• Monday, 17 May 2010

    Nurnberg survive play-off

    The final Bundesliga table sent Nurnberg to the last-chance saloon that is the relegation play-off with Augsburg with the hope of retaining Bundesliga status for next season. Last Thursday, a late Christian Eigler goal gave Nurnberg a 1-0 lead from their home leg to take and, half an hour into the second leg, Ilkayi Gundogan doubled the lead. Augbsburg's hopes took a nosedive when Ibrahima Traore was sent off and Eric Choupo-Moting struck a second - third overall - from the penalty spot.

    Utrecht make it to Europe, Sparta relegated

    Leading 2-0 from the first leg of the Europa League play-offs, Utrecht battered Roda JC to make it to Europe. Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Jacob Mulenga both got two either side of Davy de Fauw's red card. Mads Junker did get one for Roda in between van Wolfswinkel's strikes, but they were hopelessly outplayed and Utrecht completed a 6-1 aggregate win, good reward for a solid season.

    In the relegation/promotion play-offs, Willem II retained their Eredivisie status but Sparta are relegated. The first legs were last Thursday where Sparta were held 0-0 by Excelsior and Go Ahead Eagles took a 1-0 lead against the Tilburgers. Franck Demouge levelled the tie up midway through the first half of the second leg on Sunday and so it remained at full-time, necessitating extra time during which Mehmet Akgun struck twice to save Willem II's top flight status. After that goalless first leg, the second at Het Kasteel looked destined to go the same way until Rydell Poepon grabbed what looked like a winner in second half stoppage time. The celebrations were cut short as Excelsior went straight up the other end and Guyon Fernandez silenced the crowd with an immediate reply which send Excelsior to the Eredivisie on away goals.

    Blanc quits Bordeaux with a loss: Ligue 1 reviews

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

    Football's worst kept secret - that Laurent Blanc would succeed Raymond Domenech as coach of Les Bleus after the World Cup - was confirmed as being true after Bordeaux's Ligue 1 campaign came to an end on Saturday night. It sums up the season Les Girondins have had that it came in a seven goal thriller with three penalties, an own goal and an early sending off. Michael Ciani was the recipient of that red card in just the sixth minute as he went over the top of the ball in a challenge on Issam Jemaa. It took quarter of an hour for Lens to take advantage when Toifilou Maoulida headed in. Samba Sow made it two, but Wendel slammed in a penalty just before the break to pull one back after Henri Bedimo pulled Marouane Chamakh down in the box. And it was level shortly after the restart, Bedimo's afternoon getting no better as he turned in Wendel's free-kick. Jemaa restored the lead from the penalty spot and Maoulida added a fourth just after the hour. Wendel's second penalty ten minutes from time made for a grandstand finish, but Lens held out.

    That means Bordeaux don't make it to Europe at all with Montpellier's fifth-placed finish enough to get them a Europa League spot given cup final results. They secured this with a 3-1 win over PSG (also in the Europa League thanks to their Coupe de France win) with Geoffrey Dernis getting two to close out a great year for the side promoted twelve months ago. Lille join them in the Europa League after finishing fourth, slipping from the Champions League places as they went down to Lorient. Ricardo Costa put Lille ahead, but Kevin Gameiro equalised before the break. Yohan Cabaye missed a penalty which would have put Lille back in charge and Yann Jouffre made them pay in the second half.

    Cedric Hengbart got two for Auxerre as they beat ten-man Sochaux, his second coming in stoppage time to claim third place and Champions League football. Lyon were comfortable against Le Mans in winning 2-0, Bafetimbi Gomis and Miralem Pjanic ensuring second place and a Champions League group stage place. Marseille closed out their championship with a 2-0 win over Grenoble, Mamadou Niang and Hatem Ben Arfa on target as the party began at the Vélodrome.

    Boulogne were relegated ages ago, but did manage to end with a win, Gregory Thil with an early penalty to beat Rennes. Toulouse and Monaco ended goalless and there were 1-1 draws for Nancy and Valenciennes - Youssouf Hadji with Nancy's goal and a late red card on an eventful evening for the Moroccan - and for Nice and St Etienne.

    And that's your lot for Ligue 1 this season which just leaves our Ligue 1 team of the season, in a 4-4-2 style:
    Hugo Lloris (Lyon); Cedric Hengbart (Auxerre), Souleymane Diawara (Marseille), Adama Coulibaly (Auxerre), Taye Taiwo (Marseille); Yohan Cabaye (Lille), Miralem Pjanic (Lyon), Wendel (Bordeaux), Eden Hazard (Lille); Mamadou Niang (Marseille), Lisandro Lopez (Lyon).
    Mentions for: Steve Mandanda, Lucho Gonzalez, Hatem Ben Arfa (all Marseille), Gervinho, Pierre-Alain Frau (both Lille), Victor Montano (Montpellier), Park Chu-Young (Monaco).

    Friday, 14 May 2010

    Ligue 1 round 38

    Lyon 3-0 Monaco

    Ahead of the final round of fixtures, Lyon and Monaco had one game to catch up on and Lyon won it comfortably to move into third and the Champions League places. Miralem Pjanic put them ahead in the first half and Bafetimbi Gomis made it two three minutes into the second. Lisandro Lopez sealed it with a third late on, but it could have been a lot more were it not for the heroics of Stephane Ruffier in the Monaco goal.

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

    So to the final round and the major things are wrapped up already. We know Marseille are champions and they take on bottom placed Grenoble. That should be a cakewalk for OM as they celebrate the championship in front of their own fans. Le Mans and Boulogne are joining Grenoble down in Ligue 2 next season, but, while Boulogne finish at home to Rennes, Le Mans will be involved in one of the few remaining battles on final day. They take on Lyon, desperate for a return to the Champions League which was so kind to them this season. It's hard to see Le Mans upsetting Les Gones which throws the onus back onto Lille. They sit second at the moment, but could miss out altogether should they fail to bit Lorient and Auxerre beat Sochaux. Montpellier can still make it, but need results to go their way in a big style given their relatively poor goal difference. The Europa League is a more realistic target, but they'll still need to beat PSG in the capital to get there.

    Everyone else is jockeying for position and the prize money associated with a superior finishing position. Bordeaux can't even make Europe now and finish aganist Lens. Nice and St Etienne have been battling each other all season long in their desperate bids to stay up. Both were successful, eventually, and they end squaring up to each other. Valenciennes go to Nancy and Toulouse end a disappointing campaign at home to Monaco, equally underachieving this season.

    Coming up from Ligue 2 are Caen, making an immediate return, and Brest, while the third promotion place is a straight fight between Arles and Metz. Arles hold the place by a point, so Metz need to better Arles' result. Metz take on 16th-placed Vannes while Arles are at home to fifth-placed Clermont.

    Thursday, 13 May 2010

    World Cup round-up

    We've highlighted the squads from the nations whose leagues we cover here on Euroballs, plus our team for the tournament, Slovenia. Now let's have a look at the other European nations making the trek down to South Africa in just under a month's time.


    Otto Rehhagel names Christos Patsatzoglou and Giorgos Seitaridis despite them both missing huge chunks of the campaign with injury. Ten players make the cut from Panathinaikos and there are nine players based overseas including Celtic striker Giorgos Samaras and Hertha's Theofanis Gekas who got ten goals in qualifying. The team's preparations continue in the wonderfully named Swiss town of Bad Ragaz. Great band. Got all their albums.

    Goalkeepers: Michalis Sifakis (Aris Salonika), Alexandros Tzorvas (Panathinaikos), Kostas Chalkias (PAOK Salonika)

    Defenders: Giorgos Seitaridis (Panathinaikos), Loukas Vintra (Panathinaikos), Evangelos Moras (Bologna), Socrates Papastathopoulos (Genoa), Sotiris Kyrgiakos (Liverpool), Avraam Papadopoulos (Olympiakos), Vasilis Torosidis (Olympiakos), Nikos Spiropoulos (Panathinaikos), Stelios Malezas (PAOK Salonika), Giorgos Tzavellas (Panionios), Kostas Manolas (AEK Athens), Giorgos Galitsios (Olympiakos), Stergos Marinos (Panathinaikos)

    Midfielders: Kostas Katsouranis (Panathinaikos), Alexandros Tziolis (Siena), Giorgos Karagounis (Panathinaikos), Sotiris Ninis (Panathinaikos), Christos Patsatzoglou (Omonia), Grigoris Makos (AEK Athens), Sakis Prittas (Aris Salonika), Lazaros Christodoulopoulos (Panathinaikos);

    Forwards: Angelos Charisteas (Nurnberg), Dimitris Salpigidis (Panathinaikos), Pantelis Kapetanos (Steaua Bucharest), Theofanis Gekas (Hertha), Giorgos Samaras (Celtic), Kostas Mitroglou (Olympiakos).


    England boss Fabio Capello has major injury concerns over midfielder Gareth Barry and has opted to go back to the future elsewhere. Jamie Carragher makes a return to international football having previously retired while Paul Scholes has turned down a request to end his international retirement. David Beckham is injured, but will go with the squad in a coaching role while Tottenham's achievement in reaching the Champions League sees six of their players called up. Michael Dawson and Tom Huddlestone are new faces while Ledley King, whose chronic knee problems mean he can't play twice in a week, is also included. It's a risk. Adam Johnson, the exciting young winger Manchester City picked up from Middlesbrough, is also rewarded for a string of eye-catching displays.

    Goalkeepers: Joe Hart (Manchester City), David James (Portsmouth), Robert Green (West Ham)

    Defenders: Leighton Baines (Everton), Jamie Carragher (Liverpool), Ashley Cole (Chelsea), Michael Dawson (Tottenham), Rio Ferdinand (Manchester Utd), Glen Johnson (Liverpool), Ledley King (Tottenham), John Terry (Chelsea), Matthew Upson (West Ham), Stephen Warnock (Aston Villa)

    Midfielders: Gareth Barry (Manchester City), Michael Carrick (Manchester Utd), Joe Cole (Chelsea), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Tom Huddlestone (Tottenham), Adam Johnson (Manchester City), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), Aaron Lennon (Spurs), James Milner (Aston Villa), Scott Parker (West Ham), Theo Walcott (Arsenal), Shaun Wright-Phillips (Manchester City)

    Forwards: Darren Bent (Sunderland), Peter Crouch (Tottenham), Jermain Defoe (Tottenham), Emile Heskey (Aston Villa), Wayne Rooney (Manchester Utd)


    The familiar face of Radi Antic takes Serbia into the World Cup finals and he's named a strong squad. Six English-based players are in, led by the imposing figure of Nemanja Vidic who will partner the in-demand Neven Subotic at centre back. Zoran Tosic, on loan at Cologne from Manchester United for much of the season, is rewarded for his form in the Bundesliga while Ajax's Miralem Sulejmani gets in despite being relegated to the fringes in Amsterdam. His club-mate Marko Pantelic will lead the line alongside the giant Nikola Zigic. Milos Krasic leads a tasty looking midfield.

    Goalkeepers: Vladimir Stojkovic (Wigan), Zeljko Brkic (Vojvodina Novi Sad), Bojan Isailovic (Cukaricki Belgrade), Andjelko Djuricic (Leiria)

    Defenders: Branislav Ivanovic (Chelsea), Antonio Rukavina (1860 Munich), Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United), Neven Subotic (Borussia Dortmund), Aleksandar Lukovic (Udinese), Ivan Obradovic (Zaragoza), Aleksandar Kolarov (Lazio)

    Midfielders: Dejan Stankovic (Internazionale), Nenad Milijas (Wolverhampton), Milos Krasic (CSKA Moscow), Milan Jovanovic (Standard Liege), Milos Ninkovic (Dynamo Kiev), Zdravko Kuzmanovic (Stuttgart), Zoran Tosic (Manchester United), Miralem Sulejmani (Ajax), Gojko Kacar (Hertha), Nemanja Matic (Chelsea), Radosav Petrovic (Partizan Belgrade)

    Forwards: Nikola Zigic (Valencia), Marko Pantelic (Ajax), Danko Lazovic (Zenit St Petersburg), Dragan Mrdja (Vojvodina), Dejan Lekic (Crvena Zvezda).


    The big doubt for Morten Olsen is the fitness or otherwise of keeper Tomas Sorensen who dislocated his elbow playing for Stoke City in the Premier League run-in. Olsen says he's confident that Sorensen will be fit enough, but he has plenty of back-up if needed. Simon Kjaer is very much in-demand and won't hurt his chances of a move with a decent finals and the exciting youngster Christian Eriksen of Ajax lights up a fairly stoic midfield. There's space for veterans too, Jesper Gronkjaer, Dennis Rommedahl and Jon-Dahl Tomasson all included.

    Goalkeepers: Jesper Christiansen (FC Copenhagen), Kim Christensen (IFK Gothenburg), Stephan Andersen (Brondby), Tomas Sorensen (Stoke City)

    Defenders: Daniel Agger (Liverpool), Lars Jacobsen (Blackburn), Patrick Mtiliga (Malaga), Per Kroldrup (Fiorentina), Simon Busk Poulsen (AZ), Simon Kjaer (Palermo), William Kvist (FC Copenhagen)

    Midfielders: Christian Poulsen (Juventus), Christian Eriksen (Ajax), Daniel Jensen (Werder Bremen), Jakob Poulsen (AGF Aarhus), Michael Silberbauer (FC Utrecht), Mikkel Beckmann (Randers), Thomas Enevoldsen (FC Groningen), Thomas Kahlenberg (Wolfsburg), Dennis Rommedahl (Ajax), Jesper Gronkjaer (FC Copenhagen)

    Forwards: Jon Dahl Tomasson (Feyenoord), Martin Jorgensen (AGF Aarhus), Michael Krohn-Dehli (Brondby), Nicklas Bendtner (Arsenal), Soren Larsen (Duisburg).


    Vladimir Weiss takes a punt on injured trio Martin Skrtel, Filip Holosko and Robert Vittek in his initial World Cup squad. Skrtel broke a bone in his foot and hasn't played for three months, Holosko is just making his way back from a broken leg and Vittek has missed much of the latter part of the Turkish season with a knee problem. Holosko and Vittek form half the strikers at Weiss's disposal, so it's crucial they get fit in time. The coach's son, also Vladimir, gets the nod after a successful loan spell at Bolton from his parent club Manchester City. There are some special players in here: Marek Hamsik, Miroslav Stoch and Marek Cech have all had great years. This is a side that will prove tough to beat.

    Goalkeepers: Jan Mucha (Legia Warszava), Dusan Kuciak (Vaslui), Lubos Kamenar (Nantes), Dusan Pernis (Dundee United)

    Defenders: Peter Pekarik (Wolfsburg), Martin Petras (Cesena), Martin Skrtel (Liverpool), Lubomir Michalik (Leeds), Jan Durica (Hannover), Radoslav Zabavnik (Mainz), Marek Cech (West Brom), Tomas Lubocan (Zenit St Petersburg), Kornel Salate (Slovan Bratislava)

    Midfielders: Kamil Kopunek (Spartak Trnava), Jan Kozak (Timisoara), Juraj Kucka (Sparta Praha), Miroslav Karhan (Mainz), Marek Sapara (Ankaragucu), Mario Pecalka (Zilina), Stanislav Sestak (Bochum), Marek Hamsik (Napoli), Vladimir Weiss (Manchester City), Miroslav Stoch (Chelsea), Dusan Svento (Salzburg), Zdeno Strba (Xanthi)

    Forwards: Erik Jendrisek (Schalke), Robert Vittek (Ankaragucu), Martin Jakubko (Saturn Moscow), Filip Holosko (Besiktas)


    Ottmar Hitzfeld includes Philippe Senderos despite him having indifferent times while out on loan at Milan and Everton over the last couple of years, but there's no place for fellow Gunner Johann Djourou, just back after eight months out with a knee injury. It's largely the group of players that guided Switzerland through qualification, but 18-year old Kosovo-born winger Xherdan Shaqiri gets a surprise nod. Blaise N'Kufo leads the line in what will surely be his last tournament, the 36-year old is due to link up with Seattle Sounders after the tournament. The supply will largely come from Tranquillo Barnetta while Diego Benaglio will be among the top goalkeepers at the finals.

    Goalkeepers: Diego Benaglio (Wolfsburg), Johnny Leoni (Zurich), Marco Wolfli (Young Boys).

    Defenders: Mario Eggimann (Hannover), Stephane Grichting (Auxerre), Stephan Lichtsteiner (Lazio), Philippe Senderos (Arsenal), Christoph Spycher (Eintracht Frankfurt), Steve Von Bergen (Hertha), Reto Ziegler (Sampdoria).

    Midfielders: Tranquillo Barnetta (Leverkusen), Valon Behrami (West Ham), Gelson Fernandes (St Etienne), Benjamin Huggel (Basle), Gokhan Inler (Udinese), Marco Padalino (Sampdoria), Pirmin Schwegler (Eintracht Frankfurt), Xherdan Shaqiri (Basle).

    Forwards: Eren Derdiyok (Leverkusen), Alexander Frei (Basle), Blaise Nkufo (FC Twente), Marco Streller (Basle), Hakan Yakin (Lucerne).

    Kek keeps the faith

    Slovenia boss Matjaz Kek has kept faith with the core of the squad which qualified for just their second World Cup finals. That means no late call-up for Newcastle youngster Harris Vuckic and former skipper Klemen Lavric.

    It's no surprise that the squad is made up from players from all corners of the European footballing world and beyond. The German Bundesliga supplies the main source of goals, Bochum's Zlatko Dedic got the crucial goal which saw them past Russia in the play-offs and Milivoje Novakovic of Cologne will partner him. Tim Matavz, currently with Groningen in the Netherlands, keeps that pair on their toes.

    Robert Koren won promotion to the Premier League in England with West Brom and spearheads the midfield threat while the defence is led by Bostjan Cesar who was relegated from the top flight in France with Grenoble, but shone in a very poor side.

    Given that they were the only side to emerge as non-seeds from the rigged play-offs in UEFA qualifying, Slovenia are the side Euroballs will be backing in South Africa and we've got the betting slip in the office desk drawer to prove it.

    The squad in full:

    Goalkeepers: Samir Handanovic (Udinese, Italy), Jasmin Handanovic (Mantova, Italy), Aleksander Seliga (Sparta Rotterdam, Netherlands), Jan Koprivec (Udinese, Italy)

    Defenders: Bojan Jokic (Chievo, Italy), Marko Suler (Gent, Belgium), Bostjan Cesar (Grenoble, France), Branko Ilic (FC Moscow, Russia), Matej Mavric-Rozic (Koblenz, Germany), Dejan Kelhar (Cercle Brugge, Belgium), Elvedin Dzinic (Maribor, Slovenia), Miso Brecko (Cologne, Germany), Aleksandar Rajcevic (Koper, Slovenia), Suad Filekovic (Maribor, Slovenia)

    Midfielders: Andraz Kirm (Wisła Krakow, Poland), Andrej Komac (Maccabi Tel-Aviv, Israel), Rene Krhin (Internazionale, Italy), Mirnes Sisic (Giannina, Greece), Darjan Matic (Rapid Bucharest, Romania), Dare Vrsic (Koper, Slovenia), Dalibor Stevanovic (Vitesse Arnhem, Netherlands), Robert Koren (West Brom, England), Aleksander Radosavljevic (Larissa, Greece), Valter Birsa (Auxerre, France)

    Forwards: Milivoje Novakovic (Cologne, Germany), Zlatko Dedic (Bochum, Germany), Zlatan Ljubijankic (Gent, Belgium), Nejc Pecnik (Nacional, Portugal), Miran Burgic (AIK Solna, Sweden), Tim Matavz (FC Groningen, Netherlands).

    Del Bosque takes a gamble on injured trio

    Vicente del Bosque named his initial 30-man World Cup squad with injured trio Andres Iniesta, Fernando Torres and Cesc Fabregas included. He wants to give all three the most amount of time possible to prove their fitness and all three are undoubtedly key players for the manager. Xavi Hernandez has been struggling for fitness of late as well, but he's back in the first team fold at Barcelona and is on target to make it.

    Del Bosque names five goalkeepers with Atlético youngster David de Gea battling with Diego Lopez and Victor Valdes to join Iker Casillas and Jose Reina on the plane. Even just getting on the plane will be a minor victory for Sevilla winger Jesus Navas. He suffers from travel anxiety - Dennis Bergkamp Syndrome - but has been undergoing treatment. The only other option may be to slip him a mickey finn.

    Nine forwards are named and competition here is especially fierce. Torres, if fit, and David Villa are the pick, but there's plenty of competition from the likes of Juan Mata, the uncapped Pedro and Fernando Llorente. Llorente's 21-year old club-mate Javi Martinez is named in midfield and there are four overseas-based players, the aforementioned Fabregas, Torres and Reina plus Fenerbahce's Dani Guiza.

    This is a very strong squad. No wonder they're favourites to go all the way. There are very few weak links and quality players like Santi Cazorla, Marcos Senna and David Silva are not guaranteed to make the final cut. If they can leave that standard of player behind, it sends out a clear message.

    The squad in full:

    Goalkeepers: Iker Casillas (Real Madrid), David De Gea (Atletico Madrid), Diego Lopez (Villarreal), Jose Reina (Liverpool) Victor Valdes (Barcelona).

    Defenders: Raul Albiol (Real Madrid), Alvaro Arbeloa (Real Madrid) Cesar Azpilicueta (Osasuna), Joan Capdevila (Villarreal), Carlos Marchena (Valencia), Gerard Pique (Barcelona), Carles Puyol (Barcelona), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid).

    Midfielders: Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid), Sergi Busquets (Barcelona), Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), Javi Martinez (Athletic Bilbao) Marcos Senna (Villarreal), David Silva (Valencia), Xavi (Barcelona).

    Forwards: Santi Cazorla (Villarreal), Jesus Navas (Sevilla), Juan Manuel Mata (Valencia) Pedro Rodriguez (Barcelona), Dani Guiza (Fenerbache) Fernando Llorente (Athletic Bilbao), Alvaro Negredo (Sevilla), Fernando Torres (Liverpool), David Villa (Valencia).

    Few surprises for Queiroz

    Carlos Queiroz named his initial World Cup squad with few surprises. Perhaps the only real shock was the inclusion of dependable defender Pepe who has been out of action at Real Madrid since December due to a knee injury. He was a key man in a difficult qualifying campaign in which the much-fancied Portuguese had to come through the rigged play-offs, seeing off the Bosnian challenge and it's that form that Queiroz will be hoping he can recover quickly.

    There's a trio of Chelsea players, fresh from their Premier League winning campaign, and Simao and Tiago are in after their Europa League win. Braga's best ever Superliga campaign earns them just one player, first choice keeper Eduardo, as do champions Benfica with Fabio Coentrao their only representative. That's perhaps indicative of the fact so many players ply their trade outside Portugal, leaving domestic clubs to rely heavily on imports, mainly from South America.

    Needless to say, the side will largely be built around Cristiano Ronaldo, but in a tough group, they'll need him to be more of a team player than has been the case recently.

    The squad in full:

    Goalkeepers: Beto (Porto), Daniel Fernandes (Iraklis), Eduardo (Braga)

    Defenders: Fabio Coentrao (Benfica), Paulo Ferreira (Chelsea), Ricardo Carvalho (Chelsea), Ze Castro (Deportivo La Coruna), Bruno Alves (Porto), Rolando (Porto), Ricardo Costa (Lille), Duda (Malaga), Pepe (Real Madrid), Miguel (Valencia)

    Midfielders: Tiago (Atlético Madrid), Deco (Chelsea), Raul Meireles (Porto), Nani (Manchester United), Miguel Veloso (Sporting CP), Pedro Mendes (Sporting CP)

    Forwards: Simao Sabrosa (Atlético Madrid), Hugo Almeida (Werder Bremen), Liedson (Sporting CP), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Danny (Zenit St Petersburg).

    Lippi doesn't go for Totti

    Marcello Lippi stuck by his word and gave the first chance to the players who steered the Azzurri through qualification, so there's a glaring omission in the shape of Francesco Totti. He's been superb in Roma's still-alive title challenge, but missed much of the international football since the last World Cup through injury and dips in form. His club-mate Luca Toni also misses out. He'd gone out on loan to Roma in order to refind the touch he lost so spectacularly at Bayern Munich. Alessandro del Piero also misses out despite enjoying a bit of an Indian summer.

    The only overseas-based player in the squad is Villarreal striker Giuseppe Rossi who is included as a seventh striker at the expense of defender Nicolas Legrottaglia. Also up front is Samp star Giampaolo Pazzini, but club-mate Antonio Cassano doesn't make it.

    The squad in full:

    Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Morgan De Sanctis (Napoli), Federico Marchetti (Cagliari), Salvatore Sirigu (Palermo)

    Defenders: Gianluca Zambrotta (AC Milan), Fabio Cannavaro (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Christian Maggio (Napoli), Leonardo Bonucci (Bari), Fabio Grosso (Juventus), Domenico Criscito (Genoa), Mattia Cassani (Palermo), Salvatore Bocchetti (Genoa)

    Midfielders: Andrea Pirlo (Milan), Gennaro Gattuso (Milan), Daniele De Rossi (Roma), Riccardo Montolivo (Fiorentina), Mauro Camoranesi (Juventus), Angelo Palombo (Sampdoria), Antonio Candreva (Juventus), Andrea Cossu (Cagliari), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), Simone Pepe (Udinese)

    Forwards: Fabio Quagliarella (Napoli), Giuseppe Rossi (Villarreal), Vincenzo Iaquinta (Juventus), Antonio Di Natale (Udinese), Marco Borriello (Milan), Alberto Gilardino (Fiorentina), Giampaolo Pazzini (Sampdoria).

    Van Nistelrooy retires after omission

    Bert van Marwijk's initial World Cup squad left out veteran striker Ruud van Nistelrooy and the Hamburg star immediately called time on his international career. Van Nistelrooy made the move to Germany from Real Madrid in order to get goals and push him to the front of Van Marwijk's thinking, but it hasn't worked. Anyone who is omitted in favour of Liverpool misfit Ryan Babel will no doubt have similar thoughts.

    There's no return for Edwin van der Sar and goalkeeping looks well covered by Maarten Stekeleberg, Sander Boschker and Michel Vorm. Gio van Bronckhorst is in, but will retire from international football once the Dutch are no longer involved in South Africa. Edson Braafheid makes the cut despite failing to impress at Bayern before being farmed out to Celtic on loan. He's done enough in Scotland to keep his place.

    Up front looks an area where the Netherlands may struggle. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is in despite once again failing to impress at Milan, Dirk Kuyt's work ethic sees him involved, but the bulk of the firepower comes from Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben.

    The squad in full:

    Goalkeepers: Maarten Stekelenburg (Ajax), Sander Boschker (Twente), Michel Vorm (Utrecht)

    Defenders: Vurnon Anita (Ajax), Khalid Boulahrouz (Stuttgart), Edson Braafheid (Celtic), Giovanni van Bronckhorst (Feyenoord), John Heitinga (Everton), Joris Mathijsen (Hamburg), Ron Vlaar (Feyenoord), Gregory van der Wiel (Ajax), Andre Ooijer (PSV)

    Midfielders: Otman Bakkal (PSV), Mark van Bommel (Bayern), Wout Brama (Twente), Orlando Engelaar (PSV), Nigel de Jong (Manchester City), David Mendes da Silva (AZ), Stijn Schaars (AZ), Wesley Sneijder (Internazionale), Rafael van der Vaart (Real Madrid), Demy de Zeeuw (Ajax), Ibrahim Afellay (PSV)

    Forwards: Dirk Kuyt (Liverpool), Jeremain Lens (AZ), Eljero Elia (Hamburg), Ryan Babel (Liverpool), Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (AC Milan), Robin van Persie (Arsenal), Arjen Robben (Bayern).

    Löw fails to make friends

    You'll never please everyone when putting together a World Cup squad, but Jogi Löw seems to have upset just about everyone. Torsten Frings had first pop, claiming he'd had the decision to retire from international football made for him by the national boss and Dieter Hoeness, the Wolfsburg sporting director, soon jumped in saying he was bewildered by the omission of all his players. Christian Gentner, for one, can be particularly irked as he's been one ray of consistency in a difficult season for Die Wolfe.

    Kevin Kuranyi's return to form has been overlooked in favour of Polish-born goal-shy duo Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski. Goalkeeper has been an area of focus and one-time front runner Rene Adler has, like so many crosses in the back half of the season, been dropped. Manuel Neuer looks first pick while the veteran Hans-Jorg Butt and Bremen's eccentric Tim Wiese provide back-up. Elsewhere, there's a vote of confidence for youth with Mesut Ozil, Marko Marin, Holger Badstuber and Thomas Muller among the new generation. There's experience too with Michael Ballack included - the only member of the squad playing his club football outside Germany - and Brazilian-born Cacau makes the cut after impressing with Stuttgart.

    The squad in full:

    Goalkeepers: Hans-Jorg Butt (Bayern), Manuel Neuer (Schalke), Tim Wiese (Bremen)

    Defenders: Per Mertesacker (Bremen), Heiko Westermann (Schalke), Philipp Lahm (Bayern), Jerome Boateng (Hamburg), Andreas Beck (Hoffenheim), Arne Friedrich (Hertha), Serdar Tasci (Stuttgart), Marcell Jansen (Hamburg), Holger Badstuber (Bayern), Dennis Aogo (Hamburg).

    Midfielders: Michael Ballack (Chelsea), Sami Khedira (Stuttgart), Piotr Trochowski (Hamburg), Marko Marin (Bremen), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern), Christian Trasch (Stuttgart), Mesut Ozil (Bremen), Toni Kroos (Bayern).

    Forwards: Lukas Podolski (Cologne), Miroslav Klose (Bayern), Stefan Kiessling (Leverkusen), Cacau (Stuttgart), Thomas Muller (Bayern), Mario Gomez (Bayern).

    Domenech springs a shock

    France manager Raymond Domenech announced his initial World Cup squad to raised eyebrows as he chose to omit Karim Benzema and Patrick Vieira. Vieira would perhaps have been lucky to get the nod, but he laid into Domenech for a perceived lack of class as he found out about his non-selection from Canal+ rather than from the man himself. Benzema hasn't been firing on all cylinders in La Liga with Real Madrid, but he has to be this generation's best player and he has performed for Les Bleus in the past.

    Thierry Henry does make the cut despite playing only a peripheral role for Barcelona this season, while the four goalkeepers are all quality and the one who misses out will rightly consider himself unlucky. Franck Ribéry is in despite his off-field issues while André-Pierre Gignac's indifferent club form is overlooked as his recent performances for France have been exceptional. He's one player who has improved under Domenech. There's a bit of a surprise call-up for Rennes' midfielder Yann M'Vila who has snuck in under the radar a little.

    There are plenty of the English-based contingent including champions Florent Malouda and Nicolas Anelka while three of Marseille's successful side make the cut. It's a strong squad that will probably do well in spite of Domenech rather than because of him.

    The squad in full:

    Goalkeepers: Cedric Carrasso (Bordeaux), Mickael Landreau (Lille), Hugo Lloris (Lyon), Steve Mandanda (Marseille)

    Defenders: Eric Abidal (Barcelona), Gael Clichy (Arsenal), Patrice Evra (Manchester United), Rod Fanni (Rennes), William Gallas (Arsenal), Marc Planus (Bordeaux), Adil Rami (Lille), Anthony Reveillere (Lyon), Bacary Sagna (Arsenal), Sebastien Squillaci (Sevilla)

    Midfielders: Abou Diaby (Arsenal), Alou Diarra (Bordeaux), Lassana Diarra (Real Madrid), Yoann Gourcuff (Bordeaux), Yann M'Vila (Rennes), Florent Malouda (Chelsea), Jeremy Toulalan (Lyon)

    Forwards: Nicolas Anelka (Chelsea), Hatem Ben Arfa (Marseille), Jimmy Briand (Rennes), Djibril Cisse (Panathinaikos), Andre-Pierre Gignac (Toulouse), Sidney Govou (Lyon), Thierry Henry (Barcelona), Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich), Mathieu Valbuena (Marseille).

    Monday, 10 May 2010

    Roda and Utrecht face off for Europe: Dutch play-off news

    The final of the Europa League play-offs will be between Utrecht and Roda JC after the semi-finals were decided on Sunday.

    Roda went into their game against Heracles level at 1-1 and Heracles took the initiative with Darl Douglas handing them the lead on the hour. An own goal squared it up ten minutes from time, Antoine van der Linden the unfortunate player, and it looked to be heading for extra time until Boldizsar Bodor grabbed a late, late winner for Roda. Utrecht were already comfortable after winning the first leg 3-1 against Groningen and Ricky van Wolfswinkel made it 4-1 on aggregate in the first half. Nana Asare sealed it with the night's second nine minutes from time.

    Sparta and Willem II are both still alive in the promotion/relegation play-offs. Sparta overturned a 2-1 deficit against Helmond Sport, but they left it late. Rydell Poepon pulled one back with nineteen minutes to go and Charles Dissels won it in stoppage time. Nick Viergever was sent off in the melee following the celebrations though, which may hurt Sparta further down the line. Eindhoven also ended with ten men, Ruud Swinkels sent off late on as they drew 1-1 draw on the night against Willem II who progress 3-2 on aggregate. Gerson Sheotahul put Willem II ahead in the first half and at 3-1 they were almost there. Ruud van der Rijt pulled one back, but after Swinkels was sent off, the game was up for Eindhoven.

    Go Ahead Eagles were beaten on the night, Mark de Vries with the only goal for Cambuur Leeuwarden, but progress thanks to the 2-0 lead built up in the first leg while Excelsior won a thriller to progress at the expense of Zwolle. Leading by a goal to nil from the first leg, Excelsior looked to have taken control of the tie with Guyon Fernandez's early penalty. Zdenko Kapralik and Arne Slot squared it up on aggregate five minutes before the break, but Leen van Steensel put Excelsior back in front just as the whistle was about to go. With twenty minutes left, Norichio Neiveld restored the two-goal advantage, but still Zwolle weren't done as Slot bagged his second. The Zwolle challenge was finally undone a couple of minutes after Slot's second when Diederik Boer was sent off and Fernandez got his second to wrap up a thrilling 4-3 win, 5-3 overall.

    Go Ahead Eagles face down Cambuur and Sparta take on Willem II over two legs for the final two Eredivisie places for next season.

    Lille take a grip on second: Ligue 1 reviews

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

    With Marseille having wrapped up the title last week, the race is really on for the European places. Prime candidate for second place and Champions League football are Lille who beat the new champions, though not until OM keeper Steve Mandanda was sent off after 25 minutes. Mamadou Niang put Marseille in front early on and that's usually a sign that OM go on to win, but Mandanda pulled Gervinho down in the box, earning him a red card and Lille a penalty which Yohan Cabaye buried past Mandanda's deputy Andrade Elinton. Vitorino Hilton put OM back in front just before the break, but Lille dominated the second half and late goals from Tulio de Melo and Mathieu Debuchy sent Lille second, past Auxerre who were held at home to a 0-0 draw by Lens. Lyon are a couple of points behind AJA, but do have a game in hand which they'll need to win after only managing a draw at Valenciennes. Kim Kallstrom put Lyon in front, but Johan Audel and a Renaud Cohade penalty turned the game around with ten minutes to go. A stoppage time own goal from Bobo Balde snared a point for Les Gones and kept them in the hunt for a return to the Champions League. Montpellier also remain in contention as they finish strongly. Two first-half penalties from Victor Montano and Souleymane Camara put them in charge against Lorient and it would have been fine were it not for Emir Spahic's late red card. Gregory Bourillon pulled one back, but time ran out.

    Bordeaux can't make the Champions League despite winning against Sochaux. A Wendel penalty and a late one from Benoit Tremoulinas won it for them, but the Europa League is now the height of their possible achievement. Grenoble will finish bottom, as we've known for a while now, but ended their home campaign with a 2-0 win over Boulogne, Danijel Ljuboja with both. The other relegated side, Le Mans, also end at home with a win, PSG's Sylvain Armand putting through his own net early on and Le Mans held on despite the late dismissal of Moussa Narry. Monaco held on against Nancy despite losing Vincent Muratori to a red card midway through the second half. Jordan Loties' own goal and one from Moussa Maazou had Monaco in something of a comfort zone by then and they held out, even though Joel Sami slammed in the free-kick after Muratori's dismissal. Nice came from behind to draw with Rennes. Anthony Mounier had Nice in front early on, but they were behind just after the hour, goals in quick succession from Jerome Leroy and Sylvain Marveaux, but Emerse Fae rescued a point.

    Eleven games left to go, one of those a midweek clash ahead of the final round:
    Lyon v Monaco

    Lyon will go third with a win and seize the initiative for the Champions League ahead of the final round the following weekend.

    Bayern end on a high: Bundesliga reviews

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

    Schalke could only draw with Mainz, meaning that the unlikely scenario of them pegging back an eighteen goal difference wasn't going to happen. Indeed, Mainz could have done better, but Manuel Neuer saved Miroslav Karhan's penalty to preserve a goalless draw. That sealed what we already kind of knew: Bayern are champions. Louis van Gaal resisted making wholesale changes ahead of the Champions League final and his first choice XI took the field and duly saw off relegated Hertha. Ivica Olic put them ahead on 20 minutes, but Gustavo Ramos had the Berliners level on the hour. Fittingly, it was player of the season Arjen Robben who won it with two late goals. Bayern struggled early on as van Gaal struggled to impose his style on the club, but Robben arrived and, after that inspired win over Juventus in the Champions League, they've been unstoppable. As well as that Champions League final, Bayern take on Bremen in the final of the DFB Pokal - the German Cup to you - next Saturday.

    Schalke finish second then, though the big rebuilding job starts now and Kevin Kuranyi is first out of the door, on his way to Dynamo Moscow on a free. Bremen make it into third and the Champions League qualifiers. They were held 1-1 by Hamburg, Ruud van Nistelrooy - left out of the initial Dutch World Cup squad in the week - equalising late on after Claudio Pizarro had put Bremen ahead. Leverkusen were also held 1-1 and therefore couldn't overhaul Bremen. Patrick Helmes, at the end of an injury-ravaged season, put them in front, but Roel Brouwers squared it up for Gladbach. Dortmund join Leverkusen in the Europa League despite losing at Freiburg. Lucas Barrios put BvB ahead, but Mohamadou Idrissou equalised and Demba Cissé added a late double for a 3-1 win.

    Down at the bottom, Hannover secured their survival and condemned Bochum to the drop with a 3-0 win. Bochum have been on a miserable run and couldn't turn it round before it was too late. All the goals came before half-time, Arnold Bruggink with the first early on, Mike Hanke halfway through the first 45 and Sergio Pinto just before the break. An emotional Hannover team dedicated the win to the tragic Robert Enke. Hannover's win meant Nurnberg were consigned to the relegation/promotion play-off whatever happened in their game against Cologne. As it was, Andreas Ottl signed off his loan spell from Bayern with a late winner, but Nurnberg must now face Augsburg over two legs for the final Bundesliga spot, Kaiserslautern and St Pauli having secured promotion already from 2. Bundesliga.

    Finally, Stuttgart miss out on European football after drawing with Hoffenheim. Cacau had Stuttgart in front, but Boris Vukcevic ensured a point for the Villagers. Wolfsburg sign their defence off with a win, Zvjezdan Misimovic, Sascha Riether and Edin Dzeko - who finished as top marksman in the league - putting them into a 3-0 half-time lead. Halil Altintop pulled back a late consolation which means Eintracht finish one place and one point behind local rivals Mainz.

    And that's your lot from the Bundesliga for another season. Here's our team of the year, lining up in a 4-4-2:
    Manuel Neuer (Schalke); Phillip Lahm (Bayern), Sami Hyypia (Leverkusen), Heiko Westermann (Schalke), Marcell Jansen (Hamburg); Arjen Robben (Bayern), Ze Roberto (Hamburg), Cacau (Stuttgart), Mesut Ozil (Bremen); Edin Dzeko (Wolfsburg), Ivica Olic (Bayern).
    Honourable mentions: Rene Adler (Leverkusen), Joris Mathijsen (Hamburg), Diego Contento (Bayern), Stefan Kiessling (Leverkusen), Tranquilo Barnetta (Leverkusen), Christian Gentner (Wolfsburg), Aaron Hunt (Bremen), Marko Marin (Bremen), Ivan Rakitic (Schalke).

    Friday, 7 May 2010

    Dutch play-off news

    The various play-offs in the Netherlands got underway this week.

    In the race for Europa League football, Roda and Heracles drew 1-1 while Utrecht will take a 3-1 lead into the return leg against Groningen. The second leg games are this Sunday.

    The promotion/relegation play-offs see eight sides trying to join De Graafschap - Eerste Divisie winners - in next season's Eredivisie. Willem II and Sparta are the current Eredivisie sides in there and Sparta went down 2-1 in the away leg against Helmond Sport. Willem II had better fortune, winning 2-1 at home to Eindhoven. Elsewhere, Excelsior beat Zwolle 1-0 and Cambuur Leeurwarden lost 2-0 to Go Ahead Eagles. Again, the return games are on Sunday.

    In the KNVB Beker - the Dutch Cup to you and me - Ajax held a 2-0 lead from the first leg in Amsterdam, and thrashed Feyenoord in the return 4-1 for a 6-1 aggregate win. The scoreboard had a beautifully symmetrical look to it, Luis Suarez and Siem de Jong - the latter of whom got both of the first leg goals - putting Ajax 2-0 ahead before Jon Dahl Tomasson got one back. De Jong added his second before Suarez completed the rout eight minutes from time.

    And now our Eredivisie team of the year and, given the way it panned out, it's no surprise that it largely revolves around two clubs. In a 4-3-3 stylee:

    Maarten Stekelenberg (Ajax); Gregory van der Wiel (Ajax), Douglas (Twente), Jan Vertoghen (Ajax), Ronnie Stam (Twente); Siem de Jong (Ajax), Demy de Zeeuw (Ajax), Kenneth Perez (Twente); Luis Suarez (Ajax), Bryan Ruiz (Twente), Miroslav Stoch (Twente).
    Honourable mentions: Kenneth Vorm (Utrecht), Marko Pantelic (Ajax), Jeremain Lens (AZ), Sandro Calabro (VVV Venlo), Balazs Dzsudzsak, Ola Toivonen, Ibrahim Afellay (all PSV), Ron Vlaar (Feyenoord). It's just that Ajax and Twente were far too good for you.

    Marseille clinch title as Boulogne and Le Mans go down: Ligue 1 reviews

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

    TV scheduling dictated that Marseille knew what was required of them before they kicked off in midweek. Auxerre's result held their fate, and Ireneusz Jelen had AJA in front inside quarter of an hour against Lyon. Lisandro Lopez turned the game with a penalty on the stroke of half time and Miralem Pjanic won it late in the second period. That meant a win for Marseille was enough. Gabriel Heinze set them on their way with a 4th minute goal, but Rennes were level before half time, Jimmy Briand ensuring the champagne remained on ice. Two in two minutes won it, Mamadou Niang and Lucho Gonzalez in the 76th and 77th minute handed Didier Deschamps the title. They're eight clear with two games to go. Having been nowhere all season, they've finished with a great run to suddenly emerge as front runners once the games in hand unwound.

    AJA slip down to third as Lille won in Toulouse who are in meltdown. Goals either side of half-time from Yohan Cabaye and Ludovic Obraniak saw them move above Auxerre on goal difference. Lyon are two points further back and the Champions League places are between those three. Lyon could be overhauled for the Europa League place by Montpellier who beat Sochaux by a solitary Alberto Costa goal midway through the second half. Bordeaux will be doing well to even make that now, which is an alarming drop-off late in the season. They were held by Nice for whom Emerse Fae put them in front only for Wendel to square it up. Bordeaux now face the prospect of this side breaking up. Marouane Chamakh's whining has finally got him that move to Arsenal while Laurent Blanc will be the French national manager once Raymond Domenech's involvement at the World Cup ends. More will follow.

    St Etienne beat Boulogne in the big game at the bottom, Emmanuel Riviere ensuring Les Verts play Ligue 1 football next season with the only goal of the game three minutes from time. That relegates Boulogne and Le Mans who lost anyway, 3-2 at Nancy after coming from behind and then blowing it. Julien Feret put Nancy ahead early, but Modibo Maiga and Matthieu Dossevi struck in quick time to turn it round. Feret's second sent the sides into half time at 2-2 and Chris Malonga won it on the hour.

    Late drama in Paris where PSG and Valenciennes were locked at 1-1 going into stoppage time. Mateja Kezman looked to have won it, but there was still time for Fahid Ben Khalfallah to deny Antoine Kombouaré a win against his former club. Laurent Courtois scored and then missed a penalty for Grenoble and they were made to pay for his miss as Toifilou Maoulida levelled for Lens in the second half. Lorient twice came from behind to Monaco to secure a point, Kevin Gameiro equalising ten minutes from time.

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

    It's all about the Champions League places this week. Lille have the toughest task, at home to Marseille. Montpellier are finishing well after drifting for a number of weeks and might just sneak it. Lyon will fancy beating VA. Bordeaux need wins and convincing ones at that.

    Bundesliga round 34

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

    It's the final round of Bundesliga fixtures on Saturday and barring something extremely spectacular, it's a coronation party for FC Bayern. They lead Schalke, who will finish second, by three points, but have a superior goal difference to the tune of 17. Bayern go to the capital to take on Hertha, already relegated and pretty bloody hopeless, so it's difficult to think that Bayern will concede the ten - at least - Schalke need them to. Indeed, Bayern ought to sign off with a win, even if Luis van Gaal rests players ahead of their date with Inter in Madrid next week. Schalke have defied all odds and accountants to come so close. Immense credit must go to Felix Magath for that who has insulated his players from the off-field mess. He now starts his biggest job at the Royal Blues: slashing the wage bill and starting over. They go to Mainz this weekend - never easy at the best of times and unlikely to yield a win by the necessary shed load of goals that the Gelsenkirchen outfit require.

    Bremen need a point from their game at home to Hamburg to seal third place and Champions League football next season. Should they fail to do that, Leverkusen can sneak in there by winning at Gladbach. That is unless Leverkusen win by five while Bremen draw. Otherwise, it's the Europa League for Leverkusen and they'll be joined by Dortmund unless they get hammered by Freiburg while Stuttgart are winning in Hoffenheim.

    The biggest game of the weekend is at Bochum where Hannover are the visitors. If Bochum win, they'll go above Hannover and out of the bottom three. A draw favours Hannover. Nurnberg, currently in the relegation play-off place, are the others in trouble and they need to at least match Bochum's result in their game against Cologne in order to avoid automatic relegation.

    The one game with nothing riding on it sees Wolfsburg end their season as champions at home to Eintracht.

    Monday, 3 May 2010

    Marseille on the brink: Ligue 1 reviews

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

    Marseille snuffed out Auxerre at the Abbe-Deschamps on Friday night to leave them five points clear with three games to go. Indeed, they could be crowned champions as early as Wednesday as we've a full programme of games midweek as well. Behind OM, it's tighter than a mermaid's brassiere. Lille are currently in third after a 3-1 win over Nancy. Yohan Cabaye and Gervinho put them into a 2-0 lead late in the first half. Pierre-Alain Frau made it three just after the break and though Chris Malonga pulled one back, Lille were not to be denied. Lyon stumbled past faltering Montpellier thanks to Michel Bastos, keeping their Champions League hopes alive. Montpellier aren't out of it, but go into the run-in in poor form. An early goal from Michael Ciani gave Bordeaux the win over Toulouse. The title may have gone for them, but again, they're well in the running for the top three.

    Boulogne aren't totally done yet. They came back from three down to claim a point against Nice which leaves them eight points behind St Etienne with three to play. Loic Remy hit two and David Hellebuyck made it three as Nice looked to be winning easily, but three goals in the last nine minutes grabbed them a vital point. Jeremy Blayac got the first on 81, Olivier Kapo got the second two minutes from time and the equaliser came from Alexandre Cuvillier in stoppages. They remain in the hunt as St Etienne were thumped at home by Lens. Pape Diakate had put Les Verts in front a minute from the break, but they imploded in the second half. Kanga Akele equalised ten minutes into the second half and Issam Jemaa put them in front five minutes later. Two late Toifilou Maoulida goals added some gloss. Sochaux need another point to be sure - as do Nice - after winning in Rennes. Jimmy Briand's own goal put them in front and Benjamin Gavanon made it two with ten to go. Sylvain Marveaux's penalty made it a grandstand finish, but Sochaux held on.

    Meanwhile in the Coupe de France, an extra time goal from Guillaume Hoarau saw PSG beat Monaco 1-0 at Stade de France.

    So to Wednesday which could see the title settled:

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

    Should Lyon beat Auxerre, then Marseille can win the league by beating Rennes in the late kick-off. At the other end, Boulogne need to beat St Etienne. Anything else will send them down. Le Mans also need St Etienne to lose while getting something out of their game at Nancy. Sochaux and Nice will be safe regardless of events elsewhere should they get anything out of their games at home to Montpellier and Bordeaux respectively.

    Bayern virtually home: Bundesliga reviews

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

    It's not certain yet, but Bayern are pretty much home and hosed after the penultimate round of fixtures. Schalke lost at home to Bremen as a Mesut Ozil-inspired Werder side beat the 2-0. Ozil scored one and set up Hugo Almeida for the other while Thomas Muller was busy compiling a hat-trick which eased them past Bochum who slip into the bottom two - the automatic relegation places. That leaves Bayern three points in front with one game to play, but with an advantage on goal difference of 17. Schalke are going to have to put a bagful away next week while hoping Bayern concede a similarly large number. I'll stick my neck out and say it's not going to happen.

    At the other end, Hertha are down. They needed to win and started well enough, Raffael putting them ahead of Leverkusen on twelve minutes, but Manuel Friedrich levelled it up on the hour. And so it remained, dropping Hertha out of the Bundesliga. Nurnberg are in the relegation play-off place after copping a 4-0 hiding from Hamburg, Mladen Petric with two as they bounced back from Europa League disappointment. Hannover were the big winners of the weekend, pulling themselves out of the danger zone after sticking half a dozen past Gladbach. They had six different players on the scoresheet too as they ran into a 4-0 half-time lead and closed it out after the break. Freiburg are safe after drawing with Cologne. Mohamadou Idrissou scored twice to put them in front after Zoran Tosic put Cologne ahead. Sebastien Freis equalised late on, but a point is enough for Freiburg.

    Dortmund were held by Wolfsburg, all but ending their hopes of Champions League hopes. Edin Dzeko put the outgoing champions ahead and though Marco Stiepermann pulled one back, they needed a win. Bremen hold the advantage on goal difference. They will get Europa League football though, as Stuttgart are just too far behind after drawing with Mainz. Ciprian Marica got two to level it up after Malik Fathi and Andre Schurrle had put Mainz ahead. Eintracht blew a lead against Hoffenheim. Pirmin Schwegler put them in front on twenty minutes, but Prince Tagoe struck twice in the last ten minutes to give the Villagers a win.

    Twente claim title: Eredivisie reviews

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

    Unfortunately for Ajax, NAC were rubbish at a rain-swept Breda against Twente. The Amsterdammers needed a hand from NAC, but it wasn't forthcoming. If anything, they gifted a win to Twente who duly accepted it and claimed their first title. Luis Suarez had put Ajax in front in Nijmegen after quarter of an hour and, as that stood at the time, Ajax would be champions. Six minutes later, Czaber Feher went in studs up on Theo Janssen and was sent off. Janssen's quick, 60-yard diagonal ball from the free-kick found Bryan Ruiz. The Costa Rican's first touch was a beauty, taking the defender out of play and the second curled it past the keeper and the title swung back towards Enschede. Ajax did what they had to do and stuck another three past NEC, Demy de Zeeuw, Marko Pantelic and a second from Suarez, but they could only hope NAC could help them out. Twente dominated in Breda who barely had an attack worthy of the name, but at 1-0 there was still tension in the air. Ruiz and Blaise N'Kufo missed sitters, Kenneth Perez shot tamely at the keeper when one-on-one, but they came out re-energised for the second half. NAC made it hard for them, but eventually they cracked, Miroslav Stoch taking the ball into the box, opening his body out and curling one just inside the far post. Cue celebrations in the crowd and all around Enschede where big screens were up at the Arke Stadion and all over the city. Steve McClaren is the first Englishman to win a league title since Bobby Robson at Porto and now finds himself a man in demand. Hamburg and Wolfsburg are reported to be interested in taking him to the Bundesliga, Sporting fancy offering him the chance of a job in Lisbon and there's interest from Spain too. Twente's biggest challenge may be hanging onto him.

    PSV drew with AZ and they finish third and fifth respectively. Feyenoord overtake AZ on the final day to claim the final Europa League spot after thrashing Heerenveen. Roy Makaay, who announced his retirement after the game, hit a hat-trick as they came from behind. Viktor Elm made it 2-1 halfway through the first half, but Feyenoord cut loose after that. Heracles, Utrecht and Groningen join AZ in the Europa League play-offs. Groningen beat Sparta who finish third from bottom and face a play-off to maintain Eredivisie status. Heracles looked comfortable leading 3-0 against ten man Den Haag with twenty minutes to go, but ADO fought back to 3-2 before Darl Douglas sealed it with two minutes left. Utrecht blew a two-goal lead at home to Vitesse, but hung on to draw.

    Waalwijk's season ends, fittingly, with a defeat. Hans Mulder put them ahead, but late goals from Sandro Calabro and Ruud Boymans snatched a win for VVV. Willem II battled back from 2-0 down against Roda to level it up quarter of an hour from time, but conceded late on to Davy de Fauw to end with a defeat and they also face a play-off to stay up.

    The Europa League play-offs are Thursday and Sunday when Roda take on Heracles and Utrecht face Groningen.