• Monday, 30 November 2009

    Bayern paper over cracks while Leverkusen stroll on: Bundesliga reviews

    Bochum 0-0 Cologne
    Mainz 1-1 Hamburg
    Nurnberg 0-1 Freiburg
    Hoffenheim 1-2 Dortmund
    Hertha 1-3 Eintracht
    Bremen 2-2 Wolfsburg
    Monchengladbach 1-0 Schalke
    Leverkusen 4-0 Stuttgart
    Hannover 0-3 Bayern

    Stefan Kiessling often played second fiddle to Patrick Helmes since the younger man's arrival on the scene. With Helmes out injured long-term, Kiessling is relishing the added responsibility and a hat-trick this weekend helped his side to an easy win over Stuttgart, heaping yet more pressure onto Markus Babbel in the process, to consolidate Leverkusen's position at the top of the tree as their closest challengers all dropped points. He volleyed in the first from close range, bursting between static defenders at a set piece and Eren Derdiyok made it two at the break, again exploiting some terrible defending. Kiessling's second on the hour made it safe, Toni Kroos setting up the striker to finish from the edge of the box. The hat-trick was completed three minutes from time, Jens Lehmann hacking down the effervescent Kroos and Kiessling made no mistake.

    The contrast with Bayern's woes couldn't be sharper, though the Bavarians' win at Hannover papers over a few cracks. Luca Toni made the squad, but was an unused substitute, the new great hope of German centre forwards Thomas Muller getting the nod instead and rewarding his manager with the opener. Ivica Olic headed in a second just after the break and Mario Gomez wrapped it up in the last minute with a third. Bremen slipped back a bit after drawing with Wolfsburg for whom Edin Dzeko twice put them in front. Hugo Almeida eqaulised the first and Per Mertesacker bundled in a last minute equaliser for the point which briefly put Werder top. Schalke were beaten at Gladbach, Marco Reus with the only goal of the game. Hamburg continue to do it tough and January can't come quickly enough as they're desperately short of forwards now. Tunay put them ahead in Mainz early on, but Tim Hoogland grabbed a point six minutes from time. Hoffenheim gifted Dortmund an early goal, caught in possession deep in their own half and Jakub Blaszczykowski took the invitation. Demba Ba equalised just after the break, but Nuri Sahin's penalty won it, shortly before the Villagers were reduced to ten with Maicosuel dismissed late on.

    Freiburg grabbed a valuable win at Nurnberg, Stefan Reisinger with the only goal of the game, whereas Friday night's ambomination of a match in Bochum - Cologne the visitors - didn't muster anything much at all. Hertha went down again, losing 3-1 at home to Eintracht. A super pass picked out Patrick Ochs for the first, midway through the first half, and two quick-fire goals from Maik Franz and Alex Meier made the game safe. Gustavo Ramos pulled one back late on - too little, too late, which may end up being the motto of this wretched season in the capital.

    Half century up for Ajax: Eredivisie reviews

    Sparta 2-3 PSV
    AZ 2-0 VVV Venlo
    Heerenveen 3-1 Waalwijk
    Heracles 3-2 Roda
    Willem II 1-3 Twente
    Den Haag 0-2 Feyenoord
    Vitesse 1-5 Ajax
    Groningen 2-2 NEC
    Utrecht 3-1 NAC

    Another five goals for Ajax this week takes them to fifty for the season so far. Yes, fifty. Five-oh, blind fifty. In fifteen games. And yet they still remain six points off the lead of the Eredivisie. Vitesse were the victims this time and they committed a cardinal sin to prompt the onslaught - they went ahead early, Dalibor Stevanovic prodding home after a real to-do in the Ajax box. The lead lasted barely ten minutes when Marko Pantelic started his genuine hat-trick. The third was a great run onto a lovely weighted ball over the top followed by an authoritative finish. He's really settled in now and is producing. Kennedy Bakircioglu got the fourth, teed up by an unselfish Luis Suarez whose absence from the scoresheet was the most remarkable thing. Ismail Aissati curled in a beauty for the fifth to complete another rout.

    PSV and Twente are both still unbeaten and the Eindhoveners were briefly top of the league on Friday after a come-from-behind win over Sparta. Danko Lazovic put PSV ahead early on, but two Rydell Poepon goals put Sparta ahead ten minutes into the second half. Jonathan Reis equalised and Balazs Dzsudzsak fired in the winner with quarter of an hour to go. Their time at the top came to an end when Twente despatched Willem II in customary style. Wout Brama lashed in the opener from distance before Christophe Gregoire levelled it up from the penalty spot, Douglas with the clumsy challenge. It was brief resistance as Twente reasserted the dominance they showed almost throughout. The Tilburg goal frame got a pounding, Miroslav Stoch and Douglas both rattling the bar before Stoch found the back of the net from a tight angle. Bryan Ruiz made it safe after the break, waltzing through the defence and firing across goal inside the far post.

    Waalwijk couldn't force a third win, going down at Heerenveen for whom Viktor Elm scored twice and missed a penalty. Roda and Den Haag drop into the bottom three after defeats, Roda's comeback against Heracles being defeated by the clock. They were three down with quarter of an hour to go, but Mads Junker pulled one back on 82 minutes and Pa-Modou Kah another six minutes later, but the European hopefuls from Almelo hung on. Den Haag went down to Feyenoord, Ron Vlaar's thumping header putting the Rotterdammers on their way. There was a point apiece for NEC and Groningen, Nicklas Pedersen's last-minute strike snatching a point for the northerners. Bipolar VVV went down this week at the Almaarderhout, Jeremain Lens and Brett Holman putting the champions into a comfortable lead. VVV finished with ten, Sjors Verdellen sent off late on. Finally, Utrecht saw off NAC 3-1, all the goals coming after the break, Jacob Mulenga with a decisive late third for Utreg.

    Friday, 27 November 2009

    Best of the rest

    The shameful change of rules before the end of the European qualifying competition for the World Cup was widely reported as being designed to ensure the top names in the game made it to South Africa next year. Down the years, there have been plenty of top players that haven't played in the finals. George Weah for one, George Best, Alfredo di Stefano, Bernd Schuster and Liam Brady for a few others. And while Cristiano Ronaldo and Thierry Henry are going to be there, we can pick a pretty handy XI from the non-qualifying nations this time around.

    Goalkeeper: Igor Akinfeev (Russia)
    Only 23 and one of the best keepers in Europe, the CSKA stopper has been first choice at the Luzhniki since he was 17. Russia were the only unseeded side to bow out, beaten by Slovenia, not that Akinfeev could do anything about the crucial goal.

    Defence: Jan Vertonghen (Belgium), Thomas Vermaelen (Belgium), Brede Hangeland (Norway), Kakha Kaladze (Georgia)
    Vertonghen and Vermaelen formed a fearsome pairing on the right-hand side of the Ajax defence last season. Vermaelen has really kicked on since joining Arsenal while Vertonghen has revelled in the added responsibility since his buddy left Amsterdam. They've a cracking young squad have Belgium, but internal divisions once again proved the undoing. As the Francophone and Flemish speaking parts of the country seem determined to split, so it goes in the national team's dressing room.
    Hangeland's performances for Fulham saw him much in-demand recently from Europe's top players. If nothing else, he'd form a defensive pairing with Vermaelen that few would want to bump into down a dark alley. Norway were the European team that finished second in the group, behind the rampant Dutch, but failed to make the play-offs. Poor old Kaladze: national hero, classy defender and scorer of two calamitous own goals in the qualifier against Italy as Georgia - riven by war during the tournament, lest we forget - ended bottom of the group without a win. Frankly, the campaign faded into insignificance thanks to the domestic situation and ended with a whimper, a 6-2 defeat in Sofia.

    Midfield: Andrei Arshavin (Russia), Zvejzdan Misimovic (Bosnia), Anatoly Tymoschuk (Ukraine), Balázs Dzsudzsák (Hungary)
    Tymoschuk is a water-carrier par excellence. Although his club side, Bayern, are threatening to implode yet again, he does his job without fuss: sit in and spoil lest the opposition get anywhere near that flaky back four. He did the same job for Ukraine, but the rest of the side had little flair and they were undone by a workmanlike Greece in the play-offs. For Wolfsburg, Misimovic has Josué to do the Tymoschuk role and let him strut his stuff. For every dynamic playmaker, someone needs to mop up behind. Misimovic was instrumental in Bosnia's run to the play-offs where his injury in the second leg stymied the hope they took out of the first game.
    Dzsudzsák offers great width down the left and he's got bags of pace and a mean shot. Hungary started well in a tough group, but faded. It may well have been Dzsudzsák's best hope of making the finals. They are improving, but may rely on the luck of the draw to qualify. Arshavin. Quality. I think we all know that.

    Attack: Edin Dzeko (Bosnia), Fredi Kanouté (Mali)
    Dzeko is one of the most complete strikers I've seen at the age of 23. Maybe Marco van Basten, but evoking names like that show the regard he's widely held in. Pace, good in the air, strong... what else does a striker need? 14 goals in 22 internationals speaks volumes of his ability, especially when combined with long-time club-mate Misimovic. Kanouté has that classically languid Gallic style, but he's clinical in front of goal. Of all the players in the Primera Liga, he's right up there with David Villa as the most feared striker. Having been constantly overlooked by France, he declared for Mali who made it through to the final round of qualifying, finishing third in the group behind Ghana and Benin. Two wins from six just wasn't good enough.

    Honourable mentions: Lorik Cana (Albania), Petr Cech (Czech Republic), Marouane Chamakh (Morocco), Souleymane Diawara (Senegal), Richard Dunne (Ireland), Mounir El Hamdaoui (Morocco), Alex Hleb (Belarus), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden), Bryan Ruiz (Costa Rica), Ze Kalanga (Angola), Mohamed Zidan (Egypt) and Ryan Giggs (Wales). Again.

    Ligue 1 round 14

    Lille v Valenciennes
    Sochaux v Nice
    Lorient v Grenoble
    PSG v Auxerre
    Toulouse v Boulogne
    Lens v Marseille
    Nancy v Bordeaux
    Le Mans v St Etienne
    Lyon v Rennes
    Monaco P-P Montpellier

    Boulogne v PSG

    The FFF are a cack-handed bunch. Faced with the postponement of the Marseille v PSG match, the way they're going about getting everyone back on track is perhaps the least logical possible. Surely, you'd just pick a week without cup or European complications and tell them to play it again on a Tuesday or Wednesday night. No, no, no. Too simple. Better to replay that game on a weekend, further postponing two other games and then replay those two in random midweeks. Hence, Boulogne v PSG and Sochaux v Marseille were both scheduled for next Tuesday, December 2 before the latter was further postponed in order that Marseille can be "in the best condition before their decisive [Champions League] game against Real Madrid". Oh for the love of all that's precious...

    More postponement news and it's swine flu again that's caused Monaco v Montpellier to be called off this week. It's the Montpellier camp that's been struck and, with three players infected, the camp has been quarantined. What wacky method can the Federation come up with to sort this one out, I wonder?

    New leaders Auxerre attempt to maintain their new-found lofty position without Ireneusz Jelen who suffered a thigh injury in training. He should only miss this week's trip to Paris and if AJA are to mount a serious challenge, they'll be hoping that is the case. Bordeaux and Lyon won't take this lying down and will pounce on any slip-ups. Bordeaux had a great win in the Champions League in midweek while Lyon went down to Fiorentina. The champions are in Nancy this week while Lyon face Rennes at the Gerland. Marseille face Lens, but are fuming about being ordered to play one game behind closed doors following yet another flare incident. The Federation's ruling says that this being the seventh time the club have been in bother for similar, it was the only recourse. And this is before the events surrounding that postponement against PSG is investigated.

    Le Mans v St Etienne is a crunch clash at the bottom which Les Verts will not only fancy winning, but probably feel they must. Toulouse are pushing upwards and face Boulogne who have a tough week with those two matches - the last thing a side in freefall really needs. Grenoble are on a roll - two draws from their last two games - but will struggle to get a first win, on the road in Lorient, Sochaux host Nice and Lille have a visit from Valenciennes.

    Bundesliga round 14

    Bochum v Cologne
    Mainz v Hamburg
    Nurnberg v Freiburg
    Hoffenheim v Dortmund
    Hertha v Eintracht
    Bremen v Wolfsburg
    Monchengladbach v Schalke
    Leverkusen v Stuttgart
    Hannover v Bayern

    It's all about Luca Toni this week. The lumbering Italian issued a completely futile "it's him or me" ultimatum last week that he's bound to come off worse from. That and comments to the papers about his souring relationship with Louis van Gaal led to a club suspension, a €25,000 fine and he's been dropped completely from the squad to face Hannover this weekend. The club say he'll be welcome back if he apologises, but these things normally only end one way, so it's ta-ta Toni come January. Besides, the club already have one lumbering carthorse of a striker in Mario Gomez. Beating Hannover will prove little about Bayern as a force. We all know what that club is going through at the moment, but a win over the traditional powerhouse of German football would be a massive fillip.

    Game of the week sees Wolfsburg go to in-form Bremen who haven't lost since the opening day. Both sides are without strikers - Claudio Pizarro and Obafemi Martins have both played their last matches of the calendar year. Another Martins - Bremen's Moreno Martins - comes in after recovering from breaking his jaw to bolster the strikeforce, but it's Mesut Ozil who is attracting the attention. What a player. With him on the books, it's no wonder the club were so willing to cash in on Diego. Wolfsburg let a lead slip on the astroturf of the Luzhniki in midweek and looked poor. Zvejzdan Misimovic was anonymous and he's so important to them. They need a turnaround and soon.

    Hoffenheim v Dortmund also looks a cracker. There's sure to be goals there, unlike Friday night's Bochum v Cologne match which has been eschewed by ESPN in the UK for Sparta v PSV from the Eredivisie. Wise move. Hamburg's stuttering challenge faces a stern test in Mainz, Hertha haven't had a better opportunity to win a game than this week at home to Eintracht, though they'll find some way of blowing it and the leaders Leverkusen have a gimme at home to Stuttgart. Gladbach have it all to do against Schalke who are beginning to hit their stride, but Nurnberg v Freiburg is definitely one for the purists only.

    Eredivisie round 15

    Sparta v PSV
    AZ v VVV Venlo
    Heerenveen v Waalwijk
    Heracles v Roda
    Willem II v Twente
    Den Haag v Feyenoord
    Vitesse v Ajax
    Groningen v NEC
    Utrecht v NAC

    The three main title challengers are all away from home this week in the Low Countries and all look short odds for the win. Twente take their parsimonious defence to Tilburg where Willem II shouldn't prove too great an obstacle. PSV are in Rotterdam at Het Kasteel where you'd fancy them to take advantage of Sparta's little wobble. That's the Friday game while Ajax are in Arnhem on Sunday looking to add to their 45 goals so far this season. Yes, 45. Just over one third of the way through the season, they're on course for the ton and few would back against them. They're going at over three goals per game and yet they still find themselves six points off top spot. Luis Suarez is on 17 for the season in the league, but has a long way to go to break the long-standing record of 43 for the season.

    Game of the week is VVV Venlo's trip to Alkmaar. Win, lose or, as is most likely, draw, VVV do it in style and with smiles on faces. AZ are coming off the back of a 0-0 draw in Europe which dumps them out of the Champions League, but league form is picking up slowly.

    Avoid Groningen v NEC if you love football. This is a dire prospect. Den Haag v Feyenoord should be fiery if nothing else as neither side is made up of particularly shrinking violets. Should Waalwijk's recent recovery continue against Heerenveen, then everyone in the bottom half of the table is suddenly back in danger and there's no reason why they can't do it as the Friesians are awful. Heracles' push for Europe should get a kick back into gear against Roda while Utrecht and NAC both have designs on European competition next season. I take Utrecht to win this one, but it should be fun whatever the outcome.

    Tuesday, 24 November 2009

    Auxerre top as Bordeaux lose at home: Ligue 1 reviews

    Marseille 1-0 PSG
    Grenoble 1-1 Lyon
    Rennes 2-1 Le Mans
    Lens 2-1 Nancy
    Bordeaux 0-1 Valenciennes
    Auxerre 2-0 Monaco
    St Etienne 0-2 Lorient
    Nice 1-0 Toulouse
    Montpellier 2-0 Lille

    Over two years have passed since Bordeaux were last beaten at home, but their visitors this week were Valenciennes, a side with a formidable away record. That said, they only had three efforts on goal in the whole game, but Mamadou Samassa got one past Cedric Carrasso in the seventh minute. Wendel went close with a spectacular free-kick and had two or three other great opportunities and Yoann Gouffran also spurned a glorious opportunity. Guy N'dy Assembe was inspired in the VA goal and his performance alone deserved the three points. Lyon failed to take advantage as they were held up in the Alps at Grenoble. César Delgado put Lyon in front, surely just the first action of a comfortable win, but Danijel Ljuboja equalised moments after Laurent Courtois was sent off for just their second point of the season. That means Auxerre go top after beating Monaco. Adama Coulibaly put them ahead late in the first half and Delvin Ndinga made it safe a couple of minutes from time. It's been quite a turnaround for AJA who started badly and now sit top of the league for the first time in six years.

    Montpellier won at home to Lille to maintain their place in the top handful, Victor Montano with both goals, but it's Lorient who sneak up into fourth. They beat St Etienne thanks to a pair of early goals from Marama Vahirua and Franco Sosa. Difficult to beat, they look to have a first eleven good enough for Europe, though how they go when injuries set in will determine how well they go.

    Nice rise further still after beating Toulouse, that man Loic Remy yet again, this time from the penalty spot. Le Mans are still deep in trouble after going down in Rennes, but Lens just pull away from the bottom three after coming from behind against Nancy. Issam Jemaa and Kevin Monnet-Paquet both scored in the last few minutes to snatch the win after Paul Alo'o Efoulou put Nancy in front early in the second half.

    Bayern's annual crisis: Bundesliga reviews

    Freiburg 0-6 Werder
    Stuttgart 1-1 Hertha
    Schalke 2-0 Hannover
    Wolfsburg 2-3 Nurnberg
    Cologne 0-4 Hoffenheim
    Eintracht 1-2 Monchengladbach
    Dortmund 0-0 Mainz
    Bayern 1-1 Leverkusen
    Hamburg 0-1 Bochum

    Bayern's draw with Leverkusen sees them sit in seventh. That's not good, despite the gap to top spot being just six points, and the whole thing is collapsing. Luca Toni reckons it's him or Van Gaal, and the lumbering Italian may just get his wish. Even if Van Gaal goes though, it's hard to see Toni remain at the club after January. Philipp Lahm, already in hot water over comments to the press, has described the club as "sick" after the poor performance against the leaders. It's easy to forget they didn't actually lose. Mario Gomez put Bayern ahead early on, but Stefan Kiessling equalised moments later and that was that. Poor game.

    Bremen are now just a point back from Leverkusen after a thumping win over Freiburg. Mesut Ozil was the star as Bremen hit five after the break, the young midfield tyro getting one and having a foot in most of the others. Hugo Almeida got a brace, Marco Marin, Markus Rosenberg and a Naldo penalty as Freiburg were blown away. Schalke come next after a low-key win over Hannover. Jefferson Farfan got the first and Jan Moravek sealed the win in the last minute. Hoffenheim are the big movers after belting lowly Cologne. Carlos Eduardo and Chinedu Obasi put the Villagers two up at the break with Demba Ba and Vedad Ibisevic, from the penalty spot, completing the job.

    At the bottom, Zdravko Kuzmanovic grabbed a point for Stuttgart against Hertha before getting himself sent off. Not that a point does anything for Hertha. Bochum and Nurnberg were the winners down at the bottom, the latter against the champions. Going to the VW-Arena, Nurnberg were pegged back twice before Peer Kluge struck in stoppage time. Albert Bunjaku scored twice, but Wolfsburg came back both times, Ashkan Dejagah and a Grafite penalty looking to have secured a point until Kluge popped up late on. Hamburg went down to Bochum, Dennis Grote with the only goal of the game. Elsewhere, Mainz and Dortumnd ground out a 0-0 and Eintracht went down at home to Gladbach.

    Top three can't stop winning: Eredivisie reviews

    Roda 2-4 AZ
    NAC 3-3 NEC
    Waalwijk 3-1 Groningen
    Twente 1-0 Vitesse
    Feyenoord 0-0 Utrecht
    Ajax 5-1 Heerenveen
    VVV Venlo 5-0 Sparta
    Willem II 1-1 Den Haag
    PSV 4-0 Heracles

    It's a definite case of a top three and then everybody else in the Netherlands now. Those three just keep on winning and are pulling inexorably away at the top of the tree. Twente battled past Vitesse despite being way below par and had Bryan Ruiz, back from World Cup heartbreak with Costa Rica, to thank for the win as he showed great strength to hold off a couple of late defenders and stab in a late winner. The chasers both won big, but it's still Twente who have the points advantage. Goal difference advantage definitely goes to Ajax who thumped in another five at home to Heerenveen. All six goals went in during the first half. How AZ are missing Demy de Zeeuw and he struck twice in the opening quarter, Marko Pantelic got the third and Luis Suarez got his customary penalty. Goran Popov scored a cracker for the Friesians, but Ismail Aissati added a fifth before the break. Both sides merely went through the motions after the break. PSV could only hit four after Heracles keeper Martin Pieckenhagen was sent off half way through the first half. The Almelo side held out until just before half-time, but Ibrahim Afellay blazed one home from the edge of the box and it was just about all over. All that remained was to find out by how many. Balázs Dzsudzsák, Ola Toivonen and Jagos Vukovic gave us the answer.

    Feyenoord and Utrecht failed to muster a goal between them and fall further away from the pace; indeed they've been caught by AZ who came from behind to beat Roda. Jeremain Lens put the champions ahead, but Pa-Modou Kah and Jeanvion Yulu-Matondo helped Roda to a 2-1 lead ten minutes into the second half. Rasmus Elm equalised twenty minutes from the end and two more goals in the next ten minutes secured the points, Lens with a second and Jonathas wrapping it up shortly before a stray elbow saw him sent off.

    The main action is down at the bottom. A third win for Waalwijk cuts the gap back to the rest to three points. Two points more than that is good enough for tenth as it all squashes up together. RKC took advantage of Groningen losing Luciano to an eleventh minute red card and Charlison Benshop struck twice as they won 3-1. NAC and NEC shared six goals with the Nijmegeners leading twice and yet still needing a late Saidi Ntibazonkiza goal - his second of the game - to secure a point, though they remain second bottom. Den Haag had Ahmed Anni sent off late in the first half, but did go in front in Tilburg through Karim Soltani. They couldn't hold on though and Willem II equalised through Frank Demouge. The big winners were VVV Venlo whose five goal thumping of Sparta sees them go from bottom three to tenth. It was four by half-time, Sandro Calabro getting two of them, as they recorded just their second win of the campaign.

    Friday, 20 November 2009

    Ligue 1 round 13

    Marseille v PSG
    Grenoble v Lyon
    Rennes v Le Mans
    Lens v Nancy
    Bordeaux v Valenciennes
    Auxerre v Monaco
    St Etienne v Lorient
    Nice v Toulouse
    Montpellier v Lille

    Not quite a full programme this week in La Rébublique because on Friday night, the postponed Marseille v PSG game takes place. This is the one that was called off thanks to an outbreak of H1N1 in the Paris camp and the two sides scheduled opponents, Sochaux and Boulogne, sit out the weekend. All three of the infected players are back in for the rearranged clash, though they are without Claude Makelele and Guillaume Hoarau due to suspension and injury respectively. Marseille have their problems, but they're mainly internal thanks to Hatem Ben Arfa's falling-out with Didier Deschamps. Whenever a player falls out with his manager, he loses. So it is in this case too, and Ben Arfa will be out on his ear as soon as is possible. January.

    Bordeaux continue their defence of the title at home to Valenciennes, but the big game sees third play fourth at the Abbe-Deschamps in Auxerre where Monaco are the visitors. This should be a belter. Ireneusz Jelen and Nene are two of the league's leading scorers and both sides play attractive football. Should be great. Lyon are in second and will win this weekend. Why? Because they're up against Grenoble who are still rubbish despite getting off the mark last time out. There's a reasonable looking game on the south coast between resurgent Nice and Toulouse.

    Elesewhere, picking look slim. Struggling Le Mans go to Rennes, struggling Lens are at home to Nancy, Montpellier look to get back on track against Lille and St Etienne are at home to Lorient. None of them look particularly appetising to the neutral observer.

    Bundesliga round 13

    Freiburg v Bremen
    Stuttgart v Hertha
    Schalke v Hannover
    Wolfsburg v Nurnberg
    Cologne v Hoffenheim
    Eintracht v Monchengladbach
    Dortmund v Mainz
    Bayern v Leverkusen
    Hamburg v Bochum

    The Bundesliga resumes under something of a cloud following the tragic death of Robert Enke. The national team's friendly against Chile last weekend was postponed, so we resume with a full league programme.

    A year ago, Hertha against Stuttgart was a top-of-the-table clash. This week, both sides go into the game in the bottom four. The only surprise for Hertha is that they're only six points adrift of safety. Mind, that's six points they've not looked like getting all season so far and it's Stuttgart who have that gap over the troubled Berliners. Hertha have already changed their manager - Stuttgart have yet to do so, but Markus Babbel is on borrowed time. Both clubs need a win, but it's difficult to make a case for either of them winning. If ever two sides in a football game could both contrive to lose a match, this is it.

    Pressure is high in Munich as well where the latest make-or-break match - they seem to have one every week - sees the leaders Leverkusen visit the Allianz. Compare and contrast to last season. Jurgen Klinsmann was, rightly, lambasted for his utter ineptitude as a manager, but Bayern were doing better at this stage than they are under Van Gaal. The Dutchman hasn't had the services of his three best players, in all fairness, thanks to injury to Mark van Bommel and Franck Ribéry and Ze Roberto having been sold in the summer. Still, the cash has been splashed and results are poor. Stefan Kiessling is in great form, as is his main supplier Tranquilo Barnetta. Leverkusen play with a verve that Bayern are a millions miles away from emulating.

    Hamburg have a straightforward looking game against Bochum to get their title challenge back on track, as do Bremen who are at Freiburg. Schalke have just fallen off a little and they face Hannover, still trying to come to terms with the loss of Enke. The fact they're playing is more important than the outcome. Wolfsburg and Hoffenheim can both play stunning football when they're so inclined and both are favourites in their respective games, Dortmund v Mainz looks a cracker unlike Eitracht against Gladbach which... err... doesn't.

    Eredivisie round 14

    Roda v AZ
    NAC v NEC
    Waalwijk v Groningen
    Twente v Vitesse
    Feyenoord v Utrecht
    Ajax v Heerenveen
    VVV Venlo v Sparta
    Willem II v Den Haag
    PSV v Heracles

    Back to the weekly grind after the fun and games of the World Cup qualifiers and it's one of those weeks in the Eredivisie where none of the games leap off the page and scream 'watch me!'. Leaders Twente are at home to Vitesse, PSV have Heracles, also at home. They should both win comfortably as should Ajax, also at home, to lowly Heerenveen. Feyenoord and Utrecht face off in a clash which may go some way to determine the 'beat of the rest' title and there are some real potential stinkers. If Waalwijk v Groningen was on in my back garden, I'd close the curtains. NAC v NEC doesn't inspire either. AZ's indifferent form will be tested in Kerkrade while Den Haag against Willem II looks set to be a race to see who can kick the opposition hardest.

    That leaves VVV Venlo against Sparta as my game of the week. They are going in opposite directions. VVV started well but are fading, to the point at which they dropped into the bottom three last time around. Sparta are quite the opposite having started badly, but have risen to the fringes of the European places. There should be goals, and that can't be said for the rest of the week's fixtures.

    Thursday, 19 November 2009

    What the f

    France 1-1 Ireland
    France win 2-1 on aggregate

    Slovenia 1-0 Russia
    2-2 on aggregate. Slovenia win on away goals

    Bosnia 0-1 Portugal
    Portugal win 2-0 on aggregate

    Ukraine 0-1 Greece
    Greece win 1-0 on aggregate

    You can only really start a World Cup round-up at Stade de France. Ireland came up with a battling performance against France and forced extra time after Robbie Keane converted Damien Duff's pinpoint cross. That was the only time the Irish beat the inspired Hugo Lloris in the French goal. Ireland had marginally the better of the extra half hour as well, but then came the controversy. After the referee had denied France a penalty, probably correctly, when Shay Given came off his line sharply at the feet of Nicolas Anelka, he summarily failed to see Thierry Henry handle the ball twice before squaring it to William Gallas who turned in an equaliser on the night and the winner overall.

    Henry didn't deny that he'd handled it, instead claiming it to be the duty of the referee to spot it. He has a modicum of a point, but one which was greatly undermined as he wheeled away on celebration as if he'd just been granted the kingdoms of France, Spain and Portugal as reward for his cunning and then the faux-sportsmanship after the game as he commiserated with Richard Dunne. Frankly, if Dunne had punched him the throat and told him to fuck off, he'd have been more than justified.

    Giovanni Trappatoni has seen pretty much everything in football and was characteristically magnanimous in an FAI press conference the following day. While the FAI barked up very much the wrong tree in pleading for a replay, Trappatoni expressed his disappointment in his now trademark half English-half Italian and seemingly moved on quickly. Dara O'Briain was on the radio and came up with a great idea. Throughout the World Cup finals, they should be referred to as France*. We'll certainly be doing that here.

    Elsewhere, seeds Portugal and Greece prevailed. Portugal saw off depleted Bosnia and Miroslav Blazevic will surely now slide gracefully into retirement. What a career he's had and isn't it amazing how black his hair has remained? Raul Meireles struck ten minutes after half-time and Bosnia's fate was sealed when Sejad Salihovic was sent off. They've done well, Bosnia, but this was a bridge too far. Greece won through in a predictably dull game, Dimitrios Salpigidis with the only goal of the 120 minutes. So far so good for FIFA's seeding plan.

    But when all else was failing, step forward Slovenia. They gave Russia no breathing space at all and Zlatko Dedic struck a minute before half-time to hand them the lead on the night and, on away goals, in the tie. Russia never got going and Slovenia really got stuck in, making life hard. Andrei Arshavin never got in the game and the rattled Russian finished with nine men as, first, Alexander Kerzhakov and then Yuri Zhirkov were sent off as it threatened to boil over. Slovenia are therefore the only non-seeds to progress and represent a big up yours to FIFA and, for that reason, they are the official Euroballs side of the 2010 World Cup.

    Wednesday, 18 November 2009

    World Cup scramble

    The second legs of the World Cup qualifying play-offs take place tonight with the final four European places in next summer's finals at stake. All four games are finely poised with the non-seeds all poised to upset FIFA's shameless moving of the goalposts. Let's have a look at the state of play.

    France (1) v Ireland (0)

    Ireland did well in Dublin on Saturday, but failed to take their chances. By contrast, Nicolas Anelka did take one of France's few and the normally prolific André-Pierre Gignac could have all but ended the tie, but missed. This return fixture should be a feisty affair after a bit of a set-to parked by Lassana Diarra's contretemps with Keith Andrews at the final whistle at Croke Park. But will feist overcome flair? There's a tricky balancing act between the two and if Ireland concentrate too much on trying to unsettle the French, they'll expose themselves at the back. However, this French side isn't one of the great French sides and, as their travails are one of the main reasons we have this seeding system, let's all hope they cop a beating in St Denis.

    Bosnia (0) v Portugal (1)

    Miroslav Blazevic has done a terrific job with Bosnia, but the former Croatian boss, now 74, risks having all his work undermined by injury and suspension. The injury is the biggy - Zvejzdan Misimovic makes this side tick and will be sorely missed as part of a dynamic front four. The onus instead passes to Sejad Salihovic to provide the balls for Edin Dzeko and Vedad Ibisevic. Emir Spahic, Elver Rahimic and Samir Muratovic are all suspended having picked up yellow cards in the first leg. Simao reckons Portugal aren't going to sit on the 1-0 lead, but under Carlos Queiroz they've been inclined to sit back on leads during games a few times too often. It looks like Cristiano Ronaldo will miss this one as well, which is grist to Blazevic's mill. The old master to work one more miracle before he finally retires? Don't bet against it.

    Slovenia (1) v Russia (2)

    Nejc Pecnik's late goal in Moscow enlivened this tie as, until that point, it looked like Russia were walking away with it. Diniar Bilyaletdinov got both for the Russians and they were cruising home. Yes, they've still got the advantage in the tie, but momentum is a big thing and Slovenia are notably buoyed by the outcome. They boast a mean defence and a full-strength side for this game in Maribor. Guus Hiddink looks set for a midfield reshuffle with Alan Dzagoev still struggling after missing the first leg and Igor Semshov and Vladimir Bystrov both in poor form. Russia will start favourites to progress, but that away goal looks huge.

    Ukraine (0) v Greece (0)

    This could rank as one of the dullest games in the history of World Cup qualifying. Greece under Otto Rehhagel play as they always have done: tight at the back, hit on the counter. That can be quite entertaining, but not against a side like Ukraine with the paucity of attacking options that they bring to the table. Alexiy Mikhailichenko played Andriy Shevchenko on his own up top in the first leg, but Artem Milevskiy and Oleg Gusev will have to get up in support more if Ukraine are to break down the tough Greek rearguard. Socrates Papastathopoulos was detailed to look after Shevchenko in Athens, but while defence is fairly well looked after, it's the Greek attack that looks weak. And Ukraine haven't conceded at home since June. Penalties.

    Outside of Europe, there's a couple of tasty looking clashes as well. Egypt beat Algeria in a bad-tempered grudge match by two goals to nil at the weekend which left the rivals with identical playing records through the group stage. This then requires them to play off in a one-off game and it's in Sudan. In the Americas, Costa Rica lost in San Jose to Uruguay, but go to Montevideo in good spirits. More on that on our sister site, CONMEBalls.

    Wednesday, 11 November 2009

    Forget football

    For all we love football here at Euroballs, we hope we don't lose sight of the bigger picture. Often when bad news emerges, football is one of the methods we can use to forget about the cares of the world and focus on something that, ultimately, doesn't really matter.
    Then bad news comes in from within the football world, such as the tragic death of Robert Enke, the Hannover 96 goalkeeper and apparent first choice for the national side. The DFB have taken the only real course of action in calling off the week's games against Chile and Ivory Coast - this is hardly a time for trivialities such as football.

    Monday, 9 November 2009

    Ten goals in Lyon while Grenoble make their point: Ligue 1 reviews

    PSG 0-1 Nice
    Valenciennes 1-1 Montpellier
    Le Mans 0-1 Auxerre
    Nancy 0-1 St Etienne
    Monaco 0-0 Grenoble
    Lorient 5-0 Boulogne
    Sochaux 1-2 Lens
    Lille 2-0 Bordeaux
    Toulouse 3-2 Rennes
    Lyon 5-5 Marseille

    That isn't a typographical error. Lyon 5-5 Marseille. It really did happen. 25 years ago, your current correspondent sat with jaw on the floor as a Chris Waddle-inspired Newcastle ran into a five-goal lead against QPR in the old First Division only to see it level at the end at five apiece. Quarter of a century on, it's happened again with Waddle's former club Marseille snatching a dramatic draw at the death of a quite remarkable game. With ten minutes left, OM were leading 4-2, but had to rely on a stoppage time own goal from Jeremy Toulalan to ensure a point. Miralem Pjanic put Les Gones ahead inside three minutes as Marseille failed to clear a Kim Kallstrom cross, but Souleymane Diawara headed in a corner ten minutes later. They were level for just three minutes before Sidney Govou handed OL the lead back with a lung-bursting run and neat finish. Benoit Cheyrou slammed another equaliser home on the stroke of half-time and Bakari Koné put OM into the lead for the first time two minutes after the restart with a great volley. Brandao headed home for 4-2 eleven minutes from time and that looked to be the game. Lisandro Lopez had other ideas, chipping over Steve Mandanda and then slotting home an equalising penalty after Gabriel Heinze was adjudged to have handled in the box. Into stoppage time and Lisandro combined with Pjanic to tee up Michel Bastos who put Lyon back into the lead. And after all that, there was still time for Mamadou Niang's shot to cause panic in the Lyon area and the unfortunate Toulalan had the final touch. Don't know about you, but I'm worn out reading that back.

    That meant that Bordeaux got away with a defeat at Lille to remain top. The champions were off colour and were taken down a peg by the northerners who dominated throughout. Pressure finally paid off when the otherwise exemplary Cedric Carrasso parried Pierre-Alain Frau's shot to the feet of Yohan Cabaye who put it away. A late Florent Balmont penalty sealed the points. Auxerre move up to third after beating Le Mans. Jorge Andrade was helpless to prevent himself putting through his own net, his keeper Didier Ovono parrying Ireneusz Jelen's shot into his path as he tracked back. Anthony Le Tallec had a late penalty saved, compounding Le Mans' misery.

    Other than the five-all draw, the big story was Grenoble winning their first point of the season in a goalless draw in Monaco. They had chances to win it, but were more indebted to an inspired goalkeeping performance by Ronan Le Crom who saved three times from Frederic Nimani to get his side off the mark.

    Toulouse won a five-goal thriller against Rennes, Moussa Sissoko putting them in front on the half hour only for Asamoah Gyan to level on the stroke of half-time. Daniel Braathen and André-Pierre Gignac put Les Violets ahead, but Kader Mangane set up a tense finish. Lorient won big against free-falling Boulogne, banging five away, Kevin Gameiro and Marama Vahirua getting two each and Morgan Amalfitano nabbing the fifth. Dimitri Payet got the only goal of the game as St Etienne beat Nancy, PSG went down to a late Loic Remy goal as Nice pulled away from the bottom, Montpellier drew with Valenciennes to slightly arrest their slide and Lens grabbed a vital three points against Sochaux.

    Leverkusen take control: Bundesliga reviews

    Leverkusen 4-0 Eintracht
    Mainz 1-0 Nurnberg
    Bayern 1-1 Schalke
    Monchengladbach 0-0 Stuttgart
    Bochum 1-2 Freiburg
    Hoffenheim 1-2 Wolfsburg
    Hannover 2-2 Hamburg
    Bremen 1-1 Dortmund
    Hertha 0-1 Cologne

    Leverkusen opened up a three-point gap at the top of the Bundesliga standings with a thumping Friday night win over Eintracht while their main challengers all drew. The game was as good as over inside ten minutes. The prolific Stefan Kiessling put them ahead in the second minute when Tranquilo Barnetta pounced on an error by Eintracht keeper Ralf Fahrmann, Stefan Reinartz headed in a Barnetta corner four minutes later and Toni Kroos added a third. The damage was done and Lars Bender added a bit of gloss four minutes from time with a long-range strike. Bremen, Hamburg and Schalke were all held, the latter being the most amusing. Schalke outplayed Bayern for long periods, but found themselves behind when Daniel van Buyten stuck a leg out to prod in a rebound from a free-kick, but Marvin Matip, on debut for the Royal Blues, equalised before the break, heading in a free-kick. Louis van Gaal made changes at the break, withdrawing the ineffectual Luca Toni who promptly stormed out and drove home. He's now been fined, as has vice-captain Philipp Lahm after criticising the club's transfer policy in a newspaper article.

    Wunderkind Mesut Ozil put Bremen ahead at home to Dortmund, volleying Aaron Hunt's deep cross, but Werder couldn't hold on for the win. Lucas Barrios had the ball in the net early in the second half, but was wrongly adjudged offside. The respite didn't last and Nelson Valdez's shot was only parried by Tim Wiese and Barrios swooped in to level. Hamburg were in front twice against Hannover, but were pegged back on both occasions. Marcell Jansen and Eljero Elia combined for the former to put HSV ahead on 15 minutes, but Didier Ya Konan headed in an equaliser within ten minutes. Jansen returned the favour to Elia a minute before the break, his free-kick met by the Dutchman's forehead to restore the advantage, but substitute defender Tomas Rincon pulled down Jiri Stajner in the box four minutes from time, the striker picking himself up and sinking the perfect penalty, top right corner. You don't save those.

    Wolfsburg won an entertaining game against Hoffenheim, coming from behind after Vedad Ibisevic put the Villagers ahead halfway through the first half. Zvejzdan Misimovic equalised seven minutes after the break, further enhancing his reputation in the week he's been linked with Arsenal, and five minutes later, Grafite, restored to the starting line-up, combined with Edin Dzeko for the winner. Mainz are right on the heels of the leading group after another win, just by a single goal from Elkin Soto, his first in the Bundesliga, albeit with the help of a deflection.

    Gladbach and Stuttgart remain in trouble after their goalless draw, Bochum went down again, Stefan Reisinger's stoppage time winner stealing the points for Freiburg, and Hertha lost yet again and remain bottom, Milivoje Novakovic's late header taking all three priceless points for Cologne. Hertha can point to a bit of bad luck as they struck the woodwork on a number of occasions, had several other shots wander inches wide of the post and had a stick-on penalty denied them. They now find themselves six points away from safety already.

    Top two forge ahead: Eredivisie reviews

    Groningen 4-1 Heracles
    Vitesse 2-0 VVV Venlo
    Sparta 1-2 Roda
    NEC 0-1 Waalwijk
    NAC 4-0 Willem II
    Den Haag 1-5 PSV
    AZ 1-1 Feyenoord
    Utrecht 2-3 Heerenveen
    Twente 1-0 Ajax

    PSV and Twente have opened up a bit of a gap back to the rest after both won at the weekend. The Eindhoveners went top for all of two hours on Sunday after an Ola Toivonen-inspired demolition job on Den Haag. The 23-year old Swede struck four times past ADO who finished with nine men in a game interrupted for 25 minutes when the referee called a halt to proceedings shortly after sending off Lex Immers due to some utterly vile chanting aimed at him. By that time, PSV were already 4-0 up through Toivonen's first-half hat-trick - an object lesson in being in the right place at the right time - and Otman Bakkal who volleyed in early in the second half. Ricky van den Bergh had already been sent off and Immers followed only for the referee to intervene. When play resumed, Karim Soltani pulled one back, but Toivonen nodded in his fourth two minutes later. An entertaining clash in Enschede was settled by Bryan Ruiz's header early in the second half as Ajax failed to truly test Sander Boschker in the Twente goal. Steve McClaren's side are looking very good to at least match, if not better, last season's second place finish.

    There's a four-point gap back to Ajax from PSV and then a further five points to fourth placed Feyenoord who drew with champions AZ on Sunday. The Rotterdammers dominated the first half, but only had Sekou Cissé's fifth-minute goal, tucked neatly through the legs of Sergio Romero, to show for it. And they paid for their profligacy when Brett Holman slammed in a cracking shot from 20 yards out ten minutes into the second half. Utrecht have been dropped by the leaders after they were surprisingly beaten at home by struggling Heerenveen. Viktor Elm and two from Michal Papadopoulos put the Friesians three up with twelve minutes to go and they almost blew it. Tim Cornelisse pulled one back nine minutes from the end and Jacob Mulenga another in the last minute, but Heerenveen were just about able to hang on.

    Waalwijk won for just the second time this season as they rolled over NEC who are now in trouble. Derk Boerrigter got the goal just after the half hour and they hung on, uncharacteristically, despite Hans Mulder being sent off ten minutes from time. VVV Venlo join NEC in the bottom three after defeat on Saturday, Dalibor Stevanovic and Claudemir helping Vitesse to a 2-0 win. Heracles and Sparta's recent good form came to an abrupt end as both lost. Heracles went in front against Groningen on Friday night, Bas Dost striking on 15 minutes, but the previously hapless Groningen turned it round in grand style. Leandro Bacuna equalised within four minutes and Andreas Granqvist added a penalty just before the break. Tim Matavz added two more in the second to end a miserable run for the Northerners. Sparta went down at home to Roda, Blodiszar Bodor with the winner after Rydell Popeon's penalty cancelled out Mads Junker's opener and Willem II also went down hard, beaten 4-0 in Breda. All four went in before the interval, Kurt Elshot, Kees Kwakman, Matthew Amoah and Leonardo blowing the Tilburgers off the park.

    Friday, 6 November 2009

    Ligue 1 round 12

    PSG v Nice
    Valenciennes v Montpellier
    Le Mans v Auxerre
    Nancy v St Etienne
    Monaco v Grenoble
    Lorient v Boulogne
    Sochaux v Lens
    Lille v Bordeaux
    Toulouse v Rennes
    Lyon v Marseille

    Top game is the Sunday night match at the Stade Gerland where Marseille make the trip to Lyon. Marseille still have that game in hand, so their position in seventh is a little false while Lyon are very much in second. Worries about recent form were partly quelled by the draw with Liverpool in midweek, but problems at centre half continue with Jeremy Toulalan still deployed there rather than in midfield. There'll be no Miralem Pjanic, Francois Clerc or Anthony Reveillere as well. Marseille put six away in the Champions League and approach this in good form. It could be a tough night for OL. Bordeaux go to Lille in what looks a straightforward fixture for the champions, but not as straightforward as Monaco's trip to The Worst Team In Europe™. That'll be Grenoble then. It's an important phase of the competition for Montpellier in terms of trying to prove their early season form wasn't just a blip. A trip to Valenciennes will test their mettle.

    Auxerre are going well, unlike their opponents this week, Le Mans. In a similar vein, Sochaux welcome Lens to the Stade Bonal. There are some interesting mid-table clashes, none moreso than Rennes's trip to Toulouse. PSG have a visit from Nice, Boulogne go to Lorient and Nancy take on St Etienne in the remaining games.

    Bundesliga round 12

    Leverkusen v Eintracht
    Mainz v Nurnberg
    Bayern v Schalke
    Monchengladbach v Stuttgart
    Bochum v Freiburg
    Hoffenheim v Wolfsburg
    Hannover v Hamburg
    Bremen v Dortmund
    Hertha v Cologne

    Top game this week sees Bayern host Schalke. Bayern is not a happy club at the moment, two hapless showings against Bordeaux all but knocking them out of the Champions League while Schalke have been doing remarkably well considering the off-field turmoil the club is in. Felix Magath has an amazing ability to insulate his players from such matters, perhaps drawing on experience of being his own chief executive and sporting director while at Wolfsburg. There's still no Franck Ribéry available to Louis van Gaal, but Arjen Robben is in line for a start having come off the bench in midweek.

    While tension will be high in Munich, for entertainment you need to be at the Rhein-Neckar Arena in Hoffenheim where the champions are in town. Dietmar Hopp, owner of the Villagers, has targeted European football next season in order to hang onto his top players and they've been going well of late. Wolfsburg's form is patchier, but a good win in the Champions League shows what they're capable of. Zvejzdan Misimovic in particular is in top nick at the moment and Grafite has a job on to get his place back from Obafemi Martins. This should be a great game with plenty of goals. Bremen welcome Dortmund to the Weserstadion in what looks another exciting game and the other front-runners have winnable games, Leverkusen in the Friday game against Eintracht and Hamburg away to Hannover.

    Hertha won a game in midweek! No, really. Mind, it was against the frankly awful Heerenveen and they take on another rubbish team this week when Cologne go to the capital. Bochum against Freiburg looks apt in the days following Halloween, as does Gladbach against Stuttgart. Nurnberg are still in trouble and Mainz won't be giving any favours away.

    Eredivisie round 13

    Groningen v Heracles
    Vitesse v VVV Venlo
    Sparta v Roda
    NEC v Waalwijk
    NAC v Willem II
    Den Haag v PSV
    AZ v Feyenoord
    Utrecht v Heerenveen
    Twente v Ajax

    Some tasty games in the Eredivisie this week, none moreso than at the Arke Stadion in Enschede where free-scoring Ajax are the visitors. Both sides were European winners in midweek. So what wins out, Ajax flamboyance or Twente's pragmatism? Your current correspondent, being a Tukker, will always plump for the latter, but it really does promise a clash of styles and, as any boxing fan will tell you, styles make fights. It's inconceivable to think that Ajax won't score and that Luis Suarez won't get at least one himself, but it's even harder to see them keeping a clean sheet. With Miroslav Stoch and Bryan Ruiz in ridiculously good form, Twente have every chance and, if the person writing this was a betting man, the farm would be on a home win.

    AZ are starting to pull things together despite their utter dismantling by Arsenal in the Champions League - Arsenal in that mood can destroy pretty well anybody - and welcome Feyenoord to the Almaarderhout. It's a pivotal game for both sides. If Feyenoord lose it, then they lose touch with the leaders. AZ's issues are well-documented, but they're still capable. PSV go to Den Haag, never an easy trip and Utrecht should be more than capable of getting back in the horse at home to Heerenveen who are so bad that even Hertha beat them in midweek.

    Heracles's European push continues at the Euroborg in Groningen and revitalised Sparta are at home to Roda JC. NEC have been doing it tough, but will score a morale-boosting win over Waalwijk, VVV Venlo look good for the points in Arnhem and NAC v Willem II gets the prize for least inspiring game of the week.

    Tuesday, 3 November 2009

    Liga Sagres Round 9: Braga move clear

    Porto 1 - 1 Belenenses
    Naval 1º de Maio 1 - 0 Leixões
    Sporting Braga 2 - 0 Benfica
    Paços de Ferreira 0 - 1 União de Leiria
    Olhanense 0 - 1 Rio Ave
    Nacional 2 - 1 Vitória Setúbal
    Sporting Lisbon 1 - 1 Marítimo
    Académica 2 - 0 Vitória Guimarães

    Oh how excited their supporters are now. It was not so very long ago that Sporting Braga fans were bemoaning the loss of coach Jorge Jesus to Benfica last summer, and yet Domingos Paciência has stepped into the hot seat and delivered 8 wins in 9 matches - including this weekend's victory in the battle of the top 2 and by far the best sides in the league so far. Hugo Viana gave the hosts an early lead, which was doubled 12 minutes from time by Brazilian striker Paulo Cesar. Benfica's army of South American stars could find no way through the Braga rearguard even after Andre Leone received his marching orders on the stroke of half time. Braga are now the only unbeaten team in the Liga Sagres and sit three points clear at the top.

    Porto missed out on the chance to close the gap on O Glorioso after they were held at home by Belenenses; After Lima had given the visitors the lead, Ernesto Farias rescued a point but the 31,000 crowd at the Dragao were far from impressed and for probably the first time in his regime Jesualdo Ferreira is feeling the pressure. Ironically, things in the Champions League are going fine for him but his side just can't click domestically, where they lack the dominance in midfield they had with Lucho Gonzalez and the predatory threat up front of Lisandro Lopez, although Falcao has impressed thus far with 7 goals.

    Of course, it could be worse, you could be Paolo Bento, who is also feeling the heat from home fans after his side picked up their third consecutive draw at home to Maritimo. Sitting improbably in fourth are Rio Ave, after they won at Olhanense through an early Joao Tomas strike. Nacional sit just below them on goal difference after they beat Vitoria Setubal thanks to an Anselmo Goncalves winner. Setubal have conceded 18 goals already this season and have a defence dodgier than an Afghani election. Elsewhere there were wins for Naval, Leiria and Academica, who remain bottom despite picking up their first victory of the campaign.

    Monday, 2 November 2009

    Serie A Round 11: Inter extend lead

    Cagliari 3-0 Atalanta
    Chievo 1-1 Udinese
    Fiorentina 3 -1 Catania
    Livorno 0 -2 Inter Milan
    Palermo 0-0 Genoa
    Roma 2-1 Bologna
    Sampdoria 0-0 Bari
    Siena 1 -1 Lazio
    AC Milan 2-0 Parma
    Juventus 2-3 Napoli

    This one isn't over already, is it? 11 games in and Inter already have a seven point lead after both Juventus and Sampdoria stumbled at the weekend. Jose Mourinho's men were far from brilliant away at Livorno but they didn't have to be; Milito and Maicon scored in the second half to beat the third-bottom hosts. Juventus lost arguably the match of the weekend; Surrendering a two-goal lead through Trezeguet and Sebastian Giovinco, as a Marek Hamsik double sandwiching a Datolo strike won the match for Walter Mazzari's men, who are recovering their best form as each week under the new coach goes by.

    Sampdoria were held at home, to the surprise of a fair few observers, by Bari, who have drawn 6 of their first 11 matches back in the top division. Also goalless was Palermo's match with Genoa - The Grifone dropping out of the top six as a result. AC Milan moved up to fourth thanks to two goals against Parma for Serie A's forgotten hitman, Marco Borriello. Yeah - remember him? One striker in form is Cagliari's Brazilian Nene, who grabbed a brace in their home victory over Atalanta, a jekyll-and-hyde team if ever there was one. Also scoring twice was Marco Marchionni, as Fiorentina brushed aside second-bottom Catania. Siena's new manager Marco Baroni watched his new charges draw at home to Lazio; Roma recovered from a goal down to defeat Bologna at home through strikes from Vucinic and Perotta, ending a run of three straight defeats; Chievo and Udinese shared the points at the Bentegodi with Mario Yepes's second half score cancelling out Antonio Floro Flores's opener.

    La Liga Round 9: Barca slip up

    Deportivo La Coruna 1-1 Sporting Gijon
    Espanyol 1-1 Valladolid
    Malaga 0-1 Valencia
    Mallorca 1-0 Racing Santander
    Real Zaragoza 2-1 Almeria
    Villarreal 5-0 Tenerife
    Athletic Bilbao 1-0 Atletico Madrid
    Osasuna 1-1 Barcelona
    Real Madrid 2 -0 Getafe
    Xerez 0-2 Sevilla

    So they are fallible after all. After losing to Rubin Kazan a couple of weeks ago, another chink in Pep Guardiola's previously invincible side was found by Osasuna. Seydou Keita had given the Catalan visitors the lead, only for Gerard Pique to score in his own net after Rafa Marquez (liability alert) had given the ball away carelessly. Real Madrid gratefully accepted this opening as two Gonzalo Higuain goals in three minutes gave them a relatively convincing victory over Getafe. Honestly, I don't know why Higuain doesn't start more for El Real - he's clearly good enough. But then, this is Real Madrid, the club who people are talking about this week for wanting to sack Manuel Pellegrini. Its not such an absurd suggestion - people have been fired at the Bernabau for less - and if they beat AC Milan this week he's probably safe for now.

    Sevilla stayed a point ahead of Valencia in third position after a less than convincing victory at second-bottom Xerex. Alvaro Negredo scored a great goal and Luis Fabiano added some gloss; Sevilla look a strong side this year. Perotti and Navas on the wings look brilliant, and they're going great guns in the Champions League (not a tough group, mind). Valencia stay fourth after their victory over Malaga, who stay bottom with a worrying return of just four points. The ongoing, and highly amusing, catastrophe at Atletico Madrid continues inspite of the managerial change; Quique Sanchez Flores watched his side showcase their general incompetence this week at Athletic Bilbao, who ended their run of five matches without a win thanks to a first half goal from long-standing Rafa Benitez target Javi Martinez.

    Elsewhere, Mallorca leapfrogged Deportivo into fifth after the former beat relegation certainties Racing and the latter was held at home by Sporting Gijon (who took 6000 fans along the coast to the Riazor - a top effort). Its four defeats in five for Tenerife who were on the receiving end of a thumping from a rampant Villarreal, who look finally to have turned the corner recording their second straight league win with goals from Giuseppe Rossi, Llorente, Cani and Pires. Things aren't entirely rosy though; if Santi Cazorla's back injury is as bad as feared, Ernesto Valverde's job will be made considerably harder. Espanyol and Valladolid drew and Zaragoza edged a tight game at home to Almeria.

    Gomis returns to haunt Les Verts: Ligue 1 reviews

    Marseille 1-1 Toulouse
    Boulogne 1-2 Nancy
    Bordeaux 1-0 Monaco
    Auxerre 2-1 Montpellier
    Lens 1-1 Lorient
    Grenoble 0-2 Lille
    St Etienne 0-1 Lyon
    Nice 1-0 Le Mans
    Rennes 0-3 Valenciennes
    Sochaux 1-4 PSG

    It was written in the stars really. Bafetimbi Gomis got the rounds of the kitchen from the Goeffroy-Guichard crowd when he came off the bench in the second half, but he was on the spot when Jeremie Janot spilled a corner at his feet ten minutes from time. Did Gomis have the humanity not to celebrate? Of course not. That lifts OL back to second, but Bordeaux continue to lead after a 1-0 win of their own, over fellow challengers Monaco. Marc Planus gave Girondins the win, stabbing in from all of a foot out. Montpellier and Auxerre come next, the two sides moving in opposite directions and no prizes for guessing who the man was in the game between the two sides on Saturday. You can't leave a man like Ireneusz Jelen unmarked six yards out, but the Montpellier defence did and paid the price on the quarter hour and they repeated the trick fifteen minutes later. MHSC did have chances, but found goalkeeper and woodwork equally immovable and their last real chance went when Alberto Costa picked up his second yellow quarter of an hour from time even though they did get one back three minutes into stoppage time off the head of Nenad Dzodic.

    I'm sure the town of Grenoble has plenty going for it, the skiing for one. The football team however... They lost again this week, beaten in equal measure by Lille and themselves. Yohan Cabaye put Lille in front with a well-crafted goal before Grenoble self-destructed on the stroke of half-time, David Jemmali coming up with a potential ankle-breaker on Pierre-Alain Frau. The only surprise then was that it took until the last minute for Lille to put the game to bed, Gervinho waltzing through the defence and finishing in style. Grenoble are on the brink of being record-breakingly bad and it'd now feel something like a shame if they don't become so.

    Lens picked up a valuable point as they look to halt their slide. Eduardo dos Santos equalised after Franco Sosa had put Lorient in front just before the break. Boulogne lost to ten-man Nancy. Jordan Loties was dismissed with the scores at 1-1, Issiar Dia having put Nancy in front and Alexandre Cuvillier equalising. Youssouf Hadji, as so often, came up with a winner for Les Chardons. Nice picked up a rare win over ten-man Le Mans. Antonio Géder was sent off after fifteen minutes and Ismael Gace got the goal that won the match five minutes from the break. Rennes were put to the sword by Valenciennes for whom Bobo Balde opened the scoring early in the second half. Fahid Ben Khalfallah and Gregory Pujol wrapped it up. PSG recovered from their swine flu setback with a big win over Sochaux. Jeremy Clément pounced on the rebound from Mevlut Erding's saved penalty for the first, Clément Chantome added the second before Erding finally got on the scoresheet. Stephane Dalmat pulled one back late on, but there was still time for Pegguy Luyindula to make it four for the fit-again Parisians. Marseille could only draw on their return to action against a Toulouse side that played 82 minutes a man short after Yoann Pelé was sent off just eight minutes into the game. And yet Les Violets were ahead twenty minutes later through Moussa Sissoko. They couldn't hold out though and Brandao eventually broke the resistance quarter of an hour from time.

    Leaders stumble, but get away with it: Bundesliga reviews

    Dortmund 2-0 Hertha
    Stuttgart 0-0 Bayern
    Hamburg 2-3 Monchengladbach
    Nurnberg 2-2 Bremen
    Cologne 0-1 Hannover
    Wolfsburg 3-3 Mainz
    Schalke 2-2 Leverkusen
    Freiburg 0-1 Hoffenheim
    Eintracht 2-1 Bochum

    Hamburg lost while Leverkusen and Schalke drew with one another, but none of the other clubs could take advantage with draws very much the order of the day. Indeed, the big winners of the weekend were Hoffenheim whose win over Freiburg sees them up to fifth, just three points off the summit. Maicosuel's weighted, curling shot from the edge of the box just before the break was enough for the win. Schalke drew in similar circumstances to the previous week's point against Hamburg. Leverkusen ran into a two-goal lead through Toni Kroos, lovely drive from 20 yards, and an athletic header from Stefan Kiessling. Schalke left it late, Kevin Kuranyi smuggling one through a crowd in the goalmouth seven minutes from time and the comeback was completed with 88 minutes on the clock by Vicente Sanchez, beating Rene Adler to the ball and heading in. If the keeper had stayed on his line, he probably makes the save and Leverkusen win. He didn't. They didn't. Neither did Hamburg, beaten at home by Gladbach despite leading twice. Pitor Trochowski put Bruno Labbadia's side ahead on the quarter hour, but they'd turn round level as Marco Reus used his pace and delicate touch to outstrip the defence and lift it over Frank Rost. Ze Roberto restored the lead with a scorching free-kick, but Danté squared it up with a header from a corner quarter of an hour from time. Eight minutes from time, Rob Friend slid in for the winner.

    Bremen were best placed to take advantage of the slips by the top two, but they too were held to a draw. It needed some late, late Aaron Hunt intervention to even get that after Nurnberg took a two-goal half-time lead. A defensive mix-up let Christian Eigler in for the first three minutes into the contest and Albert Bunjaku's header was ruled, correctly, to have crossed the line before being cleared. A combination of Hunt's head and shoulder propelled the ball into the goal 18 minutes from time for 2-1 and he squared it up in style two minutes into stoppages, chesting it down and volleying in one flowing move. Bayern couldn't find a way past Stuttgart, Mario Gomez coming as close as anybody while Wolfsburg were also held, at home to improving Mainz. Obafemi Martins, starting in place of the droppped Grafite, put the champions two up inside 20 minutes, heading the first in off Zvjezdan Misimovic's cross and linking up with Edin Dzeko for the second. It'd be level at half-time, Chadlj Amri given the freedom of the Wolves' penalty area before firing the first in and a wonderful free-kick from Andreas Ivanschitz levelling things up. Misimovic put Wolfsburg back in front, but Tim Hoogland was found with a great ball five minutes from the end and he poked past Diego Benaglio to split the points.

    Hertha lost again. Dortmund were the beneficiaries of their generosity this week, Nuri Sahin hitting a penalty and Lucas Barrios making the game safe in the last minute leaving Hertha five points off safety already. Bochum are deep in it as well after defeat to Eintracht for whom Maik Franz scored at both ends. Caio opened the scoring with a vicious, swerving and dipping free-kick from half a mile out before Franz's own goal, a horrible, sliced attempt at a clearance. He made amends after the break, heading in at the right end from a corner. The relief was palpable with the lad almost in tears and generously responding to the crowd's support. With time and patience running out, Shinji Ono went all Jackie Chan with a couple of rash challenges. Both drew yellow cards and the Japanese international was duly sent off. Cologne are also not doing well and lost again. Goal shy in front of their own fans, they again drew a blank at the RheinEnergieStadion meaning Jan Rosenthal's effort on the half hour was enough to signal defeat.

    Feyenoord thrashed in Classic: Eredivisie reviews

    VVV Venlo 1-1 NAC
    Heerenveen 3-0 Den Haag
    PSV 1-0 Vitesse
    Roda 1-2 Twente
    Groningen 0-1 AZ
    Ajax 5-1 Feyenoord
    Waalwijk 0-1 Willem II
    Heracles 3-1 Utrecht
    Sparta 2-0 NEC

    Feyenoord were blown away by Ajax on Sunday at the Amsterdam ArenA in the most one-sided Classic for many a year. Ajax were all over their big rivals from the off and the only surprise was that it took until three minutes before the break for them to go ahead. Demy de Zeeuw was the unlikely source of the opener, making good ground to a looping ball which he stuck through the legs of Rob van Dijk. A minute later, Feyenoord were down to ten as Stefan Babovic smacked Jan Vertonghen across the nose with his elbow, the only controversy being that Luis Suarez got away with a similar challenge on Babovic moments earlier. With the man advantage, Ajax cut loose. Urby Emanuelson scored a stunner from a tight angle just after the break, and Gregory van der Wiel's great run and one-two with Marko Pantelic made it three. Denny Landzaat's delicate chip pulled one back, but De Zeeuw's second restored the advantage. Feyenoord finished with nine, van Dijk sent off in the last minute for pulling down Suarez and the Uruguayan sank the penalty. Ajax remain third, but with a gap growing back to Feyenoord who stay fourth.

    The top two remain unchanged after both scored single-goal victories on Saturday. PSV weren't at their rampaging best against Vitesse and it was Balazs Dzsudzsak who pounced on a defensive error to settle the match. Twente were cruising at half-time in Kerkrade as Bryan Ruiz and Miroslav Stoch gave them a two-goal lead. Ruiz finished from a tight angle while Stoch needed a deflection to loop the ball over the keeper and in. Some rare lax defending allowed Jeanvion Yulu-Matondo to pull one back early in the second half, but the Tukkers held off a determined Roda side to remain top by two points.

    Heracles dragged themselves close to Utrecht by beating them in Almelo after coming from behind. Michael Silberbauer put Utrecht ahead with a free header at the back post from a free-kick, but Heracles turned round ahead thanks to Willy Overtoom who finished from 20 yards after some lovely build-up play and Everton who headed home from point blank range. More silky build-up led to the third and decisive goal, nice little triangles up the left, put in by Darl Douglas as Utrecht failed to clear. AZ left it late to beat Groningen, Jeremain Lens eventually giving the champions the win with a free header five minutes from time. NAC held out for a point in the Friday game despite going down to nine men against VVV. Robbert Schilder was off for a second yellow as early as the 18th minute and Frank van Kouwen gave VVV the half-time lead. Leonardo squared it up for European hopefuls NAC, but they were forced to cling on at the end after Tim Gilissen saw red seven minutes from the end. Sparta's great run continues and they now look in decent order. Erik Falkenburg is in good form and was involved in both goals. He scored the first just before the break, some comic attempts at clearances landing the ball at his feet 12 yards out and he slammed it home. On the hour, another Falkenburg shot took an almighty deflection off Ramon Zomer to the degree that it needs to go down as an own goal. Only a charlatan would claim it as Falkenburg's.

    Waalwijk. Another week, another defeat. This time to Willem II, the only goal coming from Christophe Gregoire who initially had his penalty saved, but the rebound fell kindly and he made no mistake at the second attempt. RKC finished with ten after Benjamin de Cuellar was sent off for an ugly, two-footed challenge. Heerenveen pull themselves out of the bottom three with a rousing 3-0 win over ten-man Den Haag. Roy Beerens put the Friesians ahead on 20 minutes and ADO were reduced a man just on the stroke of half-time, Pascal Bosschaart picking up a second yellow. Michal Papadopoulos bagged two after the break to seal the win.