Category Archives: Spain
A nerve-wracking German play-off, a must-win clash in Spain and an Israeli Cup final: despite seasons shutting down all over FIFAland, there are some seriously suspenseful live footy matches on offer today.
1) Bundesliga play-off, second leg: Fortuna Düsseldorf vs. Hertha Berlin, 20.30 CET/14.30 EST
It can’t be easy being a Hertha Berlin fan. Your favourites are regularly mentioned as the reason behind Berlin being the least successful European capital, football-wise. You spend just as much time in the second division as you do in the first. And when you find yourself embroiled in a relegation/promotion play-off, the lower-division upstarts have the temerity to go and win the first leg 2-1, playing your side off the pitch in the process. Fortuna haven’t played in the Bundesliga for 15 years, and a 51,000 second-leg crowd is expected to cheer them on their way back to the top flight. Roman Hubník and Co. now have to show what they’re made of, if they’re to avoid travelling to football hotspots like Sandhausen (population: 14,000) next season. Hertha are actually named after a steamship, and it’s looking increasingly likely that they’ll be well and truly sunk later today.
2) Spanish Segunda Division: Guadalajara vs. Celta Vigo, 21.00 CET/15.00 EST
Last year was akin to a kick in the nether regions for Galician football, with Deportivo La Coruña dropping down to the Segunda and Celta Vigo failing to gain promotion. This year is looking a bit brighter: Depor are odds-on to clinch the championship and go back up at the first time of asking, while Celta can still grab the second promotion spot, if they keep their eye on the prize, hold steady, show their mettle, keep their heads etc. etc. etc. Usually, a trip to Guadalajara wouldn’t pose Los Celestes much of a problem, but their relegation-threatened opponents are more desperate for points than a British Eurovision Song Contest entry. The prospects of a leisurely-paced, friendly encounter are not high.
3) Israeli Cup final: Hapoel Tel Aviv vs. Maccabi Haifa, 19.00 CET/13.00 EST
“Why do Israeli teams play in Europe?” is one of those questions your girlfriend asks now and again, when she inadvertently pays attention – for just a couple of seconds – to some football-related nonsense you happen to be boring her with. While we’re not going to attempt to answer that question (except via a sneaky and lazy link), we’ll simply point out that there is a Europa League place on offer for the winner of Tuesday evening’s Israel State Cup final between Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Tel Aviv. The former team haven’t won the domestic knockout competition since 1998, while the latter side are the holders of the trophy. The pair played out a 1-1 draw in the league at the weekend, and already met each other in last year’s final, so fans will be hoping for a few goals to break through the tedium. Haifa are ‘sweating’ (© the tabloid press) over the fitness of captain Yaniv Katan, who will be crucial in their battle to stop league runners-up Tel Aviv winning their third Israeli Cup in a row.
“The Europa League is coming,” goes the murmur on the streets of Bucharest, the city that will have the pleasure of laying on a lavish banquet for an Iberian love-in on 9th May. Or it could be that Romanians are all massive Game of Thones fans, and have a flair for the dramatic? With that in mind, we thought it would be an uproarius jape if, in a twist on Celebrity Death Match, we assigned one of George R. R. Martin’s morally ambiguous characters to each team below, based on how long they have left in the Europa League/Brazilian Cup and in the TV/book series. So not only can we not be bothered doing any proper work today, but we’re going to blithely toss around cryptic spoilers at the same time. Here’s today’s three to watch:
1) UEFA Europa League semi-final, second leg: Valencia vs. Atletico Bilbao, 21.05 CET/15.05 EST
Robb Stark vs. Jamie Lannister
2) UEFA Europa League semi-final, second leg: Athletic Bilbao vs. Sporting Lisbon, 21.05 CET/15.05 EST
Tyrion Lannister vs. Jon Stark
3) Brazilian Cup: Coritiba vs. Paysandu, 00.30 CET/17.30 EST
Littlefinger vs. Catelyn Stark
The Europa League has reached the last four, but if Pouty Platini has his way, it won’t be around for much longer for people to slag it off (behaviour they indulge in mainly because their club has failed to qualify, you’ll generally find). Get it while it’s hot in today’s three to watch:
1) UEFA Europa League semi-final, first leg: Atlético Madrid vs. Valencia, 21.05 CET/15.05 EST
Atlético have won nine in a row in the EL, while Valencia are coming into the game off the back of what can only be described as a 4-0 rogering by Espanyol. The presence of quality performers like Diego and Radamel Falcao on one side, and Roberto Soldado and Sofiane Feghouli on the other, should at least ensure an entertaining encounter at the Vicente Calderon. Fans of Los Che still moan about how Madrid “conned and cheated” them out of the 2010 quarter-final, so a win here would doubtless cut down on the carping a little. Until the next media-created controversy.
2) UEFA Europa League semi-final, first leg: Sporting Lisbon vs. Athletic Bilbao, 21.05 CET/15.05 EST
Athletic Bilbao have become the second favourite side of anyone who claims to know anything about football this season, and at 3/1 to win in Lisbon tonight, there will be more than one punter currently sticking his hard-earned spondoolicks on the Basques putting on another masterclass. Sporting struggled against Metallist in the last round, and will be hard-pressed to contain the charging hordes if Iker Muniain and Fernando Llorente are in el moodo.
3) Copa Libertadores, Group 1: Santos vs. The Strongest, 00.45 CET/18.45 EST
Twelve teams have already reached the knockout stage of the Copa Libertadores, but reigning champions Santos have a wee bit of work to do to join them. Neymar, Ganso and Co. need a point at home to the team with the coolest name in football, The Strongest of Bolivia. If The Strongest happened to prove that they were, erm, the strongest, and Internacional won at the same time, Pele’s old team would be out on their 100-year-old ears.
The Europa League, forever the bridesmaid to the Champions League’s bride? Maybe, but sometimes your friend’s tasteful, family-only affair in a quaint rural venue is preferable to your brash cousin’s 200-guest abomination complete with sushi bar, magicians and dancing camels.
1) UEFA Europa League quarter-final, second leg: Valencia vs AZ Alkmaar, 21.05 CET/15.05 EST
The Dutch are 2-1 up, which means their jacket is on a shoogly nail. Valencia’s form has been dodgy recently, so much so that their manager comes out in hives every time the club releases a press statement. In goal machine Roberto Soldado and strike partner Aritz Aduriz, Los Che have the weapons to blow any team away, so AZ Alkmaar will need to keep things tighter than the proverbial duck’s posterior as they bid to become the first side from the Netherlands to win a European trophy since Feyenoord in 2002.
2) UEFA Europa League quarter-final, second leg: Hannover 96 vs Atletico Madrid, 21.05 CET/15.05 EST
For all the talk of an all-Spanish Europa final in Bucharest on 9th May, it’s quite feasible that Athletic Bilbao, rather than Atletico Madrid and/or Valencia, could be the only Liga side left in the competition when the fat lady lets out a burst of ‘Ole! Ole! Ole!’ later tonight. Hannover, while ending up on the losing side (1-2) in the Spanish capital, never looked unduly troubled, and will be acutely aware that one goal followed by a spot of park-the-bus will see them into the last four in what is just their second-ever foray into Europe.
3) UEFA Europa League quarter-final, second leg: Athletic Bilbao vs Schalke, 21.05 CET/15.05 EST
Given the first-leg score, we seriously considered not including this one, especially as the fourth tie – Metalist vs Sporting – is finely poised. But as the football on show in the initial match between these two excellent sides was nothing less than saliva-inducing at times, it gets the nod. If there is currently a finer sight in sport than Fernando Llorente, Iker Muniain and Co. rampaging forward on the break, we need, nay, we demand to be told about it.
Thought the Champions League was a European animal? Well, it is, but there’s one across the water too. Today’s three to watch come from the UEFA species, and its lesser-spotted CONCACAF cousin.
1) UEFA Champions League quarter-final, second leg: Chelsea vs Benfica, 20.45 CET/14.45 EST
With a 1-0 lead, an away goal and some so-so form under Roberto Di Matteo, Chelsea are obviously favourites. But they’re up against two-time European Champions Benfica, who’ve lost just once away from home in the Portuguese league this season. A team containing Aimar, Gaitán and Cardozo that needs to pull off a win against the odds should, generally, do just that. But this is the quarter-final of the Big Cup, and Stamford Bridge is a tough place to go blah-blah-blah. For the neutral or semi-neutral, the best thing that could happen to this match is for big Cardozo to hit a Crouch-style screamer in the opening five minutes. That would give us a game that might make us look up from our Game of Thrones DVD boxset, as it would mean that Benfica were coming, my lord.
2) UEFA Champions League quarter-final, second leg: Real Madrid vs APOEL Nicosia, 20.45 CET/14.45 EST
APOEL’s run to the quarter-finals will probably never be matched by another Cypriot team or by a side from a similar-sized nation. No-one’s holding their breath for Maltese champions Valletta or Luxembourg title-holders Dudelange to take next year’s Champions League by storm. So, Brazilian mercenaries or not, it’s hats off to the Lyon-tamers (see what we did there?), but with the news coming in that Real plan on fielding a reasonably strong team, it’s also time to say ‘Kalinihta’ (‘good night’; our thanks go to the delightfully unreliable Google Translate) to our islander friends.
3) CONCACAF Champions League semi-final, second leg: Santos Laguna vs Toronto, 03.00 CET/20.00 EST
Toronto surprised many self-appointed experts (excuse us while we look the other way) by holding Santos Laguna to a 1-1 draw in the first leg at BMO Field. The Canadians have been making confident noises, but Seattle did that too, and they got gubbed 6-1 in Torreon in the previous round. The Mexicans are top of the league and unbeaten this year. Toronto are not. But, as Jimmy Greaves was fond of mumbling, it really is a funny ol’ game. If TFC somehow reach the final, it would probably rank as their biggest-ever achievement, akin to a team from, say, Cyprus reaching the last eight of the competition’s European equivalent. Which would just never happ…oh.
Things are hotting up in what we old gits like to call the European Cup, and there’s a Copa Libertadores tie thrown in for good measure. Today’s three to watch are:
1) UEFA Champions League quarter-final, second leg: Bayern Munich vs Marseille, 20.45 CET/14.45 EST
The German press have been less than complimentary about Marseille following Bayern’s comfortable 2-0 first-leg win in France last week, making particular fun of L’OM‘s reserve goalkeeper, who was slightly at fault for the opening goal. Usual No1 Steve Mandanda is back tonight, which should lessen the general sniggering as well as the number of goals conceded. While you should never, ever, ever underestimate a team guided by Didier Deschamps, it’s difficult to see past a Bayern victory.
2) UEFA Champions League quarter-final, second leg: Barcelona vs AC Milan, 20.45 CET/14.45 EST
The biggest game of the night by a milla en el campo, as they don’t say in Spain. Will Barcelona blow Milan away? Are AC the only team capable of stopping the Catalans? Will Messi score five? Will Ibrahimovic do anything of note? Will the Internet break down if I Rossoneri score an injury-time winner? No, Yes, No, No and Maybe are our well thought-out answers.
3) Copa Libertadores, Group 2: Lanus v Olimpia, 00.45 CET/18.45 EST
The South American Champs League has produced some closely contested groups this year, and Grupo Dos is a good example. With both teams having won on their last outing, and Olimpia’s fine form in the Paraguayan league being balanced out by the home advantage enjoyed by the mighty Mauro Camaronesi and Co., this match promises to be tighter than a Blue Man Group bodysuit.
The much talked about Mega Millions jackpot was won over the weekend, and news outlets are currently racing about trying to ruin the life of some sorry sod before he actually does it himself, Michael Carroll-style. The media was full of ponderous pearls of statistical wisdom in the run-up to the $640 million draw, the pick of which had to be USA Today’s claim that you were nine times more likely to die from a TV falling on your head. Having failed to beat the 175 million to 1 odds, allow us to help you get rich in three easy steps.
1) Liga: Sevilla vs Mallorca, 21.00 CET/15.00 EST
Take ten of your finest dollars, pounds or Euros, and stick it on Mallorca at 9/2. The islanders’ away form is reasonable, while Sevilla’s home record has been poor this season.
2) English Premier League: Blackburn vs Man Utd, 21.00 CET/15.00 EST
Now you have 45 of your finest dollars, pounds or Euros. Bit of a leap of faith this one, but shove it all on Blackburn at 7/1. With a supportive home crowd behind them, an early goal could see Steve Kean’s men hang on for a surprise victory. And it’s not like they haven’t done it before.
3) Bulgarian A PFG: Levski Sofia vs Ludogorets, 18.30 CET/12.30 EST
Your total stands at a rather tasty 315 of your finest etc. etc. While we’re not generally in the habit of venturing out into outposts such as the Bulgarian league, this fixture is interesting in that it involves a side – Ludogorets – that came up from the second division to challenge for the title this year, and a traditional heavyweight club that has just changed coaches due to patchy form. Take the promoted side at 7/2, spend your $£€ 1,112.50 wisely, and remember to send us our 15% commission.
The best succinct one-liner we’ve ever heard came from the mouth of English comedian Les Dawson, and it is one that son-in-laws the world over can relate to: “I can always tell when the mother-in-law’s coming to stay – the mice throw themselves on the traps.” As sometimes it’s best to get straight to the point, today’s previews have a certain direct quality about them.
1) Liga: Barcelona vs Athletic Bilbao, 22.00 CET/16.00 EST
If brilliant Basque blitzers Bilbao can replicate their mind-blowing Europa League form, and allowing for awful alliteration, this match could become the must-see fixture in world football this weekend.
2) Ligue 1: Nancy vs PSG, 21.00 CET/15.00 EST
PSG fans are beginning to realise that pesky leaders Montpellier, the Kim Kardashian of the French top flight, are just not going to go away, so capturing three points in Lorraine today is essential.
3) Bundesliga: Hertha Berlin vs Wolfsburg, 18.30 CET/12.30 EST
Hertha may have shipped six goals to Bayern a fortnight ago, but everybody’s doing that at the moment, so they’ll look to continue the form they showed at Mainz last week in their increasingly desperate attempts to avoid playing at Duisburg next season.
The Germans are known for many things, but humour is not necessarily one of them. A couple of incidents in the football world this week have sent disseminators of lazy stereotypes scurrying back to their caves, however. First, there was this image, depicting the resourceful way in which fans of German regional side Magdeburg decided to help their team regain its nose for goal (their heroes had gone 5 matches without finding the net):
It worked, kind of. They scored, but ultimately lost 2-1
And then there was this photo, which shows Schalke fans protesting at the cost of tickets for their upcoming Europa League second-leg away clash with Atletico Madrid:
The banner reads (in Spanish, cleverly): “Tickets at 90 Euros = 1 Euro per minute? Football isn’t phone sex!”
Creators of the banner were heard explaining to their wives (in German this time) that a ‘friend’ had told them how much it cost, and that they had no personal experience of such a salacious service.
It’s a Europa League extravaganza today, a competition that, for Marathon-eaters of a certain age, will always be the ‘UEFA Cup’.
1) UEFA Europa League quarter-final, first leg: AZ Alkmaar vs Valencia, 21.05 CET/15.05 EST
Alkmaar are going well in the league, but got booted out of the Dutch Cup last week by modest Heracles. Valencia look like they may achieve this season’s domestic objective, which was to finish within 800 points of Real and Barcelona. Amazingly, despite making that third spot their own, coach Unaï Emery is under considerable pressure, mainly due to a run of poor results, including a shock home loss to bottom club Real Zaragoza. A bad defeat here coupled with a failure to beat Levante in this weekend’s Valencia derby could see him being politely asked to spend a little more time in his vegetable garden.
2) UEFA Europa League quarter-final, first leg: Schalke vs Athletic Bilbao, 21.05 CET/15.05 EST
Schalke are playing well and contain debatably the most in-form striker in the world in their line-up, Jan-Klass Huntelaar. Bilbao gave Man United the most awful rogering (x2) in the last round that at times made it seem as if they were the league champions and the English team the also-rans. Watch for strong Schalke pressure and speedy Basque counters. It could well be an absolute cracker, but then, we’ve said that a few times this season.
3) UEFA Europa League quarter-final, first leg: Atletico Madrid vs Hanover 96, 21.05 CET/15.05 EST
Hanover, in just their second-ever European campaign, have crept stealthily into the last eight like a Rush Limbaugh sponsor, but have recorded impressive results along the way – they lost just one of their pool games, and comfortably dispatched a solid Standard Liege side last time out. Atletico, who won this competition as recently as 2010, will be favourites, but if the Germans can keep it watertight at the back, a raucous 50,000-strong second-leg crowd awaits to propel them into the uncharted seas of the semis.