varazdin defence all at sea.

2-0, a long ball into the box, and Moti produced a perfectly executed overhead scissor kick on the edge of the box to smash the ball into the net. Moti has a reputation for foolishness amongst Dinamo fans, if I have been following correctly, so some, on coming home late and switching on the TV to see close up of him, immediately thought: "Oh god, what's he done?" only to see a wonder goal! After his goal he raised his arms in the arm in celebration, seeking applause.

2-1. Dinamo's offside trap was, frankly, hideous, giving Sacer a continents worth of free space to finish off a goal.

2-2. There was no stopping the free kick from Vugrinec, and it was 2-2 at half time. That's how it stayed at full time, and it was a great 2-2 draw to take back to Croatia for Varazdin. As for Dinamo, 2-0 up and drawing, oh dear.

Then came the second leg.

0-1. No one hoofed away the ball after the goalkeeper parried from a long kick, and Dănciulescu scored for Dinamo.

1-1. Advantage given instead of free kick, shot misses, keeper fumbles, defender misses ball, second striker misses, third Croat knocks ball into net. I see we returned to Keystone Cops defending, and Varazdin were once again qualifying.

1-2. A long free kick was fumbled again - goalkeepers didn't come across gloriously in this tie - and Munteanu was fastest to the ball, knocking it in the net for 4-3 aggregate for Dinamo.

All of this happened before 30 minutes had even been played, but Varazdin couldn't get another goal.

So, in this one football tie, Dinamo Bucharest had decided to be the good, the bad, and the ugly all by themselves, and still managed to qualify. Somehow. Couldn't have done their fans much good in the health department though.

As for Croatia, losing 3 sides in the one European round can be safely qualified as a bloody disaster.

Romania on the other hand, hadn't lost a side yet. Otelul, Gaz Metan, Steaua, Vaslui, Dinamo Bucharest and Rapid were all still in Europe!

Levski v Trnava - A 2-1 home win is always dangerous and so it proved for Levski, losing by the same in Slovakia, and having a penalty shootout to play, which they lost.

Metalurg Rustavi v Rennes. I feared for Rennes, my favourite French side who are utterly incapable of holding a run together, and have been pretty useless in Europe. So a 5-2 win in Georgia was quite surprising. 2-0 home win in France, and I was beginning to wonder who was this playing, and what had they done with Rennes? 7-2 was not expected at all, but a great result, all considering.


And finally, our main event:

Olimpija v Austria Wien

Olimpija, from Slovenian heavyweights, to dead, to Lazarus, to back on the European stage. Austrian Wein, those entertainers of the qualifying round, who thrilled, but then stuttered against bigger names. The tie suggested a relatively easy Austrian victory on paper, but the difference between paper and reality are two entirely different things!

A simple Linz goal for Austria was tied up by a Vrsic goal for the Slovenians, but a 1-1 tie in Slovenia was not the best of results.

Then came the second leg.

Five minutes in, Jozanovic took a good free kick for the Austrians, head away by the Slovenian defence. The Austrians were brushing forward, slick passing style, but Dzafic the Olimpija keeper was in fine form in the early stages. The defence fell asleep for Austria though, allowing Omladic a long shot, and though his shot was only parried, there was no one there to follow up, so Wien survived. A cross saw Omladic one on one with the Austrian keeper, and a fantastic point blank save from Grunwald prevented the goal.

A swift break saw an ambitious shot by Jozanovic sweep just wide of the net. Getting closer though. The pressure was mounting, and a corner soon after saw Barazite head in the opener for Austria Wien, who lead 2-1 on aggregate.

Olimpija were on the backfoot, and a long ranger saw the keeper all at sea, but on the third fumble he gathered the ball up just before Barazite got there again.

Olimpija wouldn't give up though, and had Vrsic's header been an inch either way it would been the equaliser. The Austrian blitzkrieg continued to bomb forward though, and only over excitement prevented them extending their lead in the first half.

That, and the fine goalkeeping of Dzafic.

The first time Olimpija had the ball after the 2nd half kick off though was to pick it out of their own net. You know those goals you get in the FIFA games where you pass the ball right from kick off and score while still having posession from that kick off? Well, Austria Wien actually did it here, Barazite finishing off the move. Dzafic asked where his defence was, and he had a good point to make.

So 2-0 on the night, 3-1 down. Game over for Olimpija, yes?

The Slovenians kept going though, and a slicing hit by Vrsic went in at an angle to make it 2-1 and game on. The wind was in the rising for Olimpija and their passing paid off with Jovic smashing the ball into the net for 2-2.

Suddenly, Olimpija were winning the tie on away goals!!!

Jovic had shrugged off two Austrians on his way to goal, his need to score outweighing mere physics.

I'll put my hand up and say the winning goal was controversial. Jun seemed to have as much of a foul on Andjelkovic as vice versa, but it was the Slovenian who was punished. Up stood Bazarite, who made no mistake from the spot, smashing it in for his hattrick.

That was the end of the scoring, so it ended 3-2 on the night, 4-3 on aggregate.

Olimpija had done so well on their comeback, but it ended, somewhat controversially. They'll be back though, and looked the most impressive Slovenian EL so far easily, though Maribor have entered in Round 4.

As for Austria. Players come and go. Yet they always play a fast, enthralling, attacking, passing game, which is impossible not to love. The players celebrate every goal like it means the world, with the entire team celebrating, and hugs all around. They play with smiles on their faces and in the true spirit of football. I defy any neutral to watch one of their games and not come away a massive fan of the football club. Truly, if ANY of the minnows took the next step to being a force in European football, I'd love it to be Austria Wien. Their entire ethos demands far greater rewards than they have gotten.

And that was the Third Round that was!

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Rest of the Round 2

Aalesund v Ferencvaros (1-2)

So last time we saw that Ferencvaros, in their first European campaign for some time, had a narrow 2-1 lead over the Norwegians to take to Norway. It was to be an action packed game, Barrantes missing early for Aalesund when even a headless donkey would have scored. The Ferencvaros goal that put them 3-1 up on aggregate was the product of some nice passing, that split apart the Norwegian defence, allowing for a cool finish from Olah.

Aalesund now needed two goals just to force extra time. Most teams will give up when down like this, but give Aalesund credit, they kept going, and were finally rewarded in the second half with less than twenty minutes to go, when Myklebust was knocked down by Junior in the box. Up stood Barrantes, misser of a bucket load this match, but from the penalty spot he was lethal. Solid, into the top right of the net. 1-1 on the night, 3-2 Ferencvaros aggregate, but the score could easily have been 0-4 Ferencvaros or even 4-4!

The wind was in the Norwegians sails (any references to Vikings would be far too cheap) but the equalising goal was as much the fault of Ranilovic the Hungarian keeper as much as it was Aalesunds incisiveness. A long ball down the side was looped into the box, Ranilovic found himself all at sea trying to stop a header, and Fuhre was left to slice it into the net. 2-1, 3-3, extra time!

It stayed that way for most of extra time, and penalties looked certain, until the winning goal, in the 120th minute. (Extra time is two halves of 15 minutes, so 120th minute is the last minute before penalties.)

And it was an easy goal too. Felipe gave away the free kick, a decision he will be cursing for some time to come. Barrantes, the man who was everywhere this match, knocked the free kick into the box, and Post was found unmarked and completely onside to smash it home. 3-1 Aalesund on the night, 4-3 on aggregate. The Aalesund players all at once rushed forward to their bench, the Ecstasy of delight everywhere from the players to the management to the players, one big orange celebrating mass of humanity.

There was no time at all for Ferencvaros to do anything, done in by the last seconds of 210 minutes of pulsating football. It was sad there had to be a loser, but Aalesund had won, and set up a Scandinavian derby with Elfsborg in Round 3.

As for Ferencvaros, well, if this is the type of European tie they want to drum up, let's not wait six years for their next European visit!


Lokomotiv Sofia v Metalurg Skopje (0-0)

Not my pick usually for a surprising game. The Bulgarians get the draw in Macedonia the week before, and would surely seal a comfortable qualification. The winners of this tie, I should add, would meet Dundee United should United be able to see off Slask Wroclaw in the same round.

Any thoughts of this being a formality were crushed barely four minutes in, when a good pass saw the Bulgarians all at sea, and Krstev was allowed to smash a shot at the keeper Galev, who let the ball fall over him, giving Krstev a second chance to score the opener. 0-1 Metalurg! The ramifications of the first leg 0-0 were now in full effect, as now Lokomotiv HAD to win the game. Any other scoreline, even a draw would see them exit!

Just after the half hour, Memedi gave away the penalty, allowing for Lokomotiv to eqaulise from the spot. Up stood Karadzhinov, denied by a brilliant save by the Macedonian keeper, Pavlovic. About now you started to suspect that it wouldn't be the Bulgarians day. That yellow was problematic for Memedi though, as soon into the second half, he got his second, for a foul, and was sent off.

Soon after, another penalty, and this time Preslav took it for the hosts, and scored. 1-1, and now facing ten men, Lokomotiv Sofia looked good money to go on and...

Immediately concede a corner which led to a goal! Facing ten men, they were suddenly 2-1 down, and needed two goals in half an hour to avoid exit! Superb performance by the Macedonians.

Pavlovic had had a good game, but when the corner came with 5 minutes to go, he fell down amongst a crowd of players, allowing Preslav to score his second. 2-2. Tense moments to come.

There was nothing the Macedonians could do about Bozhinov's winner though, chipped from outside the box into the net in one swift flowing shot. A beauty to win any game, but a game harsh on the plucky underdogs who had made a real game of it.

Lokomotiv advanced though to meet the winner of Dundee United/Slask.


Zilina had a big task, after losing 3-0 in Iceland to KR. They got 2 goals back, but never got the third they needed to force extra time. Last season the Champions League, this season, out in Round 2.

A major shock looked on the cards as Vllaznia led Thun very early on. They lead nearly the entire game, from within the first fifteen minutes until injury time. Then Thun scored twice, and stole the match from the plucky Albanians. Thun looked terrible though, and their next opponents, Italian high ranking Palermo, had to be licking their lips at an easy tie.

Remember the great game that was Tauras v Den Haag. Well, Den Haag v Tauras was more straight forward, a goal in either half seeing Den Haag advance, 5-2 on aggregate.

Rabotnicki may have struggled in the first leg, but saw a 3-0 win over Juvenes to safely get into Round 3.

Flamurtari didn't lose 8-1 this time around in the 2nd legs of the 2nd round, as Jablonec were content with just the 5-1 victory.

Rad scored early in the second half, a scoreline that would have led to extra time against Olympiakos Volos, but Martins penalty saw the Greeks through.

Westerlo v TPS ended in a dull 0-0, the one goal Westerlo scored in the away tie saw the Belgians qualify.

Fulham dusted off Crusaders 4-0 on the night to see the Irish off 7-1 on aggregate, more goals from Damien Duff and Bobby Zamora. Tougher tasks were to come for the London side though.

Slovenian gloom was momentarily lifted as Domzale opened the scoring in split against RNK. Split then split apart the Slovenians, scoring thrice, and finishing off a comfortable victory. The long wait for a Slovenian away win (not including Maribor) continued. As it also did for Olimpija, but they were safe in the knowledge the 1-1 draw they got in Ireland with Bohemians was more than enough to see them safe through to the next round.

Continuing the Irish talk, St Pats ended the plucky journey of Shakhtar Karagandy. A goal from McMillan early saw the Irish in the driving seat, a goal twenty minutes from time from Doyle put the tie to bed.

Austria Wien and Nacional sealed the deals with 2-0 home wins over Rudar and FH.

Which leaves just one Round 2 tie left...

Dundee United vs Slask Wroclaw (0-1)

Scottish sides dont have all the best luck in Europe. Remember those heady days of Celtic and Rangers in the UEFA Cup finals? Long gone. Now an Andorran side would like at a draw with a Scottish side and consider it 50/50. Not to say there haven't been good performances, Motherwell produced some fine performances over the years, and went out in a gutsy performance to Steaua two years ago, though you wouldn't be able to tell that from the 6-1 aggregate defeat the history books show. Sometimes an inability to scout proved fatal, as when the Aberdeen manager claimed he'd never heard of Sigma Olomouc right before his side lost 5-1 at home to them. But then, if he had done as much research as he was jokingly claiming prematch, that was a complete disgrace. Often teams can be completely outmatched - see Queen of the Souths exit to Nordsjaelland, or Dundee UNited against AEK Athens. Sometimes you can try your best, but the opposition is simply better.

Hey, if that excuse works for Man U against Barcelona, it can work for Scottish sides in 90% of fixtures.

All of this said, the Poles are not great travellers, and 1-0 is not insurmountable. Not even two minutes were on the clock when Russell had scored to level the tie, a melee in the box allowing him to slot past a number of players.

Barely three minutes later, a looping head from midfield found David Goodwillie completely onside, and he scored to make it 2-0 Dundee United! What was going on? As it stood, the Scots were qualifying, but there was still 85 minutes to go!

There was an inevitability about the Polish goal 15 minutes in. United had dozed off, and the header from the corner should have been stopped, but instead Elsner scored.

Dundee United then missed a bucketload of chances before getting a penalty which Daly smashed home. 3-1 United at half time, and surely they had to come through now.

Instead, the Poles bossed most of the chances in the second half, and it was no surprise when Dudek scored to make it 3-2 on the night with fifteen minutes to go. Even then, United had a chance to win it at the end, scuffed high when it was easier to score.

3-3, and Dundee United were out on away goals. So close once more, and had they been more clinical, they'd have advanced, but as it was, another familiar story for Scottish football.

And that was the Round 2 that was.

Zilina v KR (0-3)
Thun v Vllaznia (0-0)
Gaziantepspor v Minsk (1-1)
Den Haag v Tauras (3-2)
Jablonec v Flamurtari
and Fulham, Split, Karagandy, Dundee United, Olimpija and Austria Wien.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Europa League R2 second legs (part 1)

So life got in the way for a week or so, including but not limited to: bloodtests, sinus headaches, impatiently counting the hours down to a new episode of Doctor Who (Roughly 240 hours to go), medical stuff, more medical stuff and the grand art of procrastination, in which I would surely win a gold medal for Scotland.

So where were we again? Ah yes, Irtysh, Gaz Metan, Differdange et all. Brilliant. The Europa League Round 2...


Preamble just leads to disappointment, I find, so without further ado...


Irtysh vs Olimpi Rustavi (1-1)

The numbers in brackets remind you of the first leg scoreline. A score draw in Georgia meant a goalless draw would be enough for Irtysh to qualify for the Third Round, an astounding result for them. And Irtysh had several chances to opening the scoring, before a rash free kick allowed Kobalia to opening the scoring for Rustavi. For Irtysh, who had enough chances to win seven games, let alone this one, Ivanov should have hit the target on more than one occasion, and Tleshev ought to have judged his runs more carefully, forever offside. Modebadze's 2nd half goal killed off the plucky Kazaks, whose run in Europe had lasted one more round than expected, but whose inability to score when in front of goal - the same trait they benefited from against the Poles in Round 1 - was to cost them.

As for Rustavi, it was another good performance for a Georgian side in recent years, and they qualified to meet Michael's Favourite French Team (TM) and perennial chokers/frustration-causing-side, Rennes.


Anyone on tenterhooks after Valerenga only got a 1-0 win in Norway over Mika of Armenia can breathe easily. Freddy dos Santos in the 2nd half made a 2nd 1-0 win over Mika, and a reasonably comfortable 2-0 aggregate win. Not that convincing, but qualification was all that mattered.

Gaz Metan v KuPs (0-1)

Gaz Metan hadn't even expected to get into Europe. They got their place right before the start of the tournament due to the expulsion of poor old Timisoara, and an unsure side had walked straight into a 1-0 first leg defeat from KuPS of Finland. This was I believe their first home game in Europe (though not AT home, those crazy UEFAs deciding almost every stadium in Europe is unsuitable for European football, seemingly). I think it might even be Gaz Metan's first European tie ever, though there are many Romanian visitors to this blog apparently - hi guys! - so they can correct me if I am wrong!

The ball was passed long from midfield, leading to some nice passing down the flank. Petre grabbed the ball and ran towards the centre of the pitch, before lashing a looping shot into the net. 1-0 for Gaz Metan, tie on! I shall be kind about the 2nd goal, and say that in the 53rd minute, a corner saw Hoban badly marked by four defenders, and he slotted the ball into the net. Oh, the details can be so cruel sometimes! It was 2-0 for Gaz Metan, who led the tie. The Finns had to score, but missed the target three times, and the closest they came was with ten minutes to go when Nykanen had a shot blocked. More chances fell for the Romanians who could have given themselves a far easier time. But it seems to me there are some club nations who, if given the choice between doing things the easy way and doing them the hard way, will always pick the harder option. Scotland is like this, and from my years watching, I'd claim Romanian sides are too!

The whistle went though, and Gaz Metan had qualified! Not even expecting to qualify for Europe, now they had a showdown with Germany shocktroops Mainz in Round 3, a tie that exploded out of the page with excitement.


Vojvodina v Vaduz (2-0)

Vaduz are part timers from Liechtenstein. Vojvodina were the team ranked 3rd in Serbia. They had a good away win in the first leg, and were 99.9% guaranteed to qualify for Round 3.

Vaduz missed four chances in the first two minutes - two from free kicks - before Mitosevic missed the target for Vojvodina. And I am not one to unnecessarily spoil people before the fact, but fans of Serbian football may wish to look away now, as this was as good as it got for Vojvodina.

Barely ten minutes in Mojsov gave away the free kick. Sara floated it into the box, and it was harmlessly headed away, but then the midfield on the edge of the box allowed themselves to be harried off the ball, it was back in the box, the Vojvodina defence parted like the Red Sea asked for an encore of its famous Moses trick, and Cvetinovic slotted the ball into the net. Replays showed a big deflection off a Serbian player had left the scorer free, but such is football, and it summed up Vojvodina's performance so far. 0-1 Vaduz on the night. Game on?

I would like to say Vojvodina did themselves credit after that goal and put in lots of effort to put themselves out of sight, but I also do not like to lie.

By ten minutes to go, the Serbs were chasing shadows, and Vaduz were producing passing that would cause many a cliched writer to bring out references to Barcelona. Ahem. Swift passing saw the ball cross along the box, one defender falling over in what could charitably be called an attempt to clear, and more accurately be called making a right dogs dinner of the situation. Merenda was left to knock it in the net. 2-0 Vaduz, all level. Disaster for Vojovodina.

Extra Time loomed near, until, with 3 minutes to go, Vojovodina did the seemingly unthinkable and actually scored. The ball hit off a Vaduz defender on the line, but Covic's goal still counted, and it looked like Vojvodina would qualify. Losing at home to a Lichtensteinian club would be a right embarrassment, but at least they'd still qualify. Surely!

95th minute. Literally the last kick of the game. Free kick to Vaduz, near the box. See this off, and Vojvodina qualify, though they scarcely deserve to after this performance. The referee has to stamp out a lot of shoving in the box, which leads to a yellow for each team. All this kerfuffle led up to the free kick. Ciccone took it but it was headed clear, back into Ciccone's path who knocked the ball into the box, where Merenda headed it into the back of the net! 3-1 Vaduz. Game over right afterwards!

The Liechtenstein part timers had qualified, the Serbian highflyers grounded.

I could be harsh. I could be cruel. Instead, I'll be truthful. Only one side deserved to qualify here, and they did. And that might be the most damning thing of all.


After all the excitement of the 3-1 first leg in Israel, Xazar got a dull 0-0 draw with Maccabi Tel Aviv in Azerbaijan, and exited the competition.

Fans of Estonian football grimace, as highest ranked Estonian side Levadia Tallinn lost 1-0 in Estonia to unfancied Differdange and exited. All Estonian sides were now out of Europe, a familiar story.

Elfsborg finally produced a comfortable result, 3-0 at home over Suduva to qualify 4-1 on aggregate.

There was to be no goals in Tiraspol for Sherrif v Zeljeznicar, which was to lead to a shock as the unfancied Bosnians upset the better regarded Sherrif. Last season they beat Dynamo Kiev. This season, out in Round 2!

After the tightest of first legs, Hacken scored twice away to put the tie beyond any doubt against Honka.

Bnei Yehuda, Varazdin and Vorskla qualified comfortably against weak opposition in all three cases - St Julia, Iskra Stal and Glentoran respectively. We'll hear more of all three in future rounds.


0-0s have never been more dramatic. I watched Aktobe v Kecskemet and Qarabag v EB on a simulcast programme. A simulcast shows more than one game at the same time, flicking between both when incidents happen. It seemed like this was 90 minutes of the opposition getting twenty gazillion chances to score, and the two Eastern sides (Aktobe the Kazaks and Qarabag the Azeris) looking like collapsing at any second. Clock watching, urging the referee to blow the whistle, wishing away the seconds - wishing away precious time of my life that I will never ever see again, purely so some sides I will never see play in the flesh in my lifetime would advance to a third qualifying round. It only goes down in the record books as two 0-0 draws, which saw both Aktobe and Qarabag qualify, but I tell you, it damn near killed me. After ninety minutes, I had to have my inhaler on standby, I was on my third swear jar, and I had made seven Faustian pacts.

Bloody football, see what it does to you!


We now say goodbye to the Welsh. Llanelli had a creditable 2-1 home win, but were crushed by the highly fancied Dinamo Tbilisi in Georgia, 5-0. Midjytlland finished the job over TNS, 5-2 in Denmark to finish an 8-3 aggregate defeat. Some bright moments for Welsh football, before the old ways came back.

It was a tough task for Floriana to pull back their 8-0 home defeat to AEK Larnaca, and they didn't come close, AEK getting a 1-0 home win to win merely 9-0 on aggregate.

Salzburg's 0-0 with Liepayas meant little as the 4-1 away win in round 1 saw the Austrians through.

Gagra produced another creditable Georgian performance, but 2-0 wasn't enough to oversee the 3-0 first leg defeat from Anorthosis.

Paks weren't expected to do much, so a 3-0 win away from home over Norwegians Tromso was a big surprise. Paks now took on Hearts of Scotland, and were sure to cause some more heartbreak soon.

An early goal for Tirana made an upset look likely, but 3 goals in response saw Trnava qualify for Round 3.

Still to come
Aalesund v Ferencvaros (1-2)
Lokomotiv Sofia v Metalurg Skopje (0-0)
Zilina v KR (0-3)
Thun v Vllaznia (0-0)
Gaziantepspor v Minsk (1-1)
Den Haag v Tauras (3-2)
Jablonec v Flamurtari
and Fulham, Split, Karagandy, Dundee United, Olimpija and Austria Wien.

Should be up before the 4th round kick offs tomorrow, but with another medical meeting, that might be up in the air. Still, good things come to those who wait...bad things too, I guess.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Right or Left

It appears that yesterday my publicly stated views on events in England were misconstrued by nearly everyone who read them. Whilst yesterday that led to deep frustration, today I am forced to admit that if the writing doesn't convey the point well enough to the readers, then only one person is to blame, and that isn't the reader.

So we need to back track, before the debate over a person being left or right wing gets even more confusing, and we all feel like Colonel Renegade.

A riot doesn't spring up overnight, and nor does civil unrest. It is easy to see how distrust of the Met could spring up, certainly I have no love lost for them. At the time of the student protests, the Strathclyde Police were issuing statements apologizing for the actions of their Met counterparts at protests. There was weak leadership exposed by the hacking scandal, the issues of police brutality that never seem to go away (Ian Tomlinson just being the most famous recent case) and general ongoing problems with racism issues. Add to this that John Yates replacement as Asst. Commissioner of the Met - and the person now in charge of anti-terrorism in the capital city - is Cressida Dicks, the woman who made the headlines in 2005 for being in charge of the operation that led to the fatal death of Jean Charles de Menezes. Add to this Operation Trident, designed to smoke out black gun crime, but of whose forces only 5% are black officers only adds to the levels of distrust. It is important to mention Operation Trident, as it was officers working for it who were involved in the death of Mark Duggan, whose death was the spark for events in London.

So we have a police form, long time accused of racism, known for many examples of police brutality, known for it's attempts to cover up that brutality and having to pay up to £30k for being found guilty of that brutality. You can see why there would be lack of trust there.

Then we have our beloved Prime Minister, the man who looked ever so increasingly fragile during July, and who arguably was saved from an exit by the support of the 1922 Committee. His manner during the Andy Coulson debacle was humiliating to watch. Ignoring the fact that "nobody warned him about Coulson" (unless Ming Campbell asks him 5 minutes later) means either the PM lied at the dispatch box, or the editors of the Guardian and others are, the question he refused to answer roughly seventeen times (I don't think that it is too high an exaggeration) was: who vetted Andy Coulson to work in Number 10? News International sources, it turned out, so no wonder he didn't want to admit that in the House of Commons. The man gave the advantage to his opposition, a fellow seemingly destined as recently as six weeks ago to be the Labour partys version of Iain Duncan Smith, all the momentum. His biggest attempt to score a point on Ed Miliband's serve was to point out that Miliband's director of strategy, Tom Baldwin had also worked for Murdoch press. Even that failed, when the Labour leader, with a great relish to be in control of a situation for once, pointed out that Baldwin's line manager at the time was in fact... Michael Gove, the current Education Secretary!

Even without his faux pas at the despatch box, the Prime Minister could be forgiven if not forgotten if he had only led. That's why leaders are elected. To lead. Yet, through the worst moments of the phone hacking scandal, he is MIA. He threatened to be the same during the riots, but decided, out of the goodness of his heart, to cancel a holiday in the land of Berlusconi to come back and give out a few speeches about the violence. And reconvene Parliament. Well, at least he's starting to look go... (he also went against the advice of Sir Hugh Orde in order to score political points)...oh, well, forget that.

Let's not forget the Home Secretary, Theresa May.

Or the London Mayor, Boris Johnson.

So that's who we have in charge of the situation.

Now, onto the civil unrest/riots. Funny how we like to think of ourselves as freedom lovers, so that violent riots in far off countries are civil unrest, yet ones closer to home are riots. I said before, when the student protests were happening, and again during the problems with the Free HRC, that trouble makers and rent a mobs will attach themselves to any legitimate protest. And what we've seen stemmed from legitimate peaceful protest. Did the Met overstep their mark at that protest? Too early to say, and despite my noted bias against them, I remain careful before the facts, but they are allegations none the less.

So you have an angry crowd, angry against the police, the state, the bankers, everyone. Somewhere along the line a spark happened, and in the words of one ex-hooligan, "it all set off". The death of Mark Duggan was the spark for the protest, not the riot, and using it as a reason is both an unfair soundbyte and utterly unfair on the family, who regardless of the reputation of the dead man, whatever it may be, have lost a loved one tragically young.

But once you set something off, things can grow. Some of the usual suspects got involved, then brought in their mates. In the last three days many things have been brought to me by my sources: tales of London gangs getting involved in the rioting, of parents sending their children out with lists of things to loot, teachers and youth workers involved in it. It's not one sector of society, its a miasma of different people for different reasons. To claim it is social poverty, disenfranchisement, yob culture, education, gang problems, institutional racism, any one thing, is to belittle the cause and effect of what has been going on. A riot doesn't start over night, there is a slow build up rarely seen except from within.

And yet, the pivotal moment here is of crime and punishment. I've never had a problem with political protest, indeed I support the right for those to speak their mind, even those of odious natures. However, I also believe that one should accept the consequences for their action. If not paying the TV Licence is your stand against the BBC and State, then you have to accept the consequences if you get caught (ignoring the fact the licence is basically funded on trust, and the few caught out for evading the licence are those ignorant of the laws involved). If you want to chain yourself up to Parliament or throw a custard pie in the face of a billionaire, you have to accept the custodial sentence involved. After all, its part of the activism. Have you gone to jail for justice, etc.

Likewise, if you protest, even on legitimate reasons - especially even so - and you set fire to a persons house with intent to injure, then you must accept the consequences for that action. Likewise if you run over someone with a car in a hit and run, or mug a walking passerby.

VIOLENCE IS NEVER THE ANSWER. In that respect, I do remain as constant as the Northern Star. Those who resort to violence lose the higher ground, morally. Worse, they give excuses to those who would seek to mistreat them. The people who suffer the most from these events are the vulnerable. Their peaceful protests are ambushed, they are attacked by those who ambush the protests, and then the violence is used as an excuse for harsher measures on them. I cannot support people who will use mindless violence on innocents, be they in war or on the street. All it does it turn people. Yet it is fully possible to have the ability to accept the many layered reasons for an event happening, and still being able to say: "Those who burn houses down, and murder people, in the name of this action are wrong and must be punished!"

I will defend the rights of the innocent against those who use violence as a means to express their anger. I will also defend the rights of the vulnerable against those who will use this violence as means of cracking down on them, using excuses to bring forth their ideological madness.

Think of it like benefit fraud. It does exist. It should be punished. Yet, if one in ten people on benefits frauded the state, that leaves nine in ten who don't, and who desperately need the help it provides. Michael Foot once claimed he'd "rather see nine people fraud the state then the state leave one genuinely needy person to starve". We shouldn't allow the 1 in 10 to mean draconian laws for the 9 in 10. But that is what knee jerk reactions to this and similar situations leads to. That's what we have to be on guard about. After all, don't forget that our beloved PM won the Anti-Nobel Peace Prize recently for this. This is the level of opposition we are dealing with.

But the press works on soundbytes, so I guess the soundbyte here would be: They are all to blame. The Tories showed weak leadership and willingness to crack down on the vulnerable in society, claiming "We're all in this together!" The Met have form and history. The rioters succumbed to base instincts. The bloody weather. The councils, who path over play parks and seem disinterested in anything but profit. The Home Office who ignored all warning signs. An education system that has edged in favour of "profit over education".

When I was three, mum gave me the greatest gift in life I could ever have. A library card. We came from a poor area till I was 10, and the path that library card gave me - the ability to read, the thirst for knowledge, for experience - was the one thing that separated me from every other person in my class where, to the best of my knowledge, I was one of the only children to wind up at university. I remain as impotently raging as the rest at polices, racism, etc. The only difference between me and the looters, I guess, is that I fall back to the writing, because it's the only thing I've got. I feel for those who don't even have that, through no fault of their own.

So right wing or left wing? Couldn't tell you. I know that I stand on the side of the vulnerable against those who wish to exploit, harm, and victimize them. I know that knee jerk reactions and soundbytes wont solve a situation. I also know that violence never pays. We can only hope that the lessons stemming from this nightmare are greater tolerance, better education and less victimising of the innocent. Sadly, on previous form of all the leaders involved, the exact opposite can be expected.

Monday, 8 August 2011

The Outpost

After reading up about one of Jim Steel's pals, and their unfortunate run in with a serial plagiarizer, I began to get a bit worried about one of my own stories.

The Outpost had been accepted for publication over a year ago, and despite one attempt to find out what was happening - these attempts are infrequent like most things, a victim of my terrible memory - it had gone MIA.

So on investigation there, I found the story had been published after all. Heart in mouth? No, credited to me, and available for the masses. All good. Phew!

So thanks to Static Movement, and The Outpost is here.

Funny thing about this story. When I said in the pub that I was going to attempt a proper SF story, the nearest writers were aghast! My reputation with SF, despite that love of Doctor Who, has never been a strong one, much to my family's distaste. But still, the idea came, and so I ran with it. I believe it is also one of the first stories in which I name dropped Duncan Lunan's Politics of Survival into the story.

In the great Jim Steel tradition, we have characters named after Duncan Lunan/Jim Campbell, Tom Jordan, Alan Steel, Seumas, and cameos by my late grandfathers Bob and George. Still, writing is autobiography exaggerated. Sorry the name dropped die, it's that kind of a story. As with the project it was originally planned for, it was stream-of-thought ala Virginia Woolf.

What kind of a story? End of the world. Only hopes for humanity was to reach out to the stars, which they did. There was a snag though. The second last survivor of a forgotten Outpost monologues his dying moments to the last survivor.

It's an old story now, four years old in fact, and not as representative of me any more. Looking back at it is like looking at the work of a stranger. Am I disappointed? Not really. The prose is more purple, less refined, the jokes more forced, the voice not yet found. But it still needs to exist. Only by seeing how your work improves can point you in the direction to further improvement, after all. I'm not sure I'd passed Wilde's "Faust or Christ" phase either, hell, I'm not sure if most writers DO.

So... The Outpost. I like it, even if I'd rewrite it now. But then, perfectionism never lets one go.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Europa League Round 2, first legs

In Round One we saw managers lose their jobs over brash predictions, misses so shocking they knocked teams out of Europe before the postcards were made, and lots and lots of goals. The teams who survived Round One would be met by a team from the greatest nation in the world, Scotland. Yeah, another blink and you miss it Scottish European performance. Also showing up were sides from Greece, Switzerland, Denmark, Holland, Portugal, Turkey and a whole range of top twenty countries.

With some of my favoured underdogs facing winnable but tense ties, some unforgettable minutes, shocks, and heart attack inducing seconds were to follow.


Shakhtar Karagandy, to recap, beat Koper in Round 1, to the annoyance of everyone in Slovenia. Karagandy are 3rd in the Kazak Premier League as it stands, and Kazakhstan in general are just one big result away from being quite good indeed. They have big crowds fanatic about football, they have some good teams, they just need the inner belief. But it will come.

St Patricks Athletic were a post away from exiting to IBV, but stayed in they did, and so it was the long trip to Karaganda, closer to China than it is to mainland Europe.

There were no goals in the first half, but soon after the break, Shakhtar had a corner, and a ball floated in met the head of Vasiljevic, who knocked it into the back of the net. The Kazaks went mad, whilst there were signs of argument between the Irish players, hints of things not quite right for St Pats.

All well and good for the Kazaks, to the delight of their loud and many fans, until ten minutes before the end, when they gave away a needless free kick. The ref took his time ordering the players back the required distance. The would be free kick taker parried allowing his partner to strike viciously into the right corner of the net, but the goalkeeper produced a big save, tipping it almost out for a corner. Sadly, the ball, in one of those big moments of luck you get in a season, landed on the byeline but not over it, so it was still a live ball. The nearest Irish player kicked the ball over the heads of the Kazak defence and one of two Irish players bundled the ball into the back of the net. David McMillan credited with the goal. Just like the massive stroke of luck in Round One, St Pats had had an even bigger stroke of luck here. A crucial away goal!

As he ran off to celebrate, leaping into the air with a sinking to his knees as adeptly finished as his goal, the audio picked a clear “Woohoo!” from McMillan. He knew as well as we did how big that goal was for his club.

And replays were to show it was an even bigger slice of luck for the Irish than first thought, as it is very dubious as to if that ball DIDN’T actually cross the bye line immediately after the goalkeepers save, making a controversial decision, even if the referee’s eyesight and line of vision turn out to have been far better than the cameras.

Now in the olden days, and by olden days I mean a decade ago, Kazak teams would fall apart after this sort of decision went against them. But over the decade, they’ve started developing more backbone. So it was to no surprise Karagandy swept forward looking for a winner, and to their credit they got it. A long throw in met the looping header of Vasiljevic who scored his second header of the match. The keeper had no chance, the move was so sudden. It was done so well Stoke City would have applauded it.

Karagandy won 2-1 in the First Leg, but a tough night was promised in Ireland to come. And a narrow win, with an away goal conceded, always spells danger.


Metalurg Rustavi took on Irtysh, Kazak overthrowers of Partick Thistle wannabes Jagliellonia. In a tense match, Kvakhadze headed into the net in the 72nd minute to give the Georgians the lead. However, the advantage for the second leg came through one of the worst goals of the tournament. A free kicked majestically floated in met a Rustavi defender who fell to ground for no reason. The ball hit an attacker who scuffed it, but it deflected off two Georgians and the keeper had already gone to ground for it, so he watched aimlessly as the ball slipped past him and Daskalov practically fell over himself slotting the ball home. Art, it wasn’t, but an away draw it was. Irtysh had been unseeded in Round 1, and were now favourites to reach Round 3, which would have been a phenomenal achievement.


Scottish sides in Europe tend to last about as long as the average rabbit lasts in a tiger enclosure. There have been some ignominious exits in recent years (Dunfermline 1-2 Harfnarjardour, Dundee United 2-2 MyPa, Vaduz 2-1 Falkirk, to name but three).

The last sacrificial offering on the altar that is UEFA’s second tier competition was Dundee United, and the high priests, Slask Wroclaw of Poland. The Polish weren’t that well known, but I congratulated them on the 3rd round qualifying before this tie had even begun. Dundee United were listless, and the goal was always going to come, though it didn’t come till fifteen minutes before the end. Voskamp the scorer, and it ended 1-0 for Slask.

Some readers might remember that Irtysh lost 1-0 in Poland in Round 1 and that 1-0 for a home side in the first leg is not an insurmountable lead for a second leg. But as a spoiler, you didn’t take into account the Scottish factor into that theory.

Polish sides are figured by Poles to be even worse. Who could win this tie then?
I was only half-joking when I claimed it would go as follows:

"And at Tannadice, nervous scenes here in the penalty shootout. The goalkeeper of Slask is coming up to take a penalty. It is 0-0 as it stands in the shootout. 2-2 on aggregate, four unfortunate own goals across the 2 legged tie. Dundee United have missed 14 penalties in this shootout, but Slask missed 3 penalties before the shootout, including one that scientists claim was physically impossible to miss by all known laws of nature."

3 hours later...

"And UEFA have decided to decide this tie on rock paper scissors..."

4 hours later.

"Ok, rock paper scissors led to too many ties. UEFA will now draw one team out of random from a hat."

5 minutes later.

"Who put BOTH teams names on all the bits of paper?"

UEFA then decides to do something coefficientish to sort it out, and a 30 page thread is started on this forum about the decision. “


Rad met Olympiakos Volou (given I have been told it is Volou and Volos, I walk a tightrope however I spell it!), a team absolutely mired in a myriad of controversy. The Rad of last season might well have won, but this was the Rad of this season, and the only goal, though three minutes from time, had an air of inevitability about it. Juan Martin the scorer for OV, their first European goal.


Three ultra exciting matches here. Gaz Metan were a late replacement into Europe, after Timisoara were denied a Romanian top flight licence and were relegated. The drama in Romania never ends on the pitch, indeed, one might call the on-field bits the least exciting, but then that would do a disservice to a rather underrated league.

So Gaz Metan, from Medias, had no plans to be in Europe till just before the competition. They faced KuPS of Finland and lost 1-0 in the away leg. Hinted to be a short stay in Europe for the unexpected Romanians.

Next up, Flamurtari took on Jablonec, a team from the Czech Republic I’d like to see more of. It was regulation stuff, a 2-0 away win for the Czechs all but see them through. And then it was Varazdim’s time to show up again, this time getting a 1-1 away draw with Iskra Stal of Moldova.


Ask a hundred well versed European football fans what they’d expect from Tauras v Den Haag, and almost all of them would predict a thumping. The ones that wouldn’t would bring Den Haags inexperience in Europe into question, and certainly it would be a factor. Even so, a match against Tauras, a side who had recently lost 3-0 to Banga (yes, the side thumped by Qarabag in Round 1, well remembered!) wasn’t expected to be of much difficulty.

In the very early going Den Haag nailed in a free kick, but it was well saved by the Lithuanian keeper Borysenko. Den Haag built up some steam with a nice passing game, quickly passing from one end of the pitch to the other, and an insightful pass found Verhoek free but the keeper was swift to block him. Another ball lofted into into the box after passing which tore the Lithuanians apart, and Immers smashed the ball across the goal instead of in. Den Haag were looking very promising, and it looked a question of “how many?” as opposed to “when?”.

But the defence was looking questionable. Dilly dallied on the ball allowing the Lithuanian forwards to dispossess them, then the keeper fluffed getting rid of the ball. Too often free kicks were given away.

In the 56th minute came disaster for the Dutch. A long ball up field was knocked on weakly by Luksik, allowing Jerkovic to move free into the box. Luksik panicked and took down the attacker. Result: a red card and a penalty for Tauras! Coutinho fell far too early to try and save the shot allowing Jerkovic to slot it easily into the net. The Lithuanians led!

Immediately after, Tauras gave a free kick, the keeper was in no mans land and the ball was hoofed off the line. The Tauras manager Gedemenas Jarmalavicius could be seen, notes in his hand, yelling at his players to keep calm. But the Dutch continued to race forward, and only Borysenko was keeping them at bay, just and no more. No one was that surprised when a swift past on the edge of the box found Immers in front of an open goal, who duly slotted in. The Lithuanians all thought it was incredibly offside, and whilst it was 50/50, it did sort of look like Immers was onside when the ball was played.

Regilio Seedorf had something to say about this ‘outrage’. The younger cousin of multiple times European Cup winner Clarence, he grabbed the ball from kick off, went around two players, and then from the edge of the box fired into the back of the net! Unstoppable, bloody genius. Everyone watched stood and applauded. I gave the goal a standing ovation, and I was alone in my bedroom watching on a laptop. Tauras led 2-1! Seedorfs reaction to his magic was about as close to an “eat my goal” exclamation without having Alan Partridge sitting next to you.

Once more Tauras were the architects of their own downfall though. The ball looped into the net, and Toornstra got it, before Zubavicius got him! Penalty for Den Haag, and Immers made no errors to get his and Den Haags 2nd.

Finally in the 94th minute, Den Haag broke forward, broke the offside trap, a swerving pass broke the goalkeeper and Sirevicius fumbled the ball into his own net. Disaster and tragedy for Tauras, who had put so much into an enthralling game, only to fall apart at the seems.

Den Haag were so wobbly at times it is disastrous to think how they might have done drawn against Minsk or even KupS, the other unseeded sides in their section. They got the easiest draw on paper, and were highly fortunate to do so.


Another mini-round up. I am very fond of Austrian football, so Austria Wien’s 3-0 away win over Rudar of Montenegro pleased me immensely. Austrian football have a “big four” I like to watch – also Rapid Wien, Sturm Graz and Salzburg – but this year Rapid were replaced by underdogs Reid who won the Cup final.

Westerlo had to wait 93 minutes before snatching the only goal away to TPS. Bnei Yehuda, highly rated Israelis, saw off St Julia of Andorra with the 2-0 away scoreline. Minsk, conquerors of Nazim, found themselves with the same home score that they gave AZAL in Round 1. A 1-1 home draw with Gaziantepspor. Orebro and Sarajevo played out a 0-0. Ventspils in injury time, through Kosmacovs, got the away win over Salihorsk of Belarus.

A second half goal was enough for Valerenga to get the home win over Mika.


Ferencvaros were once the biggest team in Hungary, and feared throughout Europe. Reaching three European finals from 1965 to 1975, and beating scalps like Manchester United (with Best, Law and Charlton), Roma, Shankly’s Liverpool (followed by Paisley’s Liverpool!) showed them as one of the most feared sides in Europe.
The last ten years have been turmoil for the once massive club though. After entering the Stock Exchange to counter financial difficulties, and spending loads on an anti-racism campaign to quell some crowd problems, the results began to dry up.

Once feared, they were now relying on drawing Millwall to advance, or being ousted by the mighty MTZ Ripo (now better known as Partizan Minsk). The club were ousted for financial reasons from the Hungarian top flight, and it looked like the end of an era, more so when they didn’t go straight back up. The relegation was controversial at the time, and Ferencvaros has since won a legal fight against the Hungarian FA that said the FA was working outside its own rules.

In 2008 came some better news, as Sheffield United chairman Kevin McCabe (!) bought the club’s real estate, and paid off most of the £5m debts. In 2009, Ferencvaros got their promotion. Last season, they finished 3rd, qualifying for Europe for the first time since 2005. I didn’t even like Ferencvaros in their previous reign, but you can’t help but admire a club who refuse to die even when the world seems against them.

We saw briefly that they had a comfortable Round 1 over James Joyce’s Ulisses (sorry). Now they took on Aalesunds. Aalesunds are a Norwegian club founded nearly a century ago, but their first major success came only in 2009, when they won the Norwegian Cup, beating Molde in the final. Hey , good things come to those who wait!

This gave them their first ever European tie, where inexperience dealt them a killer blow, as they actually lost to a Scottish side! A Motherwell managed by well respected coach Craig Brown though, so that’s not quite so bad. Aalesunds had seen off the Keystone Cops of Neath in Round 1, but had shown enough shaky moments to remind that European football is still very new for them, and they were still learning at this level. They are however, alongside their regional rivals Molde (top of the Norwegian league as it stands, with Ole Gunnar Solksjaer as their manager) one of the swiftest rising sides in Europe, so whilst you may not have heard of them now, you will.

The first leg was in Hungary. This entire match is currently available on YouTube, incidentally. Aalesund had fallen behind to Neath, but took the lead here. Jovanovic with the foul on Jaager just outside the box, Barrantes took the kick very quickly before barely anyone could react, and Okoronkwo smashed the header into the net with the force of a tiger rushing to an “all you can eat fresh meat buffet”.

The passing that lead to Ferencvaros’ equalizer though, was sublime, and more clichéd commentators would refer to the Magical Magyars. But not me. Except there. Ahem. The ball passed through to Olah, offside only seconds before, and this time onside he swept the ball home. 1-1.

There was nothing the Norwegians could do about the winner, a goal out of the screamer variety. Ferencvaros had just missed a corner, and the ball was aimlessly in the corner of the match, when the quick thinking Jozsi passed to Abdi who was on the left just outside of the box. Oh the trajectory needed to score from there! And yet he did, the swooping kick sailing at an angle around the defence and into the top corner of the net. Look, I’ll use hyperbole for a second to sell this: if he tried that a thousand times more it would not go in the net. Sublime.

Ferencvaros held the 2-1 lead to take to Norway. With nearly forty fouls, it was a feisty game. There was certain to be further drama to come.


Hacken took on Honka, those winners in the game over Nomme we matched previously. This was a game of two goalkeepers, only Hacken’s Kallkvist and Honka’s Maanoja prevented this game ending ten-all. And some of the saves. A triple save off the line while on the ground for Kallkvist, and a point blank save from Maanoja. It would need something special to win this game. Instead, we got a reckless challenge in the box from Heilala, giving Mathias Ranegie the chance to score from the spot. Michael’s only scorer in the RFF Summer tournament barely stabbed at the ball, but still surprised the keeper long enough for the ball to slide into the net. And that was the only goal for the game.


Anorthosis saw off Gagra 3-0, 2-0 by half time.


I was asked before the match not to jinx AEK Larnaca of Cyprus – “Root for Floriana Michael so that AEk wins” - , so indeed I spoke highly of their opposition, those well known giant killers from Malta, Floriana. (No, they aren’t well known. Or giant killers.) Larnaca scored 4 minutes into the match, and that was as good as it got for the Maltese. By half time it was 5-0 to the away side. Three more well to follow in the second half, rounding off a solid 8-0 away victory for the Cypriots, and at that point, even the most pessimistic of fans had to think they were in the Third Round already.


Maccabi Tel Aviv continued the comeback trail in Europe, taking on Xazar of Azerbaijan. I still remember the mass excitement in 2005 when Avi Nimni, Maccabi Tel Aviv’s greatest ever player, returned to the club. After a brief absence from Europe, they returned with a bang last season, KOing Olympiakos from Europe before running Paris St-Germain very close, losing 5-4 on aggregate.

I must admit to the blink and you’ll miss it syndrome, as this game was 1-0 when I went to put my dinner on, and when I came back I just caught Xazars Muresan slotting away the free kick goal, at which point it was 3-1 Maccabi! Konate’s fumbled opener had been added to by Adars smash after a low cross, and another low cross lead to terrible goalkeeping, terrible fumbling and the ball crossing the line for Israilevich.

So 3-1 it finished. Now, Maccabi Tel Aviv’s biggest ever defeat was 10-0 to Maccabi Haifa, but only a 2-0 win was needed to see them out in the second leg. Was it possible? Well, Azerbaijan is never an easy place to visit these days.


Llanelli raised the flag for the Welsh with a surprise 2-1 win over Dinamo Tbilisi.

Elfsborg continued their unconvincing run for a seeded side, draw 1-1 in Lithuania with Suduva, a side I still remember for their 10-1 aggregate defeat to Celtic.

Olimpija continued their resurrection with a fine 2-0 victory over Irish Bohemians in Ljublijana.

Differdange of Luxembourg got a shock draw with Estonian Levadia Tallinn, the best rated Estonian side to be in the Europa League this season. And the only one left after the other two conspired to exit in Round 1. 0-0 was also the scoreline as Tirana and Vllaznia of Albania held Trnava and the Swiss Thun respectively.

Vojvodina got a 2-0 away win over the only Liechtenstien team in Europe, Vaduz, and so had nearly two feet in the Third Round. Qarabag scraped a 1-1 draw in the Faroes with EB, Paks and Tromso played out a 1-1 in Hungary, with Kecskement and Aktobe doing the same.

The Macedonian Arsenal Rabotnicki got their win late over Juvenes of San Marino, Petkovski in the 86th minute sparring their blushes. No repeat of the heroics for Glentoran as they lost 2-0 at home to Vorskla.

Portuguese Nacional were very lucky to escape Iceland with a 1-1 draw against FH, fast improving Icelandic side. Only the post prevented an Icelandic win, which would have been a complete embarrassment.

Fans of Macedonia and Bulgaria will be delighted to know Metalurg Skopje v Lokomotiv Sofia ended in a 0-0 draw, the biggest talking point being the vast number of fouls committed, Metalurg having fouled 29 times to Lokomotiv’s 27! Lokomotiv claimed they weren’t ready for the new season yet, and here they set out to prove it.


Latvian fans can look away here. Austrian superpowers Salzburg, who 2 seasons ago had the record of 6-0-0 in a group with Lazio and Villarreal, took on Metalurgs Liepajas, the upstarts who ended Skonto Rigas stranglehold over Latvian football. Alan, who might well be our very own AlanK (but probably isn’t) scored a hat trick for the Austrians, and the 4-1 away win was comfortable.


Little was expected of Welsh TNS in Round 2 despite their first round heroics, as they were drawn with Midjytlland of Denmark, so it was to their credit that they went in at half time still goalless. It was a massive shock, though, when Evans forced in the Marriot corner, and TNS led!

Jeff Stelling, former host of Countdown and long time host of Soccer Saturday, used to joke “They’ll be dancing in the streets of Total Network Solutions tonight!” whenever they won, a reference back to the hapless English pundit who announced the same of Raith Rovers when they won the League Cup, not realising there is no such place as Raith. (The team come from Kirkcaldy, just like former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown!) “They’ll be dancing on the streets of The New Saints” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, TNS having changed their sponsors and name, but there was bound to have been dancing in Oswestry all the same! TNS moved homes, having previously represented Llansantffraid-ym-Mechain, but I’m afraid those looking for pronunciations will have to look elsewhere!

Hassan scored six minutes later for Midjtylland to spoil the party. Two late goals, a penalty from Olsen, and a 95th minute strike from Mads Albaek, sealed a 3-1 away win for the Danish, and TNS, though they had their moments in Europe, looked on the brink of another early exit.


Fears in Slovenia over Domzale v RNK Split proved to be well founded as the Croats won 2-1 away from home. Slovenia never have good luck in matches against Croatia.

Also, and back in Iceland, I guess if you are going to produce a seeding shock, you might as well do it with style. Zilina are well known to football fans, after their win over Aston Villa a few years back, and there not as successful attempts at the Champions League last season. This time, they took on KR of Iceland. And lost 3-0. A stunning result for KR, but good results in Iceland for Icelandic sides are becoming less rare as the seasons roll on. It would be very difficult for Zilina to over turn it in Slovakia though.


Finally, time to say some nice things about Fulham. They won. There you go. Crusaders of Northern Ireland have some scary fans, and it is a tough place to go to, so winning comfortably despite being held for long periods of the match was a great success for the English sides. Briggs opener was equalised by Adamson for Crusaders, but second half goals for Zamora and Murphy (from the penalty spot) sealed the away win and put them in touching distance of Round 3.

With the unexpected length of the Round 2 first leg round ups, the second legs will follow soon!