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...


YUS! RABOTNICKI! GET IN THERE!

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!