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 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.
Today is National Cleavage Day. Apparently. Which is perfect timing, as we’ve been waiting for a chance to try out our new mankinis. Today’s Scaramanga-like voluptuous set are:
1) Bundesliga: Borussia Dortmund vs Stuttgart, 20.30 CET/14.30 EST
Dortmund’s front pair have been doing the business recently, while Stuttgart’s have been rather flat. A win for the away side would give them a bit of a lift as they lean forward towards Europe, but the league leaders have been in bouncy form recently, and should emerge on top.
2) Belgian Pro League Play-offs: Club Brugge vs Genk, 20.30 CET/14.30 EST
Belgium’s terribly distracting play-off system, now in its third year, has never truly been welcomed into fans’ bosoms. We don’t really have the time to explain it here (especially when we’re racking our brains for boob puns…ooh – ‘rack’, nice one), but suffice to say that Club Brugge look hot and Genk do not.
3) MLS: DC United vs FC Dallas, 01.30 CET/19.30 EST
If you’ve been keeping abreast (ha!) of early MLS results, you’ll know that DC have done little to arouse their fans so far, and that the Texans have been udderly inconsistent. Goals have not always flowed from this fixture, so we’re tipping the home side’s twin-pronged attack of Maicon Santos and Hamdi Salihi to bust through the Dallas defence.
Thought all the best football today had already been and gone? Think again. Here’s an appetising Americas assortment that’ll get your pulses racing faster than that of a Kazakh athlete forced to listen to Borat’s ‘alternative’ anthem at a recent medal ceremony.
1) Argentinian Primera A (Clausura): Racing Club vs Unión, 00.30 CET/18.30 EST
Now managed by David Beckham nemesis Diego Simeone, Racing are, well, racing to end an eleven year wait without a league title, a bloody eternity for fans of a club considered to be part of an admittedly rather arbitrary ‘big five’ in Argentina. Their newly promoted opponents have not done too shabbily so far back amongst the big boys, and with both sides having strengthened their defence, it promises to be a tight one.
2) Mexican 1a División: Santos Laguna vs Querétaro, 03.00 CET/21.00 EST
In Mexico, it’s second against 18th tonight, also known as last. Querétaro have won once in eleven matches, while Santos Laguna recently put six goals past a previously-thought-to-be-pretty-damn-good Seattle side in the CONCACAF Champions League. Expect a few goals at the Estadio Corona, and expect them for just one team.
3) MLS: Vancouver vs DC United, 04.00 CET/22.00 EST
The Canadians won their first two games of the season, including a first-ever away victory as an MLS club last week. In the meantime, DC United were losing their opening two fixtures. While it all points to a home win, the Whitecaps have a few pesky injuries, and DC United have…well, it might be clutching at straws, but they might well have more Canadians on the field than their hosts, if Dejan Jakovic can shake off a groin strain and 2011 league MVP Dwayne de Rosario plays, as he is expected to do. De Rosario constitutes DC’s best chance of taking something from the game, and he would no doubt relish the chance to do it in front of his countrymen, continuing his mission to become the most famous Canadian since, um, John Candy.
Fridays generally offer slim pickings for those looking for some live footy action, and today’s fixture list does have a certain Old Mother Hubbard look to it. Still, football’s a bit like sex, or pizza; even when it’s bad, it’s really, really good:
1) Bundesliga: Wolfsburg vs Hamburg, 20.30 CET/15.30 EST
Hamburg have had a bad season, by their high standards. Currently scrabbling about just above the drop zone, the former European champions really need to take something from their tricky trip to Wolfsburg, following a run of five games without a win. Hamburg have never been relegated from the top flight, but should they get bitten on the bum by the Wolves tonight, the yawning abyss will seem a wee bit too close for comfort.
2) Portuguese Primeira Liga: Olhanense vs Benfica, 21.45 CET/16.45 EST
It’s been a pretty divine couple of weeks for Jorge Jesus’ Benfica side, what with them making it into the Big Cup quarter-finals, being chosen to host the 2014 final of that same competition and cutting the gap on pesky Porto to one point. A win this evening over Algarve outfit Olhanense would see them temporarily leap-frog their rowdy rivals into first place. However, just before you stick the mortgage on The Eagles to grab all three points, it’s worth noting that their traditionally modest opponents are enjoying one of their best ever seasons in the top division.
3) MLS: Seattle vs Houston, 04.00 CET/22.00 EST
A battle of undefeated sides, I hear you say? Let’s be having some of that! Except the MLS season has only reached matchday…three. Still, Sounders fans always create a cracking atmosphere, and the Dynamo have looked pretty solid so far. Seattle should have won the MLS last year, and Houston almost did, so the chances of a dull encounter are as unlikely as one of Mitt Romey’s campaign advisers comparing the candidate’s policies to an Etch A Sketch. Oh, wait…