• Thursday, 30 April 2009

    Two horse race: Ligue 1 reviews

    Lyon 0-0 PSG
    Auxerre 2-1 Caen
    Toulouse 1-1 Lorient
    Nice 3-1 St Etienne
    Le Mans 0-1 Monaco
    Nancy 2-0 Nantes
    Le Havre 0-1 Grenoble
    Sochaux 1-1 Valenciennes
    Lille 1-2 Marseille
    Rennes 2-3 Bordeaux

    Bordeaux 4-0 Vannes (league cup final)

    Not for the first time in recent memory, the league in France is reduced to a two horse race with five games to go. The only unusual thing about it is that Lyon are not one of the horses. It now looks a straight fight between Bordeaux and Marseille with the latter having the upper hand at this stage. Bordeaux took the first silverware of the year on Saturday, predictably getting past Ligue 2 Vannes 4-0 at the Stade de France. Bordeaux's all but certain top two finish means that Vannes find themselves in the Europa League for next season, despite being four down at half time before Bordeaux relaxed in the second period. The one down side for Laurent Blanc's side was that Wendel managed to get injured and faces being out for the rest of the season.

    Bordeaux had to back it up on Wednesday night against Rennes and a late, late, late winner from Yoann Gourcuff, in response to Moussa Sow's late equaliser, sealed a win meaning they remain two points behind Marseille and four clear of Lyon in third. All that late drama came after Bordeaux had gone one goal and one man down, Romain Danze giving Rennes a first minute lead and Marc Planus dismissed 26 minutes later for an ugly, late challenge. Yoann Gouffran equalised just after the hour before Gourcuff put Bordeaux ahead with a free-kick through a gaping hole in the wall before all that last minute drama.

    Marseille remain top of the pile after coming from behind to beat Lille who are still in the frame for the Europa Cup. Michel Bastos missed a penalty in the first half, but Eden Hazard - attracting interest from across the football spectrum - did put them ahead just after the break, but two goals in two minutes did it for Marseille, Benoit Cheyrou and Mamadou Niang sealing a win for Eric Gerets' men. After the game, Gerets revealed that he's not sticking around, whatever happens. Clever money says he's off to Bayern Munich.

    Lyon and PSG had to win their game at the Gerland to maintain a credible title challenge, one felt before the weekend began. Neither could, though Karim Benzema rattled the bar in the second half and Guillaume Hoarau met Hugo Lloris in characteristically wonderful form. Toulouse also drew, though they were fortunate for that, Mauro Cetto captialising on goalkeeping howler of the week late on to level André Ayew's opener for Lorient.

    Goal of the week came at the Abbé-Deschamps in Auxerre where the home side won it through two late Ireneusz Jelen goals snatched a win from Caen who had gone ahead through Gregory Proment. Jelen's first came from a horribly misplaced backpass, but his second and the winner was a lovely flick up and volley from a tight angle. Delicious. Monaco are safe now having beaten Le Mans in less than convincing fashion, Park Chu-Young's goal coming just three minutes from time and they're ending the season in pretty decent form and may yet trouble the European places.

    Down at the bottom, St Etienne lost again, 3-1 at Nice. They're just a point ahead of Caen, but still within a lick of safety with Nantes - 2-0 losers at Nancy - and Sochaux who drew one apiece with Valenciennes. Le Havre lost at home to Grenoble and are now thirteen from safety. Anything less than a win away at Nantes next week and they are gone.

    Tuesday, 28 April 2009

    Hello Comrade

    6 matchdays into the 2009 Russian Premier League season and Krylia Sovetov are the surprise leaders at the moment. They are currently one point ahead of Zenit St Petersburg who remain the only undefeated team in the competition. Last season's champtions Rubin Kazan are currently third followed by 4 of the 5 Moscow clubs. The two promoted teams have settled into life in the top flight nicely, Kuban Krasnodar currently lie tenth whilst last years first division champions Rostov currently in 8th.

    Two of the Moscow clubs have already made managerial changes. Michael Laudrup was shown the door by Spartak a month into the season while Lokomotiv disposed of Rashid Rakhimov earlier on today.

    Six players lead the top goal scoring race with 3 goals at the moment, these include Jan Koller who is currently at the league leaders (club number 7) after joining from FC Nürnberg.

    I personally have a soft spot for Luch-Energia Vladivostok and they exited the Premier League after relegation last season. It doesn't look like there will be a quick return either as they have drawn 3 and lost 2 of their 5 fixtures so far and currently lie 17th out of 20 teams. Salyut-Energia Belgorod currently lead the Firast Division table after 6 actual matchdays.

    Superliga Round 26: As you were

    Sporting Braga 1 - 0 CD Trofense
    Sporting CP 2 - 1 Estrela Amadora
    OS Belenenses 1 - 2 Nacional
    Naval 0 - 1 Rio Ave
    FC Porto 2 - 0 Vitoria Setubal
    Benfica 3 - 2 Maritimo
    Leixões Matosinhos 2 - 2 Vitoria Guimaraes
    Paços de Ferreira 1 - 1 Academica de Coimbra

    The top five all won this weekend in Portugal, although it wasn't all plain sailing, except for Porto who breezed passed struggling Setubal thanks to two delightful finishes from Lisandro Lopez. The Argentine has been nowhere near as prolific as his previous season but is still an integral part of the side and would be sorely missed should he be sold this summer. Sporting took the lead through Helder Postiga at home to Amadora, only for the visitors to draw level through a quite simply brilliant strike from Marcelo Goianira. Liedson was the hero for Paolo Bento's side as his header, his 13th of the season, proved the winner.

    Also on 13 goals is Benfica's Paraguyan striker Oscar Cardozo, who must be quite glad he wasn't sold to Newcastle last summer. Cardozo hit two and David Luis one as O Glorioso took a 3-0 first half lead against Maritimo only for the Madeirans to hit back either side of half time through Marcinho and Bruno to set up a nervous finale. Benfica's season has still come to a halt and one wonders if Quique Sanchez Flores, unable to deliver a title, will be shown the door.

    At the bottom, Rio Ave's mini-revival continues after their second successive win, this time away at Naval. Belenenses's defeat at home to Nacional was their first in three matches and it is still rather right down there. Braga did not totally convince in their 1-0 win over Trofense while Guimaraes proved their recent obduracy by holding Leixoes to a 2-2 draw, meaning the once high-flying Matosinhos side have won just 1 of their last 6.

    Serie A Round 33 Review: Viola move 4th

    Chievo Verona 1 - 2 Udinese
    Fiorentina 4 - 1 AS Roma
    Lazio 0 - 1 Atalanta
    Sampdoria 3 - 3 Cagliari
    Lecce 2 - 1 Catania
    Bologna 2 - 0 Genoa
    Reggina 2 - 2 Juventus
    AC Milan 3 - 0 Palermo
    Torino 1 - 0 Siena
    Napoli 1 - 0 Inter Milan

    Could it be that the title race is not over? AC Milan are red hot at the moment and they extended their lead over Juventus to 2 points following victory over Palermo on Sunday. Kaka scored an early penalty before Filip Inzaghi doubled their lead with his 10th goal in 7 matches. Cesare Bovo was then sent off for the visitors and to compound their rotten afternoon Kaka then slotted home a second penalty. The Sicilians drop a place after Cagliari's draw with Sampdoria.

    The gap at the top is now 7 points after Napoli shocked the country by winning a match - and in doing so scoring their first goal at home in almost 8 hours of football. A fine strike it was too, by the Uruguyan Marcelo Zalayeta. Inter deserved at least a point but didn't convert their chances, slumping to only their third defeat of the season. Juventus are without a win in 5 matches following a 2-2 draw with lowly Reggina. Antonino Barilla headed the hosts in front before a somewhat fortuitous penalty was converted by Alex Del Piero for his 11th goal of the season. Icelandic international Emil Halfredsson - once of Spurs - scored a wonderstrike to put Reggina back in front before Cristiano Zanetti (ever wondered how some footballers, however average, make a living? He's one of those) grabbed a late equaliser.

    Fiorentina produced the weekend's best display with a dismantling of Roma at the Artemio Franchi. Juan Vargas gave his side the lead with a well-taken strike before a typically ruthless double from in-form Alberto Gilardino (18 for the season now for him) took the game away from the Giallorossi. Julio Baptista's late goal, as good as it was, meant little and Roma will now have to settle for a Europa League spot at best. Fiorentina leapfrog Genoa into that all-important 4th spot after the Grifone contrived to lose at Bologna, who were two up inside half an hour including goal number 21 for leading league scorer Marco Di Vaio. That is Gasperini's side's second defeat in a row.

    Cagliari's draw at Samp was a high-scoring affair - young starlet Guido Marilungo scored two first half goals to give his team a clear lead only for the visitors to claw it back through Matri, Acquafresca and finally overturn it through Daniele Conti. A 86th minute equaliser from Antonio Cassano (Samp's player of the season by some distance) gave them the point they deserved. At the bottom, Lecce ended a run of three straight defeats by beating Catania, first half goals from Gianni Munari and Simone Tribocchi enough to settle it; Chievo lost at home to Udinese, who can thank a last-gasp goal from Gaetano D'Agostino - 4 in 4 for him. Lazio lost for the third time in 5 matches, but ultimately their defeat to Atalanta means little with both stuck in mid-table mediocrity.

    Monday, 27 April 2009

    Does anyone want second?: Eredivisie reviews

    Sparta 0-0 De Graafschap
    NEC 2-3 NAC
    Roda 1-1 Volendam
    Heerenveen 1-1 Twente
    Heracles 0-2 PSV
    Den Haag 2-3 Feyenoord
    Vitesse 6-1 Utrecht
    Groningen 0-0 Willem II
    Ajax 1-1 AZ

    A win for Steve McClaren's Twente would have put all the pressure on Ajax to respond. Indeed, had they won and Ajax lost, they'd have sewn it up now. They didn't. Indeed, it took a late, late Theo Janssen goal to snatch a draw at the Abe Lenstra on Saturday in a rehearsal for the Cup final. Paolo Henriques gave Heerenveen a lead 13 from time, but Janssen's 30-yarder deep into stoppage time maintained Twente in second. Ajax and AZ produced the same scoreline the following day to leave it very much as you were. Sadly, the game was overshadowed by a nasty injury to AZ keeper Joey Didulica. Only just back after almost two years out with a serious head injury, he took a knock to the head from Luis Suarez, the Uruguayan trying to get to a rebound after Didulica had saved his penalty. The game was held up for 14 minutes as the Croatian received treatment, but he looks to be OK. That penalty save came with AZ a goal up through Jeremain Lens before Suarez beat sub keeper Sergio Romero - himself only just back after smashing his own hand up in a punched-a-locker incident - from the penalty spot three minutes from time. Ajax struck the woodwork three times in the mammoth amount of stoppage time but couldn't force a winner. Next week, AZ go to Enschede while Ajax are at Sparta while the final week sees... Ajax v Twente. This is going all the way.

    De Graafschap, Roda and Volendam both picked up a point, making it very interesting down at the bottom. Roda and Volendam earned their points in a 1-1 draw between each other, Melvin Platje rescuing a point for Volendam with a late goal, responding to Blodiszar Bodor's opener. De Graafschap were held 0-0 by Sparta in a dour game and remain a point adrift of Roda, themselves a point behind Volendam and Den Haag. Sparta and Heracles are just three above those. ADO were beaten by Feyenoord in a game which came to life late on. Tim Derijck put ADO ahead on the hour only for Jon Dahl Tomasson to put Feyenoord 2-1 up. Richard Knopper levelled it, but Roy Makaay broke them with a late winner that puts the Rotterdammers into the Europa League play-offs. Heracles were seen off comfortably by PSV who have now won five on the spin, Balazs Dszudzsak and Ola Toivonen with the goals.

    NAC and NEC lie just outside the play-offs for Europe despite NAC's win over Mario Been's Nijmegeners. Lasse Schon's double wasn't enough for NEC as Kees Kwakman - what a name - Nourdin Boukhari and Anthony Lurling - in stoppage time - gave Breda the win. Groningen remain safe in the play-offs following their goalless draw with Willem II at the Euroborg despite Gibril Sankoh's late dismissal. Utrecht occupy the final play-off place despite copping a tubbing from Vitesse. They were 4-0 down before Hans Somers got one back. Nicky Hofs opened the scoring right at the end of the first half, but three in three minutes killed Utrecht around the hour. Claudemir hit two and Paul Verhaegh got the other before Utrecht responded, but Vitesse had time to add two late ones through Alex Buttner and Frank van der Struijk to complete the rout.

    Klinsi kicked out after loss: Bundesliga reviews

    Hoffenheim 0-1 Berlin
    Bayern 0-1 Schalke
    Hannover 2-1 Cologne
    Stuttgart 2-0 Eintracht
    Bremen 3-2 Bochum
    Dortmund 2-0 Hamburg
    Leverkusen 0-1 Karlsruhe
    Monchengladbach 1-1 Arminia
    Energie 2-0 Wolfsburg

    It had to end at some point and now it has. After weeks and months of being utterly unconvincing against sides lower down the league table and copping stuffings from anyone even halfway decent, Bayern have dismissed Jurgen Klinsmann. It follows a home defeat to Schalke. Halil Altintop won the battle of the identical twins, getting the goal that condemned Hamit's Bayern to defeat. The Gelsenkirchen side had chances to add to their lead, but contrived to miss a load and bring the best out of Hans-Jorg Butt in the Bayern goal, though they ended up geing grateful to Orlando Engelaar missing his own goal by... that much towards the end. The writing was on the wall for Klinsi some time ago. Tactically inept, his one idea when things are going badly is to being on Tim Borowski. He's managed to turn the best German qualified striker there is - Lukas Podolski - into a shadow of himself and force him out and back to Cologne. When a mid-season crisis saw him need new blood, he went and got...... Landon Donovan, presumably using his wide contact network in California. Were it not for the continued, impish genius of Franck Ribéry, it would have happened some time ago. It was an odd appointment when it was made. Now Jupp Heynckes takes over for the rest of the season.

    The thing is, though, that Bayern remain just three points from the summit. That's courtesy of a shock defeat for Wolfsburg at Cottbus. What a turanaround from Energie. Last week, they were humbled in Gelsenkirchen causing the management to offer refunds. Now the supporters owe them double for this one, holding a previously rampant Wolfsburg at bay and sneaking it with two late goals to Dimitar Rangelov and Ervin Skela. Hertha are in second, two points behind the Wolves after they beat Hoffenheim who are now a completely spent force. An uninspiring game saw Patrick Ebert's first half goal enough to see off the villagers. Stuttgart continue their ascent and look perfectly capable of repeating their 2007 triumph when they came from nowhere to snatch it. Wolfsburg's wobble certainly allowed them to move within range as they saw off Frankfurt with ease. Cacau and Mario Gomez scored either side of half-time and Markus Babbel's men lie three off the pace. As indeed do Hamburg despite losing to Dortmund. BvB now look good for European football next season as Sebastien Kehl and Alexander Frei, with a last second penalty, punished Martin Jol's side's unusually lax defending.

    Karlsruhe gave themselves a huge lifeline with a win over Leverkusen that few saw coming. It's amazing what can happen when you have no choice other than to win. Full-back Sebastien Langkamp got the only goal, running it out of defence and, as the Leverkusen defence backed away, lashed it high into the net. He was then in inspired defensive form as Leverkusen huffed and puffed but could not find a way through. Energie's win has really shaken things up down there. They're out of the bottom three, with Arminia and Gladbach a point below them. Those two drew, Robert Tesche equalising for Gladbach after Karim Matmour had scored early on. Both remain in deep trouble as do Bochum who lost an entertaining game with Bremen. Stanislav Sestak put Arminia two up before half-time, but were overrun in the second period. In a second half that saw Bremen dominate possession to the extent where Bielefeld hardly had a kick, Hugo Aleida, Naldo and Diego picked off the chances to secure the points.

    Finally, Hannover eased their worries over relegation with a win over fading Cologne, Leon Andreasen putting them two up before Milivoje Novakovic pulled one back and Hannover held on.

    La Liga Round 33 Review: Real close gap

    Málaga 1 - 1 Deportivo La Coruña
    Almería 2 - 1 Numancia
    Valencia 2 - 2 Barcelona
    Getafe 1 - 2 Villarreal
    Recreativo Huelva 2 - 4 Mallorca
    Real Valladolid 0 - 0 Osasuna
    Athletic Bilbao 2 - 1 Racing Santander
    Espanyol 2 - 0 Real Betis
    Sevilla 2 - 4 Real Madrid
    Atlético Madrid 3 - 1 Sporting Gijón

    With Barcelona's attentions now switching to the Champions League, this weekend could be the moment when Real Madrid shifted the momentum of this title race. For weeks, months even, Barcelona have looked unstoppable yet the blaugrauna's draw in Valencia and Real Madrid's topsy-turvy victory at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan have meant the gap at the top is now 4 points. Barcelona face the prospect of a European semi-final followed by an El Clasico at the Bernabau. Believe me when I say this race is not over.

    Barcelona took the lead at the Mestalla inside half an hour, the ever-industrious Andres Iniesta setting up Lionel Messi for his 21st of the season. However, two goals in two minutes from Pablo Hernandes and Hedwiges Maduro turned the match on its head, and only a late rally from Barca, resulting in a Thierry Henry equaliser, spared their blushes. Real Madrid, meanwhile, went behind early on after Renato's close range header rewarded early Sevilla dominance. Raul equalised before half time and the second half was all Madrid - The record breaking marksman added two more after the break before being substituted, Diego Capel pulling one back for the hosts before Marcelo settled matters at the death. Sevilla have now lost 4 straight matches and their once vice-like grip on 3rd place looks in increasing jeopardy.

    Villarreal picked up a second consecutive win after a 2-1 win over Getafe. The Yellow Submarine took a 2-0 lead through goals from Joan Capdevilla and Joseba Llorente, before Manu Moral pulled a consolation goal for Getafe. Los Azulones are on shaky ground, just a point ahead of Sporting Gijon and the bottom three. Sporting's plight worsened on the final game of the weekend as they were beaten 3-1 by Atletico Madrid, who took an early lead through a defletced Diego Forlan strike before Simao doubled the lead before half time. Mate Billic looked to have got Sporting back in the match only for Kun Aguero to settle things before Simao, who is something of a hothead, contrived to get himself sent off, which won't have pleased the under-fire Abel Resino.

    Malaga remain in seventh, a point ahead of their opponents on Saturday, Deportivo after a 1-1 draw in Andalucia. Sergio's superb header from Andres Guardado's cross levelled for Lotina's men after Albert Luque had put the hosts in front. Malaga are unbeaten in four and a point behind Atletico. At the other end of the table, Espanyol's resurgence continues, they have now won their last 3 matches after a 2-0 win against hapless Real Betis. Luis Garcia and Roman Martinez supplied the goals as fans at the Montjuic begin the believe that their new stadium will see La Liga football next season. Numancia remain 8 adrift after losing at Almeria, while Recreativo slumped to their fifth successive defeat, at the hands of Mallorca whose excellent 2009 has all but assured them safety. The brilliant Juan Arango was at the heart of things here, scoring one and creating another in a 4-2 win. Valladolid and Osasuna could only draw, while Racing's inconsistency continues as they lost in Bilbao through goals from Fernando Llorente and David Lopez.

    Friday, 24 April 2009

    Bundesliga week 29

    Hoffenheim v Hertha
    Bayern v Schalke
    Hannover v Cologne
    Stuttgart v Eintracht
    Bremen v Bochum
    Dortmund v Hamburg
    Leverkusen v Karlsruhe
    Monchengladbach v Arminia
    Energie v Wolfsburg

    With the Cottbus management offering refunds after defeat to Schalke last week, it makes one wonder what they might do after the visit of league leaders Wolfsburg to the Freundschaft. The Wolves haven't been at their best the last fortnight, and were tremendously fortunate to emerge with all three points last week. The old cliché says that a side that wins when playing badly is championship material and that may well prove to be the case, and Energie don't look capable of stopping Magath's array of attacking talent. The only thing that can stop the Wolves right now is themselves.

    Bayern could go level on points with Wolfsburg on Saturday should they beat Schalke. However, Bayern have been labouring to wins over pretty poor opposition lately and every time they've gone up against a decent side - they got their arses spanked red raw by Barcelona and Wolfsburg - they've crumbled. Schalke look surprisingly competent since Fred Rutten left and the players withdrew their collective finger from their collective arse and look good for a win in the Allianz. Hamburg are still there or thereabouts and go to Dortmund without Mladen Petric - a huge blow. He was injured in the cup loss to Bremen in midweek - a rehearsal for the UEFA semi-final - and his form had been great in the past month or so. Dortmund are on a four game winning streak in the league and are on the fringes of the European places.

    Hertha got back to winning ways and take on fading Hoffenheim in the Friday game. 'Autumn champions', as the league leaders come christmas are known, have never performed so badly after the break as Hoffenheim have. They've not had the luck, but it goes deeper than that. Now their confidence is fragile and a workmanlike Hertha will be favourites here. Stuttgart may yet have a say in this title outcome, if not actually do it themselves. They've left their charge late, but Markus Babbel has been a revelation since taking over from Armin Veh. They take on Eintracht this week who, despite scoring four a week ago, are a dour side. That win put them nine points clear of the drop zone, so expect them to stick the cue in the rack for a but while Mario Gomez and friends should have a field day here.

    Down at the bottom, it's do or die for Karlsruhe now. They could score a win this week - it just depends which Leverkusen turn up. They're a real Jekyll and Hyde side and it's a wonder that Bruno Labbadia has any hair left to tear out. Bochum have had a decent set of results recently that's pulled them clear of immediate danger, but that form will be tested by Bremen. While Thomas Schaaf's side haven't been good in the league, their cup form has been impressive and will probably keep Schaaf in a job for next season. He looks set to start that season without Diego who looks like he's on his way out of the Weserstadion.

    Massive game at the bottom for Gladbach and Arminia, separated by a single point in 15th and 16th. They're even level on goal difference. Gladbach have been performing well without the results to show for it while Arminia have lost their last three, albeit against Wolfsburg, Bayern (who they made sweat for it) and Schalke. They have been winning the important games - the ones against those sides around them. If they can do that again, they look good to remain a Bundesliga side. Gladbach have the quality, but confidence is low - just witness their penalty woes. This could either be game of the week or a complete load of old pony.

    Ligue 1 week 33

    Lyon v PSG
    Vannes v Bordeaux (League Cup final)
    Auxerre v Caen
    Toulouse v Lorient
    Nice v St Etienne
    Le Mans v Monaco
    Nancy v Nantes
    Le Havre v Grenoble
    Sochaux v Valenciennes
    Lille v Marseille
    Rennes v Bordeaux

    While the main focus of the week ought to be the League Cup final between Vannes and Bordeaux, PSG going to Lyon is the one that immediately grabs the attention. Which is a shame, because Vannes's story is quite remarkable. Having turned pro at the start of this season - just eight months ago folks - at the start of their first ever Ligue 2 campaign, they now find themselves 24 hours away from walking out at the Stade de France with 80,000 expected. Bordeaux, naturally, go in as massive favourites and will have to guard against a major shock. It'd take a romanticist or a fool to back the small Brittany club, but hopefully they can use the occasion to launch themselves to the next level, if not claim the ultimate prize. Of course, if Bordeaux remain where they are in the league, it will bring Europa League football to that corner of the country - something that neighbours Rennes and Lorient look incapable of.

    Paul Le Guen goes back to the Gerland where he won a hat-trick of league titles, but this time as manager of PSG and with a real chance of ending the grip his former club has on the French league. Lyon's home form has been terrible, winning just twice at the Gerland since the turn of the year, while PSG have been very good away. It's all set up for a cracker.

    With the Cup final in the way, Bordeaux have to back up on Wednesday against Rennes. Should Marseille fail to get a win in a tricky fixture away to Lille, then Les Girondins will need a win to either join OM or go above them at the top. Marseille will be without skipper Lorik Cana, suspended for his part in the unseemly stoppage time tussle over a fricking throw in. Idiot. Lille have just dropped off the pace a bit, but with the likes of Eden Hazard and Michel Bastos, they represent a threat to Marseille's title ambitions. Toulouse are still in there awaiting any scraps that may fall from the table and they take on Lorient at home this week. That final point about it being at home for Les Violets is an important one. They've been all but unbeatable at the Parc Municipal while rather shaky on their travels. Lorient once looked like European contenders. They've had that now as they settle into mid-table no mans land.

    At the other end, Sochaux and Valenciennes are involved in the big game. VA have been dragged back into it down there and are just four points clear of the drop. Sochaux are only out of the bottom three on goal difference, which serves to highlight just how important this is for both sides. Should Sochaux and St Etienne get anything out of their games - Les Verts are at Nice in a tough game for them - then only wins will do for Le Havre. They can't go down this week, but failure to beat Grenoble will leave them with what looks to be an impossible task in the final five weeks of competition. Caen are deep in trouble and look long odds to emerge from their game against Auxerre with anything, while Nancy and Nantes face off in another crunch battle at the bottom. Monaco and Le Mans look too far away to be in any real danger and the only thing they're contesting this week is which side is more mediocre than the other. It's a tough call.

    Eredivisie week 32

    Sparta v De Graafschap
    Roda v Volendam
    Heerenveen v Twente
    NEC v NAC
    Heracles v PSV
    Den Haag v Feyenoord
    Vitesse v Utrecht
    Groningen v Willem II
    Ajax v AZ

    With AZ having wrapped up the championship last week, the next big issue to resolve is the runners up spot. A point still separates Twente and Ajax in second and third respectively and both have tough games on this week. How AZ perform now having claimed the title may have a major bearing on things, but it's unthinkable that any Louis van Gaal side would just turn up for any game. Even so, with Heerenveen - Twente's opponents this week - having something tangible to play for, you can't help wondering if this is the week that Ajax stake a claim on second and the Champions League football that comes with it. Twente also have suspension worries having had two men sent off a week ago. Ajax were routed last time out, handing the silver platter to AZ, but there seems little chance of a favour being returned. Heerenveen had six put past them by Twente earlier in the season but with Steve McClaren having up to half a dozen first choice players unavailable, revenge looks on the cards.

    The big game on Friday sees Sparta host De Graafschap. The battle between De Graafschap and Volendam has been see-sawing away for a few months now. Sparta aren't out of danger and De Graafschap will see this as a chance to get off the bottom once again. Volendam go to Kerkrade in another proverbial six-pointer against Roda and it's Volendam who go into it with momentum. Heracles are just about out of trouble, but it's hard to see them getting any change out of PSV this week. If results go against them elsewhere, it'll be a nervy last two weeks in Almelo.

    NEC and Breda are involved in what amounts to a play-off for the last Europa League play-off place this week in what promises to be a tight, defensive tussle. Feyenoord aren't out of it either, amazingly since they've been so poor all season long, and can further stake a claim by beating ADO, one of the few sides with almost nothing to play for. Vitesse and Utrecht have mid-table mediocrity written all over them and Groningen should maintain their European push by beating Willem II.

    Copa Libertadores Group Stage So Far

    Copa Libertadores Group Stages so far

    In Group 1, holders LDU Quito have been eliminated from the competition with 1 week left of the group stages after a 2-0 defeat to Palmeiras at the Palestra Itália on Tuesday night. That with Sport Recife's come from behind win against Colo Colo on Wednesday mean it's impossible for the holders to progress. That win has ensured that Sport progress to the knockout stages and they travel to Quito next week to finish the group stage. With both teams on 7 points the second qualifier will be decided in Santiago where Colo Colo entertain Palmeiras. The hosts have a superior goal difference which means the Brazilians must win if they are to progress.

    In Group 2 it's still all to play for after Boca Juniors suffered their first defeat of the competition to Deportivo Cuenca in Ecuador on Thursday night. Édison Preciado with the only goal after 78 minutes. It's the first points that the Argentinian club have dropped in the competition so far after progressing through their opening 4 games with ease. Going into the last week of games it's going to be between Boca, Cuenca and Deportivo Táchira of Venezuela for the two spots in the knockout stages. Boca need only a point to finish as group winners and they face Deportivo Táchira at La Bombonera whilst Deportivo Cuenca travel to Paraguay to meet Guaraní, who have already been eliminated from the competition after losing all their games so far.

    The qualifying positions in Group 3 have been decided after River Plate fell to a 4-2 defeat to Club Nacional of Paraguay in Asunción on Thursday night. River took the lead through Ramadel Falcao after 44 minutes but undid it all 60 seconds later when Fabio Escobar converted from the spot. Jorge Núñez and Carlos Peralta extended the lead before Escobar grabbed a second. Marcello Gallardo's consolation strike in the 82nd minute too little to late for River as they crashed out. That result enabled Universidad San Martín of Peru to qualify alongside Nacional of Uruguay after the 2 clubs drew 1-1 in Lima on Tuesday night. The Uruguayans, currently with a 3 point lead and far superior goal difference, should progress as group winners with their final fixture against Club Nacional in the Estadio Centenario next Thursday night.

    Brazilian Champions São Paulo had defenitely qualified from Group 4 before Matchday 6 began but they could still be caught by Independiente Medellín for the top position. The one certainty in Group 4 is the elimination of Colombia's América de Cali before the week started and they were defeated 2-1 by São Paulo in their final game. Uruguay's Defensor Sporting and Independiente Medellín met in Montevideo on Wednesday night with 2 points seperating the sides and it took a goal in the 4th minute of injury time from Pablo Gaglianone to break the hearts of Independiente Medellín. This coming after Diego Cabrera has scored to level the game right on the 90 minute mark. Defensor Sporting winning 4-3 to join São Paulo in the knockout stages.

    Group 5 was also completed this week and it was tight at the top with 2 points seperating three clubs going into the final round. Universitario de Sucre of Bolivia have been eliminated after picking up only 1 point from their 5 games so far. They face second placed Estudiantes of Argentina at home in the last round of fixtures whilst group leaders Cruzeiro and Deportivo Quito of Ecuador meet at the Mineirão. A win or draw would see Cruzeiro advance whilst a draw would see Deportivo Quito then left to await the outcome in Sucre. A win for Estudiantes in Bolivia and it left Quito the task of winning in Brazil to advance. Quito though, weren't up to the task at the Mineirão and two first half goal saw Cruzeiro advance in first place whilst Estudiantes goal less draw in Quito was academic given the events in Belo Horizonte and saw them qualify as runners up.

    In group 6, Caracas of Venezuela are the only team defenitely through to the next round whilst Lanús of Argentina have been eliminated. The crucial game next week is in Viña del Mar in Chile where Everton meet invitee side Guadalajara of Mexico. The hosts must win in order to progress to the knockout phase whilst Guadalajara must avoid defeat as they currently hold a 1 point advantage in the table.

    In Group 7 Brazilian side Grêmio are into the last 16 after only dropping 2 points out of 15 so far in a surprise 0-0 draw against Universidad de Chile in their opening game. The final spot will be contested by Boyacá Chicó of Colombia and Universidad de Chile. Despite trailing the Colombians by two points going into the last Matchday the Chileans travel to Aurora of Bolivia, who alongside Guaraní, have collected no points so far whilst Boyacá Chicó have the unenviable task of getting the point they need away at the Olímpico Monumental against Grêmio. There are lots of permetations for these games which could end up with the drawing of lots to decide who advances.

    Group 8 is a little more clear cut, Club Libertad of Paraguay are confirmed as group winners whilst San Lorenzo of Argentina are defenitely eliminated. The final two places are between the third Mexican invitee San Luis and Universitario of Peru. Universitario need a point from their trip to Buenos Aires against San Lorenzo to guarantee qualification whilst San Luis need to defeat Club Libertad in Luque by at least 2 goals to have any chance of qualification and hope they get a favour from San Lorenzo.

    The remaining Matchday 6 games take place next week.

    Clubs qualified as group winners are Cruzeiro, Grêmio, Club Libertad and São Paulo.

    Clubs qualified as runners up are Estudiantes and Defensor Sporting

    Clubs through to the last 16 but places still to be decided are Caracas, Nacional, Sport Recife and Universidad San Martín

    Thursday, 23 April 2009

    The Weekend Ahead

    Fixtures in the major featured leagues this weekend

    Serie A


    Chievo v Udinese
    Fiorentina v Roma


    AC Milan v Palermo
    Bologna v Genoa
    Lazio v Atalanta
    Lecce v Catania
    Napoli v Inter Milan
    Reggina v Juventus
    Sampdoria v Cagliari
    Torino v Siena

    La Liga


    Almeria v Numancia
    Malaga v Deportivo La Coruna
    Valencia v Barcelona


    Athletic Bilbao v Racing Santander
    Atletico Madrid v Sporting Gijon
    Espanyol v Real Betis
    Getafe v Villarreal
    Recreativo Huelva v Mallorca
    Sevilla v Real Madrid
    Valladolid v Osasuna



    TSG Hoffenheim v Hertha Berlin


    Bayer Leverkusen v Karlsruhe
    Bayern Munich v Schalke 04
    Borussia Dortmund v Hamburg
    Hannover 96 v Cologne
    VfB Stuttgart v Eintracht Frankfurt
    Werder Bremen v VfL Bochum


    Borussia M'gladbach v Arminia Bielefeld
    Cottbus v Wolfsburg



    Sparta v De Graafschap


    Heerenveen v FC Twente
    Heracles v PSV
    NEC v NAC
    Roda JC v FC Volendam


    ADO Den Haag v Feyenoord
    Ajax v AZ
    FC Groningen v Willem II
    Vitesse v FC Utrecht

    Ligue 1


    Lyon v PSG


    AS Nancy v Nantes
    Auxerre v Caen
    Le Havre v Grenoble
    Le Mans v Monaco
    Lille v Marseille
    Nice v St Etienne
    Sochaux v Valenciennes
    Toulouse v Lorient

    Wednesday 29th

    Rennes v Bordeaux

    Liga Sagres


    Braga v Trofense


    Sporting CP v Amadora


    Belenenses v Nacional
    Benfica v Maritimo
    FC Porto v Vitoria Setubal
    Naval v Rio Ave


    Leixoes v Guimaraes
    Pacos Ferreira v Academica

    Wednesday, 22 April 2009

    The 50th Copa Libertadores - The Preliminary Round

    Copa Santander Libertadores.....Preliminary Round review.

    The 50th Edition of the Copa Libertadores started way back at the end of January with 6 preliminary round ties over two legs with the winners advancing to the 26 pre-qualified teams in the group stages. Independiente Medellín of Colombia breezed past Peñarol of Uruguay after a 4-0 win in Medellín before a scoreless second leg in Montevideo.

    Argentina's Estudiantes scraped by Peru's Sporting Cristal on the away goals rule. After taking the lead in Lima through Enzo Perez, Estudiantes were penned back by second half strikes from Roberto Palacios and Héctor Hurtado to give the Peruvians a 2-1 lead to take back to La Plata. Desperate to hang on, Sporting held out until 14 minutes from time before a strike from Ramón Lentini secured progress for Estudiantes by the narrowest of margins.

    Club Nacional of Paraguay secured their progress to the group stage with an 8-3 aggregate win over Club Deportivo El Nacional of Ecuador. A 5-0 win for Club Nacional in Ecuador gave El Nacional a huge mountain to climb in Paraguay. El Nacional then found themselves 3 down within 28 minutes of the second leg in Asunción before scoring 3 times in 9 minutes before half time to level the game up. The comeback ended there as the second leg scoreline remained at 3-3 and Club Nacional progressed on.

    Venezuelan side Deportivo Anzoátegui thought they had the tie in the bag against Deportivo Cuenca of Ecuador after a 2-0 home victory in their first leg. Anzoátegui though couldn't handle the conditions in the 2500 meter altitude of Cuenca in the second leg. Two goals from Rodrigo Teixiera levelled the tie before Ismael Villalba got the winner with 16 minutes to go to see Cuenca into the group stages.

    Brazil's Palmeiras had little trouble in disposing of Real Potosí 7-1 on aggregate. After taking an early 2-0 at the Palestra Itália in the first leg, Edemir Rodríguez gave the visitors hope with a vital away goal. It stunned the hosts into action as they cruised to a 5-1 victory. Palmeiras then finished the job off in Bolivia with a 2-0 second leg victory with goals from Cleiton Xavier and Keirrison getting his third of the tie.

    Mexican invitee Pachuca also exited on the away goals rule after finishing level with Universidad de Chile after the two legs. A 4th minute Marcelo Díaz strike gave Universidad de Chile a slender lead to take to Mexico. Gerardo Rodríguez levelled the tie from the spot in the first half of the second leg before Marco Estrada got the precious away goal for the Chileans. Damian Álvarez levelled the tie on aggregate with 4 minutes to go but it was all in vain as Universidad de Chile hung on to sneak through on the away goals rule.

    Next up.....a look at the Group Stages so far with 5 of the 6 matchdays completed and a run down of who is and who isn't going to the last 16 and the knockout stages.

    Tuesday, 21 April 2009

    Superliga Round 25 Review: Sporting keep pressure on

    Estrela Amadora 0 - 2 Paços de Ferreira
    Nacional Funchal 1 - 1 Sporting Braga
    Vitoria Guimaraes 1 - 2 Sporting CP
    Rio Ave 2 - 1 CD Trofense
    Maritimo Funchal 1 - 1 OS Belenenses
    Academica de Coimbra 0 - 3 FC Porto
    Vitoria Setubal0 - 4 Benfica
    Naval 1 - 0 Leixões

    As Porto keep on winning, so Sporting keep the pressure on and mean that Jesualdo Ferreira just cannot relax as his team chase another title. This round was easier for Porto than it was for Sporting, the northerners comfortable beating Academica with goals from Mariano Gonzalez (2) and a penalty from Lisandro Lopez to notch up his 6th of the season. Academica should have had a penalty early on but apart from that created little, ending a 5-game unbeaten run.

    Sporting's victory was harder but doubtless more satisfying as they came from behind to defeat Guimaraes, who have proved problematic for opponents recently. Roberto had put the hosts in front before two goals in the last ten minutes, from Derlei and then (of course) Liedson, swung the match the way of the capital team. This was after Paolo Bento had been sent to the stands for remonstrating with the referee. Guimaraes are 8th and about as solidly mid-table as could be.

    Benfica bounced back from their miserable defeat last week to thrash lowly Setubal, giving Quique Sanchez Flores a significant lift but with 5 games left and 8 points the gap to Porto, their title chances are gone. Oscar Cardozo scored twice here, getting on the scoresheet alongside a brace from the now veteran Nuno Gomes. Fourth and Fifth met on Saturday as Nacional and Braga drew, Uruguyan striker Luis Aguiar putting Braga in front from the spot before Nene scored his 18th of the season to ensure a share of the spoils for the Madeirans.

    Leixões's miserable 2009 continues after they lost at Naval on Monday, a solitary Paulao goal enough to condemn them to their fourth defeat in five that has extinguished what were once highly promising European aspirations. The clash of the bottom two saw Rio Ave overcome Trofense to leapfrog them, after first half goals from Yazalde and Fabio Coentrao. After Belenenses pulled off a surprising draw at Maritimo the gap between the two is now just one point. Pacos continued their revival, beating Amadora on Friday night to condemn the Lisbonites to their third straight defeat.

    Monday, 20 April 2009

    Energie's money back guarantee and the continuing woes of Hoffenheim: Bundesliga reviews

    Schalke 4-0 Energie
    Karlsruhe 2-2 Hoffenheim
    Cologne 0-3 Stuttgart
    Eintracht 4-1 Monchengladbach
    Arminia 0-1 Bayern
    Bochum 0-2 Dortmund
    Wolfsburg 2-1 Leverkusen
    Hamburg 2-1 Hannover
    Hertha 2-1 Bremen

    A pitiful performance on Friday night from Energie saw the management of the club offer to refund fans that had trekked all the way across the country from the Polish border region to the Ruhr valley, nearer the Netherlands. Cottbus went down 4-0 to Schalke in a game they hardly had a kick in. That's three wins in a row for Schalke since dismissing Fred Rutten. Christian Pander opened the scoring early on with a terrific strike from range and other goals followed from Halil Altintop, Jermaine Jones and Kevin Kuranyi. Suddenly, Schalke are on the fringes of Europe.

    Wolfsburg continue to lead, beating Leverkusen without being anywhere near their best. An iffy penalty award allowed Grafite to get the opener and he won it with his 22nd of the season, latching onto a quality through-ball from Zvejzdan Misimovic, after Toni Kroos equalised from 20 yards out. Bayern remain second, somehow. They were terrible against Arminia - no great shakes themselves - and laboured to a 1-0 win courtesy of a headed Luca Toni goal. Hamburg are also still in there thanks to Mladen Petric whose two goals were enough to see off Hannover. His first came after 60 seconds, volleying home from the middle of the box. His second was more fortuitous, Paolo Guerrero's shot being parried right to him. Mikael Forssell's penalty after Guy Demel handled in the box pulled one back for Hannover, but Martin Jol's side closed it out in a very professional manner. Hertha got back to winning ways by beating Bremen, though they had to come from behind as Per Mertesacker prodded a Thorsten Frings corner home just before the break. With no Andriy Voronin - suspended - Hertha struggled to get going up front with Marko Pantelic back in the side after a long lay-off. Twenty from time, Josip Simunic pulled off an athletic header to square it up and Raffael won it late on, looping a shot over Tim Wiese.

    Mario Gomez hit a hat-trick for Stuttgart as they ran out comfortable winners over Cologne. His first was all his own work, the other two down to the unselfish work of his team-mates and his own ability to get up in support of breaks. Both times Stuttgart hit Cologne with quick counters and Gomez was in the right place to take a final pass and slot the ball into an empty net. That he gets into those positions so often is no coincidence. Dortmund remain on the heels of their neighbours in Gelsenkirchen after beating Bochum. Patrick Owomoyela headed in from a tight angle from a corner and Nelson Valdez scored a blinder to seal it.

    Down at the bottom, Gladbach's woes continue with a tubbing from Eintracht, previously unable to string more than a few passes together, let alone four goals in ninety minutes. Alex Meier headed in Markus Steinhofer's cross and Nikos Liberopoulos doubled the advantage shortly after the break before Gladbach were awarded their first penalty of the afternoon when Marko Marin was fouled. Unfortunately for them, Markus Proll saved well from Michael Bradley. Filip Daems showed him how to do it when Marin was again upended in the box, sending Proll the wrong way. But two late goals finished Gladbach off and they remain in trouble. Michael Fink teed up Marco Ross before Fink added a fourth himself with time running out.

    What to make of Hoffenheim. From the darlings of the league - ignore those bitter individuals who took against them for having the temerity to challenge the established order - to also rans. They don't look like qualifying for Europe now which, given the start they had, would be a major disappointment. The winter break disrupted them badly and they've not won since, the latest failure to take all three points against rock bottom Karlsruhe who twice came from behind. Sejad Salihovic scored the first and created the second for Selim Teber, those goals coming either side of Sebastien Freis's equaliser. Giovanni Federico levelled it once again just after the hour, profiting from a poor clearance by Andreas Beck. Federico almost won it, hitting the post in the last minute after Hoffenheim had gone down to ten men when Luis Gustavo picked up a second yellow.

    Coming Soon

    With the European Domestic Season coming to an end, Euroballs is going continental for the summer as I'll be bringing you the latest from the Campeonato Brasiliero Serie A and also keeping an eye on Vasco De Gama as they attempt to bounce straight back after their relegation last season. The season in Brazil begins on May 10th with São Paulo attempting to make it 4 in a row. Braueri compete in their first ever Serie A season after promotion last year and they will be joined by Santo André, Avaí and the 2008 Serie B Champions Corinthians.

    Also we'll be picking up the story of the 50th Copa Liberadores as the Group Stages come to end with the 5th and 6th Group stage matchdays due to take place this week and next. So far Club Libertad of Paraguay and Grêmio of Brazil are confirmed as winners of Groups 8 and 7 respectively. Brazilian Champions São Paulo have qualified for the next stage alongside Caracas of Venezuela but both teams can be caught at the top of Groups 4 and 6.

    Also later in the season the Copa Sudamericana will take place and we'll be following the progress of the holders Sport Club Internacional of Brazil as they attempt to defend their title. There will also be updates of how the big two in Buenos Aires, Boca Juniors and River Plate progress seeing as they are automatically qualified for the last 16 by some ridiculous CONMEBOL ruling.

    I'll be back later in the week with a review of Matchday 5 of the Copa Libertadores.

    Lyon: the end is nigh. Ligue 1 reviews

    Caen 1-2 Nancy
    Monaco 3-1 Rennes
    Valenciennes 0-2 Le Mans
    Grenoble 1-0 Toulouse
    Sochaux 0-1 Auxerre
    Nantes 2-0 Nice
    St Etienne 2-1 Lille
    PSG 3-0 Le Havre
    Lorient 1-2 Marseille
    Bordeaux 1-0 Lyon

    High drama in Bordeaux where Les Girondins kicked the still-twitching carcass of Lyon's attempts to make it eight in a row. Lyon needed a win to keep pace at the top and were bossing the game in the first half and had a pretty clear cut penalty waved away when Ederson was upended in the box. Just before the break and against the run of play, Alou Diarra stabbed a deflected shot home and that was enough to win the game and put them second behind Marseille. Yoann Gourcuff brought out the best of Hugo Lloris in the second half and Diarra almost grabbed a second, but Bordeaux had to withstand tremendous pressure late on to come away with all three points. Marseille came from behind to beat Lorient to remain top of the pile where both sides finished with ten men as Arnaud Le Lan and Lorik Cana, OM's skipper not leading by example, got involved in a bit of handbags in the dying seconds and both were dismissed. All that over a throw-in. Pathetic. Kevin Gameiro put Lorient ahead on eight minutes as Marseille started sluggishly, but the leaders slowly got into their stride and were the better side throughout. Sub keeper Lionel Cappone, on for Fabien Audard who had been injured in a clash with man-mountain Brandao, kept out a fierce Sylvain Wiltord effort on the hour only for the ball to break to Renato Civelli who lashed it home. The winner came ten out from full-time, Brandao taking down Karim Ziani's cross and firing high into the net to preserve OM's lead in the league.

    Toulouse and Lille both slipped up while PSG won well to put themselves back in the frame and put a shocker of a performance in Kiev behind them. Le Havre tested Mickaël Landreau's shaky confidence early on, but weren't much of a threat for the rest of the game, though it took until four minutes before the break for Ludo Giuly to break the deadlock. The floodgates duly opened and Jérôme Rothen added a second on the end of a great move initiated by Cyril Armand and involving Giuly and Guillaume Hoarau. Hoarau finished off an emphatic win himself in stoppage time. More trouble for Toulouse on their travels as they went down in Grenoble. Laurent Courtois converted a 40th minute penalty, all but finishing Les Violets' title chances. Lille's outside chances also took a battering as they lost to St Etienne who were desperate for points in their efforts to stay up. Bafetimbi Gomis has been the bete noir of Les Verts fans this season as he suffers from second season syndrome, but he grabbed what turned out to be the winner. Araujo Ilan blasted the first in from the edge of the box after good work from Gomis and the latter fired in Kevin Mirallas's cross for a second. Nicolas Fauverge headed home with 18 minutes remaining to ensure a nervy finish, but St Etienne hung on for a vital win.

    Nancy and Nantes both grabbed important victories down at the bottom, heaping pressure on Sochaux and Caen and Valenciennes are suddenly back in the picture. Nancy's win over Caen was probably the biggest result down that end of the table, Youssouf Hadji putting Nancy ahead on two minutes. On the stroke of half-time, Caen levelled it through Sambou Yatabaré, the midfielder swooping on a loose clearance. With chances at both ends, Nancy won it five from time when Geoffrey Adjet pounced to secure the points. Nantes went in front at home to Nice through Christian Bekamenga who volleyed home on 18 minutes. When Nice's Gérald Cid was sent off eleven minutes after the break, it seemed straightforward for Nantes to close it out and they duly added a second and Mamadou Bagayoko it was who tapped home from close range. Sochaux's recent revival was ended by Thomas Kahlenberg four minutes from time as Auxerre won it and Valenciennes are back in the relegation picture after a defeat to Le Mans who help themselves out of it. Second half goals from Grégory Cerdan and Anthony Le Tallec did it.

    In the middle of the table, Monaco scored yet another win which all but ended Rennes's hopes of European football. It all happened late on, Jerko Leko's penalty with 18 minutes to go opened the scoring before three goals went in in the last five minutes. Juan Pablo Pino got two of them for the Monagasques either side of Bruno Cheyrou's free-kick.

    Serie A Round 32: Milan catch Juve

    AC Milan 5 Torino 1
    Atalanta 0 Reggina 1
    Cagliari 2 Napoli 0
    Catania 2 Sampdoria 0
    Palermo 4 Bologna 1
    Roma 3 Lecce 2
    Siena 0 Chievo 2
    Udinese 3 Fiorentina 1
    Genoa 0 Lazio
    Juventus 1 Inter Milan 1

    The big clash on Saturday evening resulted in a draw, which suited Inter far more than Juventus. Mario Balotelli's finish put the visitors in the lead, only for a last-gasp Zdanek Grygera header to give Juve the point they in all fairness deserved from the contest. It is a result that leaves the gap between Inter and Juve at 10 points, but crucially Juventus slip to third after AC Milan thumped Torino on Sunday. It was a procession at the San Siro, Pippo Inzaghi living up to his super-poacher status with a hat-trick, while Kaka and Ambrosini also got on the scoresheet. The goal difference created by that win enabled AC Milan to leapfrog the Gobbini.

    Both 4th and 5th lost, ending good runs for both. Genoa had won four in a row before Mauro Zarate's solitary strike - his 12th of the season, beat them at the Luigi Ferraris. Fiorentina were beaten at Udinese, who seecond consecutive win gets them into the top half. Two Gaetano D'Agostino goals were the difference at the Estadio Friuli. As a result, Roma closed the gap in 6th to three points after they beat Lecce in a thriller in the Eternal City. Francesco Totti and Matteo Brighi gave the hosts an early 2-0 lead, only for Gianni Munari and Dimitrios Papadopoulos to claw it back for the struggling Southerners. Totti's late penalty, though, snatched the Giallorossi all 3 points.

    Palermo condemned Bologna to their fifth straight defeat, after a 4-1 hammering in Siciliy that included a 13th goal of the season for top-scorer Edison Cavani. Bologna are gone. Cagliari also kept their hopes of Europe alive with a 2-0 win over Napoli. Chievo are now 8 points clear of the drop, but they'd be a hell of a lot worse off were it not for the goals of frontman Sergio Pellissier - 11 for the season now for him after his double during their 2-0 win at Siena. Reggina earned a priceless first win in 6 as they won at Atalanta to leave them four points adrift, while Sampdoria were leapfrogged by their opponents on Sunday, Catania who triumphed 2-0.

    La Liga Round 31: Sevilla crumble in Valencia

    Almeria 2 Osasuna 1
    Espanyol 1 Racing Santander 0
    Real Betis 2 Sporting Gijon 0
    Valencia 3 Sevilla 1
    Valladolid 0 Villarreal 0
    Athletic Bilbao 0 Deportivo La Coruna 1
    Atletico Madrid 3 Numancia 0
    Getafe 0 Barcelona 1
    Malaga 1 Mallorca 1
    Recreativo Huelva 0 Real Madrid 1

    The weekend's big game was at the Mestalla where Valencia, who rather curiously (!) have started playing well since it was announced they were getting paid again, scored two late goals to down Sevilla who have now lost 2 on the trot. It had started well for the visitors after Julien Escude headed them in front, but things went downhill from there. First Adriano was sent off, then David Villa scored a penalty just before half time to level it up. Valencia pressed home their numerical advantage towards the end, Navarro handling in the area for Mata to convert their second penalty before Pablo made it 3-1. Valencia have now won four on the bounce and have closed the gap on Sevilla to five points.

    There were 1-0 wins for both the top 2 on Saturday. Barcelona could have scored a hatful at Getafe but found on-loan keeper Vladimir Stojković in top form, denying them with a number of good saves. In the end, a typical Lionel Messi goal from a jinking run as enough to deny Victor Munoz's strugglers, who are just four points above the drop. Recreativo remain third-bottom after Real Madrid, courtesy of Marcelo's second-half strike, beat them at the Nuevo Colombino. Recreativo have now lost four on the spin and are looking increasingly like relegation fodder.

    Villarreal's terrible form continues, just one win in four for the Yellow Submarine after their goalless draw in Valladolid (the hosts ending a run of three straight losses). Atletico Madrid took advantage to leapfrog them into fifth on Saturday evening with a commanding win over doomed Numancia. Second half goals from Ever Banega (he did something useful!), Diego Forlan (goal number 22 of the season) and Simao condemned the Sorians to a 5-point gap from safety.

    Two sides who looked in decent nick in January - Athletic and Racing - are in utter freefall at the wrong time of the season, Athletic have just one win in 6 following defeat to Deportivo while Racing gave Espanyol their second win in three with a limp performance at the Montjuic - just Los Pericos' 6th win of the season. An Achile Emana double sunk Sporting Gijon (their 20th defeat - miserable) which has given Betis an enourmous fillip - they are suddenly 10th after being unbeaten in 5. Almeria beat Osasuna 2-1 somewhat against the form book, and it was that man Negredo who got both for 19 goals this campaign.

    Sunday, 19 April 2009

    AZ champions despite defeat: Eredivisie reviews

    Heracles 4-0 NAC
    NEC 1-1 Roda
    De Graafschap 0-1 Groningen
    Feyenoord 1-0 Twente
    AZ 1-2 Vitesse
    Utrecht 2-1 Heerenveen
    Willem II 3-3 Den Haag
    Volendam 3-0 Sparta
    PSV 6-2 Ajax

    AZ finally get over the line to seal the Eredivisie title, their second, despite a defeat on Saturday as their nearest (though not that near) rivals also lost. Had AZ won, it would have been completely irrelevant what Twente and Ajax did and when Mounir El Hamdaoui nonchalantly slid the ball under Eloy Room on the quarter hour, it all looked to be going to plan. Ricky van Wolfswinkel wasn't in on the script meeting and equalised after half an hour and, six minutes from time, AZ failed to clear a corner and Alex Buttner volleyed in from twenty yards to win it for Vitesse.

    And so AZ would have to wait to see how the others got on before the champagne could be uncorked. Twente were their own worst enemies in Rotterdam, Douglas Franco sent off in giving away the decisive penalty, expertly converted by Roy Makaay, and Chiek Tioté followed suit five minutes from the end. And there was still time for Gio van Bronckhorst to see red as well as Feyenoord closed out a win. Ajax were involved in the final game of the weekend in Eindhoven and were ripped apart by a rampant PSV. The defence backed off Edison Mendez on 22 minutes, inviting the shot. He accepted the invite and blasted home from 25 yards. Ibrahim Afellay got the second with a superb finish after Nordin Amrabat shot was turned away by Kenneth Vermeer and Amrabat seized on the worst back-pass you could wish to see to make it three. Luis Suarez got one back before the break, but Jason Culina and a quite excellent free-kick from Balazs Dzsudzsak reasserted PSV's dominance. Miralem Sulejmani got a consolation, but Otman Bakaal ensured PSV had the last word. The fight now is for second and Champions League football next season with Ajax and Twente separated by a point.

    PSV's win moves them above Heerenveen in goal difference into the second automatic spot for the Europa League following that win and Heerenveen's surprise loss at Utrecht. Paulo Henrique put them ahead after just three minutes, but the lead lasted just four minutes when Michael Silberbauer equalised. Two minutes from time, Darryl Janmaat gave away a penalty which earned him a red card and Gregoor van Dijk converted it to win the game and keep Utrecht's hopes of European football alive.

    Down at the bottom, the automatic relegation spot changed hands again as De Graafschap were beaten and Volendam won well against Sparta. That result plunges Sparta back into trouble as Rowin van Zaanen, Paul de Lange and Gerson Sheotahul got the goals while Yuri Rose was sent off for Sparta. De Graafschap went down to a first-half Markus Berg penalty at home to Groningen and they now assume last place. Indeed, Volendam go above Roda as well as they were held 1-1 by NEC in Nijmegen. Sekou Cissé put them ahead, but Bas Sibum got a deserved equaliser for the home side. Den Haag looked to have pulled themselves away when they ran into a 3-0 lead early in the second half of their game at Tilburg. Karim Soltani (twice) and Richard Knopper got the goals, but Willem II hit three in the space of six minutes to square it up, Mohamed Messoudi, Frank Demouge and George Murad all scoring between 71 and 77 minutes. Four set pieces did the damage for Heracles on Friday night as they dented Breda's hopes of European football. Three free-kicks and a penalty resulted in four goals in the first half to secure an invaluable win.

    So many congratulations to AZ. To have lost just three games in 31 - and going on a 28-game unbeaten run in between times - is a tremendous record. They've now got a three-game victory parade to enjoy. They've been the best side all season long and they've learned from last year when they were in a similarly dominant position and screwed it up, losing out to PSV on the final day. No such worries this time as Louis van Gaal has turned them into a resolute outfit. They may struggle in Europe next season, but that's an issue to worry about later.

    Saturday, 18 April 2009

    Ligue 1 week 32

    Caen v Nancy
    Monaco v Rennes
    Valenciennes v Le Mans
    Grenoble v Toulouse
    Sochaux v Auxerre
    Nantes v Nice
    St Etienne v Lille
    PSG v Le Havre
    Lorient v Marseille
    Bordeaux v Lyon

    Huge game on Sunday at the Chaban-Delmas where Lyon travel to take on Bordeaux - second against third. With Marseille having an eminently winnable fixture away at Lorient, both sides will be going into this thinking a win is a must as they aim to keep pace with OM. It may not be that straightforward for Eric Gerets' men as Mamadou Niang and Taye Taiwo are both absent, picking up injuries in the UEFA Cup defeat to Shakhtar. Key players Jeremy Toulalan and the skipper Juninho are both back for Lyon while Bordeaux will still be with Henrique and Fernando Cavenaghi for the Sunday evening game.

    Toulouse are a bit up and down at the moment and are away up in the Alps at Grenoble this week in a game they shouldn't lose. Despite André-Pierre Gignac's goals, they can sometimes struggle in the final third and Grenoble are nothing if not resolute defenders. Grenoble have lost four league games in a row, though they are cup semi-finalists, and are back in trouble after digging themselves out of a slump a month ago. Lille's great run ended last week, but they face struggling St Etienne who are deep in the mire. Their plight hasn't been helped by a training ground scuffle between Araujo Ilan and Yohan Benalouane, although manager Alain Perrin made light of the incident. It doesn't bode well for a side who already look down. PSG aren't out of it yet, although their recent form has been poor and in the midweek defeat in Kiev, they looked a poor side. They face Le Havre at home this week and if ever there was a chance to put recent travails behind them, this is it. Le Havre themselves aren't completely down. They are very nearly down, but a spirited performance last week shows they won't go quietly and Paul Le Guen will have to have his charges on guard for this.

    Nantes fell into the drop zone last week and face Nice at home while the big game at the bottom sees Nancy go to Caen. Nantes have been terrible lately and Nice will fancy their chances there while Caen, despite being two places below their opponents, will go into their game as favourites as they have the better recent form. Sochaux remain in trouble despite being out of the bottom three, but a trip to Auxerre looks too much for them. Either way, any side down there that gets three points this weekend will heap pressure on everybody else.

    Monaco are probably out of trouble now, though nobody is claiming that this has been anything other than a poor season. All of a sudden, the chelping and moaning about them having an unfair advantage what with not actually being French and able to fund themselves through the unique status Monaco enjoys has all stopped. It only matters when they win, apparently, and does not represent a matter of principle. They'll welcome Rennes to the Louis II with the visitors still chasing European football. Valenciennes and Le Mans go head-to-head in a crunch game. The winner will be safe. The loser will suddenly begin to look over their shoulders. So that'll be a draw.

    Friday, 17 April 2009

    Bundesliga week 28

    Schalke v Energie
    Wolfsburg v Leverkusen
    Karlsruhe v Hoffenheim
    Cologne v Stuttgart
    Eintracht v Monchengladbach
    Arminia v Bayern
    Bochum v Dortmund
    Hertha v Bremen
    Hamburg v Hannover

    Wolfsburg continue to set the pace in Germany, though they'll be doing well to shake off the chasers this week. They should beat Leverkusen given their current form, but with Bayern and Hamburg facing Arminia and Hannover respectively, the pack will continue to snap at their heels. Hertha have fallen off and a home tie against Bremen - UEFA Cup semi-finalists, against Hamburg - isn't what they'd ask for in getting back on the horse. A win there will help Thomas Schaaf in keeping his bosses sweet for another season. Stuttgart are coming up on the rails and they go to the side who are possibly the only ones with nothing to play for - Cologne. It may be too late for them to have a real tilt at the championship, but they are potential kingmakers.

    Hoffenheim have had a torrid 2009 so far, with injuries ravaging their side and the normally so together squad beginning to split itself apart. If they fail to win again this week, then you know it's over. They face Karlsruhe which ought to be a morale booster and three valuable points in what has gone from a title push to a real chase for European football next season. Miraculously given the turmoil in Gelsenkirchen, Schalke are also in the frame for Europe and take on lowly Cottbus in the Friday game. The East Germans have pulled within a point or two of safety with improved displays lately, but this should be easy pickings for Schalke, now managed by three caretakers following Fred Rutten's dismissal. Snapping at their heels are neighbours Dortmund who face improving Bochum while the big game at the bottom sees Gladbach going to Frankfurt to face Eintracht. Let's get one thing straight: Eintracht are rubbish and play a brand of football that almost sucks the life out of a man through his eyes. Gladbach are low on quality, but high on entertainment. They can win this and if they do, they're out of immediate danger whereas the Frankfurters would be well and truly in it.

    Eredivisie week 31

    Heracles v Breda
    NEC v Roda
    De Graafschap v Groningen
    Feyenoord v Twente
    AZ v Vitesse
    Utrecht v Heerenveen
    Willem II v Den Haag
    Volendam v Sparta
    PSV v Ajax

    No surprises where all attention lies in the Netherlands this week - it's Alkmaar on Saturday, stoopid. Vitesse are the lambs to the slaughter, expected to play a bit part as AZ grind out another comfortable 1-0 victory and claim the Eredivisie title. The script is there, and the Arnhem side don't look up to pooping the party (tee hee, poop). Amazingly, Twente and Ajax are still in it, albeit only mathematically. Should AZ stumble and fail to get anything from the game then Twente need to beat Feyenoord and Ajax to win The Classic in Eindhoven. Feyenoord were good last week for about the second or third time this season, but Twente are too good for them. Ajax and PSV promises to be a great game. Both arrive in good form, Ajax on the back of sticking seven away and PSV playing some very attractive football with a host of exciting young players all in top form.

    Expect some sort of reaction in Nijmegen to the news that the generally hated merger between Roda JC and Fortuna Sittard will not now go ahead. Reliant on the Limburg state government for some sort of bail-out (hark at us with the buzzwords), once the books had been checked, the size of the debt became apparent and state funds could not be poured into a black hole of that magnitude. What that actually means for football in the region isn't clear, but Roda still have relegation issues.

    Massive game at the bottom where Volendam host Sparta. Both sides need points, but both would be happy with one, especially if De Graafschap lose at De Vijverberg against Groningen. Volendam and De Graafschap are duking it out in trying to avoid the automatic relegation place. De Graafschap have a one-point advantage, but Volendam's superior goal difference could end up making all the difference. Heracles open the weekend at home to Europa League chasing Breda and a loss there drags them right back in. Neither ADO and Willem II are safe and they face off in Den Haag. A win for either will make them breathe much, much easier.

    Utrecht have fallen away in recent weeks and they could do without having to face Heerenveen this week. A sizeable away win is on the cards here.

    Wednesday, 15 April 2009

    Superliga Round 24: Benfica fall further behind

    SC Braga 1-1 Maritimo
    Paços de Ferreira1 - 1 Vitoria Guimaraes
    Leixões 1 - 0 Rio Ave FC
    OS Belenenses 2 - 1 Vitoria Setubal
    Sporting CP 3 - 1 Naval
    Benfica 0 - 1 Academica de Coimbra
    FC Porto 3-0 Estrela Amadora
    CD Trofense 1 - 2 Nacional

    Its all gone Pete Tong for Quique Sanchez Flores and Benfica. Two defeats in their last five matches, including this humiliating home loss at home to Academica, have almost certainly ended their title challenge as they sit third, 8 points off leaders FC Porto. Here, a first half strike from Ghanaian midfielder William Tiero was enough to down O Glorioso, who, despite chances for Mantorras and Oscar Cardozo, could not score and completed a famous victory for the Coimbra side, who have now lost once in their last 5 and sit 9th.

    FC Porto experienced no such problems despite their well-publicised European excursions. With the second leg in mind, Jesualdo Ferreria rested a host of players for the visit of cash-strapped Amadora but the team suffered no ill effects, brushing aside the Lisbon side thanks to goals from Bruno Alves and Ernesto Farias (2), despite being without Fernando, Hulk and Lisandro Lopez. With 47 goals this campaign the Dragões are comfortably the top scorers in the league and it is this factor which may well see them collect a fourth straight crown.

    Sporting CP did their bit to keep the race interesting, beating Naval on sunday to keep the gap up top at four points. Pereirinha gave Paolo Bento's side an early lead only to have it cancelled out by the visitors' Brazillian striker Marcelinho (his fifth of the season). Liedson, predictably, was the man to the rescue as he scored a goal in each half to condemn Naval to their third defeat in four matches. Liedson is currently being linked with the Portuguese national team having become eligible and the way things are going the embattled Carlos Quieroz could do a lot worse.

    Elsewhere, Belenenses scored a priceless win in their battle to avoid relegation, defeating fellow strugglers Setubal 2-1 thanks to two early strikes from Saulo. Trofense replace them in the bottom two after losing at home to Nacional - the Madeirans would be nowhere this season without the goals of Nene - he scored his 16th and 17th of the season here. Rio Ave remain bottom after losing at Leixões, who leapfrog Maritimo (who drew at Braga) into sixth. Pacos scored a valuable point as they drew with Vitoria Guimaraes, thanks to Cristiano's 77th minute leveller.

    Tuesday, 14 April 2009

    Lyon off the top: Ligue 1 reviews

    Auxerre 0-2 Bordeaux
    Nice 2-0 Lorient
    Le Mans 2-0 Sochaux
    Toulouse 1-0 Nantes
    Le Havre 1-2 Caen
    Nancy 2-0 Valenciennes
    Rennes 1-0 St Etienne
    Marseille 4-1 Grenoble
    Lille 0-0 PSG
    Lyon 2-2 Monaco

    Lyon were knocked off the summit of Ligue 1 after the weekends fixtures after Marseille won emphatically while Les Gones' home troubles resurfaced as they could only manage a draw with Monaco. It could have been worse but for the heroics of Hugo Lloris in the Lyon goal, but he was powerless to stop Jerko Leko putting the Monagasques in front. Cris levelled it up just after the hour, but Monaco were back in front a minute later through Juan Pablo Pino. When all looked lost, Frederic Piquionne squared it up with an overhead spectacular nine minutes from time, moments after he'd wasted a much easier chance from point-blank range. Marseille had gone top earlier on the Sunday putting their midweek defeat to Shakhtar behind them by burying Grenoble 4-1. OM are certainly peaking at the right time and, after a goalless first half, ran riot in the second. Taye Taiwo's penalty on 52 minutes set them on their way and it was quickly followed by the second from Vitorino Hilton. Taiwo grabbed a second a few minutes later before Brandao made it four with a minute left. Laurent Courtois pulled one back in stoppage time to give it some respectability. Lyon's next game is against Bordeaux who had briefly moved above the champions with a 2-0 win at Auxerre. It was a Brazilian double for Les Girondins as Fernando and Wendel got the goals, though keeper Ulrich Ramé was as much to thank for the win thanks to a string of fine saves.

    Toulouse go back to fourth following their over Nantes which leaves their opponents in the drop zone. André-Pierre Gignac's 19th of the season came after Daniel Braaten stormed past a couple of defenders and slipped the ball to Gignac who blasted it home off the inside of the post from the edge of the penalty area. Les Violets go level on points with Lille and PSG, but ahead on goal difference, after the northern rivals couldn't muster a goal between them. Lille dominated for long periods, but without really testing the PSG defence and a draw was almost inevitable, though it helps neither side in the race for honours.

    Le Havre are now eleven points from safety with seven games to go after they lost at home to neighbours Caen who pull out of the bottom three themselves. Reynald Lamaitre was the hero for Caen, putting the winner away three minutes from time after Amadou Alassane equalised Steve Savidan's early opener. St Etienne look doomed, dropping to second bottom after Romain Danze's 50th minute header from Moussa Sow's cross was enough to see off Les Verts. Sochaux got sucked back into the scrap at the bottom after losing 2-0 at Le Mans who help themselves out of it through Roland Lamah and Mobido Maiga while Nancy just ease away from trouble after ending Valenciennes good recent run. Two stoppage time goals did it for Nancy, Damian Macaluso turning in a free-kick and a Youssouf Hadji penalty following Mody Traore's handball in the box.

    Finally, Nice won the battle of the European hopefuls with a 2-0 win over Lorient thanks to two Loic Remy goals in the space of three second half minutes. The first came rather against the run of play, but Nice were dominant after that and ran out comfortable winners.

    Wolfsburg take charge: Bundesliga reviews

    Hoffenheim 0-3 Bochum
    Dortmund 3-1 Cologne
    Energie 2-1 Arminia
    Monchengladbach 1-2 Wolfsburg
    Hannover 2-0 Hertha
    Bayern 4-0 Eintracht
    Schalke 2-0 Karlsruhe
    Stuttgart 1-0 Hamburg
    Leverkusen 1-1 Bremen

    Wolfsburg are clear leaders in Germany after a less-than-convincing win over Gladbach this weekend. Not at their fluent best, Felix Magath's side almost came a cropper against their relegation-troubled opponents as they failed to find their touch in front of goal. Edin Dzeko headed in Zvjezdan Misimovic's cross on 20 minutes, but wasted a host of chances to extend the lead and see off Gladbach with the prolific Grafite most culpable. Indeed, the equaliser duly came with eleven minutes to go, Danté heading in from Marko Marin and they looked good for a valuable point, but Dzeko's long-range shot five minutes from time was only parried and Sascha Riether swooped to claim all three points. Wolfsburg lead by three from Bayern and Hamburg who had differing fortunes. Bayern overcame their dismantling at the Camp Nou with a demolition job of their own, beating hapless Eintracht 4-0. The job was all but done in the first half with early goals to Franck Ribéry, Luca Toni and Lucio. Bastian Schweinsteiger added a fourth after the break and Frankfurt were never a threat. Hamburg went down to a Mario Gomez goal two minutes into stoppage time, preventing Martin Jol's men from keeping pace with Wolfsburg at the top. An entertaining game looked destined to remain goalless until Frank Rost could only parry Tomas Hitzlsperger's powerful long-range shot to the waiting Gomez who finished comfortably.

    Hertha look a spent force after going down to lowly Hannover and had Andriy Voronin sent off a minute from time, just to rub salt into the wound. Mike Hanke and Arnold Bruggink scored the goals before Voronin was shown a straight red for his part in an unseemly brawl late on. Hoffenheim's challenge is all but over now with a surprise defeat at home to Bochum. Hoffenheim finished with nine men. Goalkeeper Daniel Haas and Carlos Eduardo were both dismissed for bad challenges within a minute of one another. By that time, they were already two down to Stanislav Sestak goals and he added another against an increasingly ragged Hoffenheim side who now have it all on for a European place. The result pulls Bochum five points clear of the drop and into a relatively comfortable position. Karlsruhe are all but down after another defeat, 2-0 in Gelsenkirchen, Kevin Kuranyi and Jefferson Farfan with the goals that maintain Schalke's challenge for Europe despite everything they've been through this season. Karlsruhe are five adrift at the bottom after Energie for the first time in ages at home to Arminia. Energie went in front just before the break through Dimitar Rangelov, but they were pegged back moments after the restart by Vlad Munteanu. Ten minutes later, Stanislav Angelov put Energie back ahead with a close range effort. The other relegation issues look like being contested by Arminia, Energie and Gladbach.

    Dortmund kept pace with their neighbours Schalke with a win over Cologne, coming from behind after Nemanja Vucicevic gave Cologne an early lead. Neven Subotic and Tamas Hajnal put Dortmund in front before an own goal from Pedro Genomel sealed it for BvB. The other mid-table battle finished level at one-all in Leverkusen where Tranquilo Barnetta gave the home side an early lead, sweeping in Toni Kroos's through ball. Claudio Pizarro gave Bremen a share of the spoils with a header on the half hour.

    La Liga Round 30 Review: Barca March On

    Deportivo 1-2 Atletico Madrid
    Sevilla 0-1 Getafe
    Osasuna 2-1 Athletic
    Real Madrid 2-0 Valladolid
    Barcelona 2-0 Recreativo
    Villarreal 0-2 Malaga
    Racing 2-3 Betis
    Sporting 2-3 Valencia
    Mallorca 2-1 Almeria
    Numancia 0-0 Espanyol

    Andres Iniesta was once again the key man for the Blaugrauna as he guided Barcelona to a 2-0 victory, scoring the first goal inside the first minute and then creating the second for the hapless Recre defender Morris to turn past his own keeper. Barca looked untroubled but Real Madrid's win over Valladolid was not as easy, It was far from entertaining fare at the Bernabeu but Real will not be overly concerned as goals towards the end of each half from Raul and Arjen Robben earned Juande Ramos's in-form side their 14th win in their last 15 league games.

    Villarreal continue to make things hard for themselves after losing at home to Malaga, their second consecutive defeat. Duda and Eliseu, so often the go-to men for Malaga this season, scored goals towards the end of each half to condemn the Yellow Submarine and enhance Malaga's push for a UEFA Cup spot. Valencia leapfrogged Pellegrini's side after their thrilling 3-2 win at Sporting Gijon, an emotional occasion as David Villa scored against his hometown club. Juan Mata, another Asturian, also scored, striking the winner after Mate had scored for Sporting to make it 2-2 and give the struggling Molinon faithful hope.

    Atletico Madrid moved back into the European spots after beating Deportivo at the Riazor, Sergio Aguero and Simao Sabrosa scored either side of half-time as the capital club bounced back from last weekend's 4-2 home defeat to Osasuna to knock Malaga off sixth spot. Atletico remain as unpredictable and frustrating as ever but there's no doubt they're a joy to watch when on form. Sevilla dropped points for the first time in a while after they were broken down by a disciplined Getafe, to keep Victor Munoz in a job for another week - Jaime Gavilan struck with 9 minutes remaining.

    At the bottom, Osasuna made it three wins in a row with a victory over northern rivals Athletic, Masoud Shojaei and Sergio Fernandez scoring for them either side of Aitor Ocio scoring and then getting himself sent off. The 0-0 draw between Numancia and Espanyol helps neither and one cannot escape the feeling that they will be 2 of the 3 sides dropping down a division. Real Betis were the latest beneficiaries of Racing's wretched home form, grabbing a 3-2 win at the Sardinero where Achile Emana scored twice. Mallorca pulled 5 clear of the relegation places after a hard-fought win over Hugo Sanchez's Almeria Cleber Santana's spectacular overhead kick just short of the hour mark gave the home side the lead and Gonzalo Castro settled it with a second in added time after Almeria had been reduced to 10 men by the sending off of Hernan Pellerano.

    Serie A Round 31 Review: Lazio cruise the derby

    Reggina 0-2 Udinese
    Bologna 1-4 Siena
    Chievo 0-1 AC Milan
    Fiorentina 2-1 Cagliari
    Genoa 3-2 Juventus
    Inter 2-2 Palermo
    Lazio 4-2 Roma
    Lecce 1-3 Sampdoria
    Napoli 0-0 Atalanta
    Torino 2-1 Catania

    With a 10 point lead at the top of Serie A, one can probably safely assume that the title is Inter's for another year. This is despite being held at home by Palermo on saturday. A Mario Balotelli header and a Zlatan Ibrahimovic penalty (goal #20 of the season) put the hosts in a commanding lead only for them to uncharacteristically squander it to the Sicilians. The ruthless Uruguyan Edison Cavani (Palermo's best player this campaign by a thru'penny bus ride, as my colleague John might say) then Davide Succi pegged them back.

    It was not a costly slip for Jose Mourinho's men, after Juventus lost at Genoa in a thriller at the Luigi Ferraris - where the Grifone have lost just once all season. Thiago Motta was supposed to be a finished crock when Atletico Madrid released him - not so it seems, he scored twice here, putting his side ahead either side of a controversial Del Piero penalty (the referee putting in a characteristically eccentric display). Vicenzo Iaquinta's delicate finish levelled matters once again, and Claudio Rainieri thought he'd rescued a point only for Raffaele Palladino, at Genoa on a co-ownership deal from, yes, you guessed it, Juventus, struck the winner late on. That is a fifth win in 7 matches for Gasperini's men and they keep hold of that precious fourth spot.

    AC Milan were not totally convincing in beating in-form Chievo, who had both chances and a goal disallowed for offside but Clarence Seedorf rounded off a wonderful team move with a lovely finish to condemn the flying donkeys to their first defeat in six games. With Juventus in such poor form at the business end of the season, the Rossoneri could yet leapfrog them into second, just two points back now.

    Lazio triumphed in the weekend's big event, the Rome derby, a traditionally bad-tempered affair in the Eternal City that lived up to its billing. Christian Pannuci, Phillipe Mexes and Francesco Matuzalem were all sent off, and there were some sensational goals too from Mauro Zarate and Aleksander Kolarov. Goals from Mexes and De Rossi in vain for the 'visitors' and Lazio are now 9th, 5 points behind Roma in 6th place. Fiorentina picked up their third straight win to keep the heat on Genoa after they beat Cagliari, who ended the game with 9 men. Manuel Pasqual and Juan Vargas did the damage for the Tuscans.

    Elsewhere, embattled Bologna were smashed at home by Siena, who were led superbly by midfielder Houssine Kharja in a 4-1 win. Sinisa Mihailovic paid for this defeat with his job, the much-travelled Giuseppe Papadopulo installed in his place. Torino halted a run of 4 consecutive defeats with a 2-1 win over Catania; 2 goals for Antonio Floro Flores further condemned Reggina at home to Udinese; Napoli and Atlanta drew 0-0 as both their seasons conk out; and Antonio Cassano and Giampaolo Pazzini (who else?) inspired Sampdoria to a 3-1 win at Lecce, which sees the southerners drop back into the bottom three.

    AZ on the brink: Eredivisie reviews

    NAC 0-1 AZ
    De Graafschap 2-2 NEC
    Den Haag 1-2 Sparta
    PSV 2-0 Utrecht
    Twente 4-2 Roda
    Heerenveen 1-0 Volendam
    Ajax 7-0 Willem II
    Feyenoord 5-1 Heracles
    Groningen 2-3 Vitesse

    AZ kicked off the weekend with a win over NAC that put them within sniffing distance of the title. It's fair to say that they've not been at their fluent best as the prospect of only their second ever title gets ever closer and that was very much the case here. It took Moussa Dembele's fine individual effort twenty minutes from time to break the deadlock after a first half in which they hardly created a chance of note. The win heaped pressure on both Twente and Ajax to maintain their increasingly slim title hopes by winning. Should both fail, AZ would be champions. However, both won, meaning that a point next week will be enough for the Alkmaarders. Twente got past troubled Roda JC. Still without Blaise N'Kufo, Steve McClaren's side made light of his absence in hitting four goals with N'Kufo's deputy Romano Denneboom opening the scoring. Laurent Delorge equalised, but goals from defenders Douglas Franco and Slobodan Rajkovic and winger Eljero Elia put Twente into a comfort zone that Sekou Cissé's late effort couldn't spoil. If Ajax were under pressure, then it didn't show as they ran Willem II ragged. Luis Suarez bagged a hat-trick and Ajax were five up by half-time. Dario Cvitanich started the rout in the second minute and grabbed the third as well with Eyong Enoh's effort sandwiched between. Suarez's first and one from Urby Emanuelsson saw Ajax turn round five to the good and Suarez hit two more after the break to complete the rout. His third came from the penalty spot after he was felled by Angelo Martha who saw red for his indiscretion, completing a miserable afternoon for the Tilburgers.

    Down at the bottom, De Graafschap secured a point which sees them switch places with Volendam - beaten 1-0 by Heerenveen. A Ben Sahar double gave De Graafschap the lead with quarter of an hour to go, but Tim Janssen and, with four minutes remaining, Lasse Schöne squared it up. Heerenveen had Danijel Pranjic sent off late on against Volendam, but Viktor Elm had already given them a 1-0 lead which they held onto despite their numerical disadvantage. That maintains Heerenveen in the second automatic Europa League spot with PSV breathing down their necks. They eased past Utrecht 2-0 with Carlos Salcido and Timmy Simons, from the penalty spot, getting the goals. Groningen look safe in the Europa League play-offs despite going down to Vitesse. Lasse Nilsson put Vitesse ahead only for Goran Lovre to level it up on the stroke of half-time. Civard Sprockel and Rocky van Wolfswinkel put Vitesse into a comfortable lead and Groningen could only pull one back, Danny Holla scoring with eighteen to go. Breda and NEC make up the other sides in the play-off places, but Utrecht and Feyenoord remain in the frame. Feyenoord hit five against Heracles at De Kuip, Roy Makaay getting a hat-trick. His first two put Feyenoord 2-0 ahead before Bas Dost pulled one back, but it was one-way traffic in the second half. Denny Landzaat increased the lead before Makaay completed his treble from the spot and Kelvin Leerdam completed the scoring. Heracles now lie just three points above the relegation places.

    Sparta won a crucial game against Den Haag that leaves ADO just two points from safety while pulling Sparta clear, for now at least. Two late goals saved Sparta who looked to be heading for defeat to Richard Knopper's 25th minute goal. Five minutes later, Sparta were down to ten when Jerold Promes was booked a second time and duly dismissed, but four minutes from time, Timothy Derijck put through his own net for the equaliser before Ayodele Adeleye headed in a dramatic late winner as ADO failed to clear their lines.

    Friday, 10 April 2009

    Ligue 1 week 31

    Nancy v Valenciennes
    Auxerre v Bordeaux
    Nice v Lorient
    Le Mans v Sochaux
    Toulouse v Nantes
    Le Havre v Caen
    Rennes v St Etienne
    Marseille v Grenoble
    Lille v PSG
    Lyon v Monaco

    Massive game in the north of the country this week when PSG go to Lille. Lille really are the coming force in the game, inspired by teenage Belgian wonder Eden Hazard whose performances have pricked the interest of the continental big boys. They're on a terrific run and it's probably about the best time to meet their rivals who have been patchy at best lately. Two other potentially pivotal games on Sunday where Lyon host Monaco who were abysmal in sliding to defeat to Rock Bottom Le Havre (that's now their official title, incidentally). Surely Lyon will win that one, but Marseille have the chance to go top, at least for a few hours, when they meet Grenoble at the Vélodrome. Marseille went down 2-0 in Donetsk in midweek, but Grenoble have begun to fall away after reversing an alarming decline in mid-season and Marseille should win that one.

    Bordeaux look to maintain their title hopes at the Abbe-Deschamps in Auxerre where they'll find a stubborn side to get past. Without Fernando Cavenaghi, Bordeaux aren't the free-scoring side they once were, but Marouane Chamakh, despite publicly stating time and again how keen he is to leave, has stepped up to the plate and Yoann Gourcuff continues to be excellent. Toulouse have just slipped away, but they remain formidable at home where Nantes pay a visit this weekend. They're in trouble, Nantes, and should be easy pickings.

    Nancy too are in big trouble and face a home game against Valenciennes, who now reside in the cushy echelons of mid-table. Away win, one would think. St Etienne also remain mired in the bottom three, but Sochaux showed last week that one win can make a world of difference and should Les Verts get something out of the game at Rennes, everything changes once again. Sochaux went above Le Mans with their win last week and the two meet on Saturday with points meaning so much in a congested lower tier. Another win for Sochaux and they'll fancy they're safe, but the same applies to Le Mans and this could prove cagey. Massive game at the bottom in the north where Caen go to Le Havre. With that win last week, it's arguable that Le Havre will approach this in a greater frame of mind than their near neighbours. A win is vital for Le Havre, while Caen will treat it as one that they mustn't lose. High stakes indeed.

    The only game with little riding on it is Lorient's trip to Nice. Both sides are stuck firmly in mid-table and unlikely to challenge for European places, though Lorient just need to eke out a few more points to avoid any chance of being sucked into trouble at the foot of the table.

    Bundesliga week 27

    Hoffenheim v Bochum
    Dortmund v Cologne
    Energie v Arminia
    Monchengladbach v Wolfsburg
    Hannover v Hertha
    Bayern v Eintracht
    Schalke v Karlsruhe
    Leverkusen v Bremen
    Stuttgart v Hamburg

    New leaders Wolfsburg take their seemingly unstoppable bandwagon to Monchengladbach this week and it couldn't come at a worse time for the home side. Desperate for points after their mini-revival came to an abrupt halt over the last couple of weeks, Gladbach remain rooted in trouble despite vastly improved performances. Felix Magath's rampant Wolves will arrive in Gladbach full of confidence after their trouncing of Bayern and look good for the points. Hamburg remain level with Wolfsburg on points, but back up from their comfortable outing against Man City with a tricky trip to Stuttgart where Markus Babbel's good performances have secured him a deal through to the end of 2010. Trouble is that Stuttgart blow so hot and cold it's difficult to tell which one will turn up. One thing is for sure; Hamburg will have their work cut out to keep pace with the new leaders. A win for Stuttgart here and they're genuine contenders all of a sudden.

    Hertha should get back to winning ways over Hannover while Bayern will hope to erase the concession of nine goals in two games - admittedly against two of the best attacking sides on the continent - with a straightforward looking fixture against Eintracht who have little to nothing to play for. Hoffenheim are in danger of not just slipping out of the title race, but out of the European picture altogether, but a home game against Bochum should be a good opportunity to get their first league win since the winter break.

    With eight games to go, Karlsruhe are staring down the barrel of relegation as they are now six away from safety. They face Schalke this week with the Gelsenkirchen side having just one thing to play for: finishing ahead of Dortmund. At the moment, the Ruhr rivals are separated by just one goal and Dortmund have the visit of Cologne to look forward to this week. Cologne are a little too close to the bottom for comfort, but they are far to good to go down and this game promises to be quite a physical tussle. Bremen go to Leverkusen buoyed by their 3-1 UEFA Cup win over Udinese. Should they repeat the trick here, Leverkusen can forget about getting anything out of a frustrating campaign - especially so given their precocious young bucks up front - while for Bremen, the UEFA Cup is their best chance of glory.

    The big one at the bottom sees Arminia go to Cottbus. A win for Bielefeld and they're clear of danger for the time being, but should Energie get the points, then it's all to play for in the closing stages.