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.