Archive for the ‘National Cup Competitions’ Category

Last month, we featured 17 must-see April football matches, all of importance in regards to very tight domestic league competitions in England, Germany and Italy, and the Champions League. In Germany, the April 11 Bayern v. Dortmund clash of the Bundesliga Titans and resulting BVB victory, sealed the championship for the ‘Westphalians’. Borrusia’s unbeaten run (currently at  27) included consecutive wins against 2nd, 3rd and 4th placed teams to clinch the repeat Bundesliga crown. In the English Premier League, it was the ‘worst of times, it was the best of times’ for Manchester City as their April 8th match-up with Arsenal ended in an ugly 0:1 defeat and the near end to their domestic championship hopes — rival Man U was 8 points ahead in the table. Fast forward to earlier this week and City’s thrilling home victory against United putting them atop of the table on goal differential. All eyes will be on City this weekend as they face 5th place Newcastle in their second to last encounter of the year.

While the English and Italian domestic titles are still up in the air, Spain just today crowned Real Madrid its 2011/12 La Liga champion for the first time since 2007/08. The decisive victory came April 21st vs. arch-enemy Barcelona breaking a four-year unbeaten streak. Barca’s dip in form culminated in a 2 match losing streak, a loss in the Champions League semis to FC Chelsea, and the resignation of iconic Barca manager Pep Guardiola.

Speaking of the Champions League, the two away-legs of the semis featuring Chelsea at Barcelona and Bayern at Real Madrid produced some of the most dramatic and memorable moments in CL history.  While 10-man Chelsea defended to the death against a dominant Barcelona team culminating in a 90th minute decisive break-away goal by Chelsea underachiever Fernando Torres, the confident Bavarians clinched their second CL final appearance in three years in a wild penalty shootout win versus favored Real.

Without further ado, let’s look at the barn-burners on tap for May:

FA Cup Final, Wembley Stadium, Chelsea vs. Liverpool, May 5th: Both sides have had rather strange, yet fairly fruitful campaigns. While both have under performed domestically, Liverpool has already secured one trophy (Carlin Cup) and Chelsea is still in the running for a FA Cup/Champions League double. If momentum were the deciding factor, the nod would have to go to Chelsea.

EPL, Newcastle vs. Manchester City, May 6: Newcastle will try to secure a Cl-spot for next season and would like to spoil City’s attempt at domestic championship glory.

Serie A, Inter Milan vs. AC Milan, May 6: AC Milan is currently in 2nd place in the Serie A table, one point behind undefeated Juventus Turin.  Inter has yet again underachieved and will try to spoil their rival’s title hopes and secure themselves a Europa league spot by winning this local derby.

EPL, Blackburn vs. Wigan, May 7: We picked this one because of its importance in the EPL relegation fight. Blackburn is a surefire relegation candidate if they lose this one on.

EPL, Liverpool vs. Chelsea, May 8: Three days after squaring off in the FA Cup final, the two meet yet again, this time more for pride and final table placement than anything else.

Europa League Final, Arena Nationala, Bucharest, May 9th: The 2012 UEFA Europa League Final will oppose two Spanish sides – Atlético Madrid and Athletic Bilbao with Madrid having last won the cup in 2010.

German Cup (DFB Pokal) Final, Olympia Stadion, Berlin, May 12th: FC Bayern vs. Borussia Dortmund, ‘Clash of the German Titans, part three’. Dortmund has not lost a match in 26 tries and has beaten Bayern in its last four tries. Bayern is trying to rebound from a disappointing domestic season, but use it’s Champions League momentum to shoot for part 1 of the part 2 trophy double.

Champions league final, Allianz Arena, Munich, Bayern Munich vs. Chelsea FC, May 19th: Bayern is the first CL finalist to play in front of a home crowd so the ’12th man’ definitely favors the Germans to with the crown. Both Bayern and Chelsea could be viewing for double championships – both are also in the finals of the domestic cup competitions.

nPower Championship Play-off Final, Wembley Stadium, May 19th: As of May 2nd, the final match-up was still undetermined but a 2 game play-off between Cardiff City v. West Ham United and Blackpool v. Birmingham City will determine the May 19th finalist. Wembley Stadium, the site of last year’s Champions League Final will once again host the final match which determines who earns promotion to the English Premier League. Last year, Welsh side Swansea City defeated Reading to win its first ever promotion to the EPL.

Coppa Italia, Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Juventus vs. Napoli, May 20th: The 2012 Coppa Italia Final will be the final match of the 64th Italian domestic cup season of the top cup competition in Italian football. The match features Juventus and Napoli both of which are having very succesful seasons. Juventus, which as of May 2nd had not lost a match in Serie A competition, may be able to complete the Coppa/Serie A trophy double with a victory.

Spring has sprung and April Fool’s has just past. Besides much warmer weather, cleaning obsessions and trying yet another weight loss program to get you trim for summer, spring and specifically April means football (soccer) viewing at its finest. Considering we have a European Championship this summer, and very tight domestic league competitions in England, Germany and Italy, there are numerous barn burners (aka hot matches)  on tap within the next 10 weeks. We selected 44 ‘must see’ matches, for a total of 3,960 minutes ( or 65 hours) of viewing pleasure spanning European leagues (20) as well as Euro 2012, Champions League, Europe League, and domestic league cups (24 matches). This post focuses on the match-heavy and tres important month of April.

Bayern Munich celebrated it's last Bundesliga title in 2010 under Dutchman Louis van Gaal

The Bundesliga serves up 4 killer matches, all critical in determining who will be the king of the hill in German football come May 5th:

[APRIL 11] FC Bayern vs. Borussia Dortmund: Dortmund carries a 3 game winning streak into this game including a sweep of the series during their championship year in 2010/11. This game is obviously crucial to both clubs and kicks-off a brutal 3 game stretch for Dortmund that has them playing the top 3 Bundesliga teams in Bayern, Schalke and Gladbach.

[April 13] SpVgg Greuther Fuerth vs. FC St.Pauli: Fuerth and Pauli will battle for who gets promoted to top flight German football. St. Pauli has the most rabid, die-hard fans in German soccer so a lack of talent might be made up by pure passion.

[April 14] Schalke 04 vs. Borussia Dortmund: This ‘Revierderby’ matchup is unrivaled for pure hatred and disdain between the two sides who are a mere 25 miles apart but leagues a part (at least recently) in terms of match form and success.

[April 21] Dortmund vs. Gladbach: Another local affair between the two Borussia’s. Dortmund is aiming to repeat as Bundesliga champion and Gladbach is hoping to snag a Champions League spot for next year. Incidentally, Gladbach forward star and national team member Stefan Reuss is switching to Dortmund this summer.

[April 28] FC Bayern vs. VFB Stuttgart: It’s the Bayern vs. the Schwaben in a long-time rivalry. Mario Gomez, a one time rising star at Stuttgart will look to impress Bayern fans on his way to a goal-getter title (currently tied for 1st with Schalke’s Klaas Jan, ‘the hunter’, Huntelaar.

Will St. Pauli climb back into 1st division German football? The fans say 'Ja'.

Serie A is the best that Italian top division soccer has to offer. While AC Milan and Juventus Turin will surely battle into May to determine who ends up with the league trophy, surprise team Lazio hopes to hold on to a lucrative Champions League spot.

Can Miro work his magic once again vs. Napoli and Juventus down the stretch?

[April 7] Napoli vs. Lazio Roma: It’s the battle of Miro Klose’s 3rd place Romans vs. their 4th place Sicilian rivals. Will Rome’s Olympic Stadium be witness to yet another epic finish?

[April 11] Juventus vs. Lazio Roma: Only 5 days after the Napoli challenge, Lazio travel to Juventus to take on a squad determined to raise the league trophy for the first time since 2002/3.

The English Premier League has enjoyed a wild suspenseful year so here are 4 must see matches to add to your DVR lineup.

[April 8] Arsenal vs. Manchester City: Arsenal had a 8 game winning streak broken last weekend and City has struggled lately. If City does not fetch 3 points in this one, I see their title hopes rapidly vanishing.

[April 11] Queens Park Rangers vs. Swansea City: Both QPR and Swansea were promoted to the EPL last year and both are fighting hard to stay on top. Ironically, QPR has performed best this season vs. much better opponents so that might indicate Swansea will win.

[April 15] Chelsea vs. Tottenham Hotspur, FA Cup Semi-final: Chelsea faces Barca on the 18th in the CL semi so it will be interesting to see who lines up for this ‘not as important’ match.

[April 21] Arsenal vs. Chelsea: Depending on how Chelsea performs in its home leg of the Champions League semi-final vs. Barcelona, some of the top players might be rested for the ensuing CL battle.

Can Manchester City wrestle the EPL title away from 19 time winner Manchester United?

[April 30] Manchester City vs. Manchester United: Hopefully, City does its part to remain competitive and we’ll have ourselves a blood match. I suspect Man U will look to avenge it’s 1:6 thumping back in October.

La Liga (Spanish Primera Division) is the most uncompetitive top European league … even the race of 1 and 2 is not as close this year with Real Madrid holding onto a 6 point lead with el Clasico part 2 yet to be played.

[April 8] Real Madrid vs. Valencia CF: Valencia is in 3rd place, albeit almost 30 points behind Real, so at least on paper this could be a close affair.

[April 11] Atletico Madrid vs. Real Madrid: It’s the battle of the top teams in Madrid and bragging rights … enough said!

[April 21] FC Barcelona vs. Real Madrid: El Clasico (part 2 in 2011/12) will still be the most viewed domestic football match in the world, despite the fact that Real Madrid has not won since May 2008. Who knows, the two Spanish giants might meet again in the Champion League final in May.

Atletico Madrid celebrate their 2010/11 Europa League title

As of this afternoon, the UEFA Champions League semi-finals are set and feature 4 breathtaking match ups …

[April 17] FC Bayern vs. Real Madrid: Can Robbin avenge bad times at his old Spanish club and can Oezil and Khedira show their fellow German national teammates on the Bayern squad how it’s done? Return-leg in Madrid, April 25.

[April 18] Chelsea FC vs. FC Barcelona: Can an aging Chelsea squad continue their fairy tale CL run and upset a heavy favored Barca? Return leg in Barcelona, April 24.

Stay tuned for must-see matches in May (domestic cup finals) and June (Euro 2012 battles).

Last week kicked-off the first round of the 2011/12 DFB Pokal competition including 64 German professional and amateur football teams. The German Cup, equivalent to other countries’ domestic competitions such the FA Cup (England), Copa del Rey (Spain) and Coppa Italia (Italy),  lasts 10 months culminating in the cup final in Berlin on May 12, 2012.

To me, the coolest thing about this competition is the many ‘David vs. Goliath’ scenarios that unfold, especially during the early rounds. One such match-up last weekend included 5th tier BFC Dynamo vs. top flight Bundesliag club 1.FC Kaiserslautern. My dear friend, fellow Speyer Boy, and German football rowdy Wolfie D. braved the elements and attended the 1st round match-up which ended up with a lot more action than ‘just’ 9o minutes of cup football. This is much less a football match review but an eye-witness report of goonish rowdies looking for ‘aggro’.

Here’s Wolfie D. … The German Cup, like almost all national cup competitions in Europe, often provides great drama opportunities, especially in the early rounds. The early match-ups are often replays of old rivalries or like this one, brand new, never before played ones. This match featured the former serial champion of the GDR Oberliga, East German secret police Stasi backed Berliner FC Dynamo, which racked up an unbelievable 10 championships in series thanks to successful match-fixing commissioned by Stasi chief Erich Mielke between 1979 and 1988. On the visitor’s side, the glorious 1. FC Kaiserslautern, in no need of further introduction (at least I hope, as the merits of this club from deep in the Palatine Woods easily fills a proper book!).

Right after the 1st round draw, I absolutely knew this would be a big one! It’s no wonder BFC Dynamo’s luck went down the drain after the wall came down. With the Stasi (officially) disbanded, Erich Mielke behind bars, and all the best players hitting the exits for the wealthy clubs in the West, the club didn’t even make it into the combined German second division in 1991 and had to start again in the regional Northeast division, a league they have not been able to be promoted out of since. Money was tight with crowds getting smaller and smaller, and having probably one of the most violent and right-wing followings in Germany, didn’t really help acquire lucrative sponsorship deals. You might now rightfully ask why a communist secret police backed club attracted a bunch of right-wing violent loonies from the worst tower block areas of East Berlin?! Simple answer: they chose to support the most-hated club in the country because aggro following the club was almost guaranteed!

Which brings us to the present day, where the club plays in a lowly fifth division in the northern part of the German East in front of a couple of hundred fans at average games against teams who have only a handful supporters let alone hooligans. To put it bluntly, they’re in deep shit and qualifying for the national cup brings them BACK WIV A BANG on the big German football stage, prime-time TV coverage included.

Thanks to having resided in Berlin for quite some time now, this 1.FCK-BFC Dynamo match really wasn’t an away game, just a fifteen minute car ride and a ten minute walk and we were in the thick of things, literally! Making our way towards the away-end in the pissing rain – almost constantly pouring down for 36 hours at that point – we walked down the street where hundreds of proper hard-hitters, a lot of them in their forties, were boozing it up in front of a few pubs, closely monitored by a serious police presence, all with worried looks on their faces.

Entering the away-end and definitely feeling a lot safer (for the moment) it was a nice surprise to see almost 2000 FCK fans who had made their way to Berlin, sadly only about 20 who would be willing to have ‘a go’ if push came to shove. Violence would of course not be a smart move on a day like this, but that’s not what this whole game is about anyway.

Oh yeah, there was also a football game played that day, a quite uneventful 3:0 win for an FCK side which didn’t do more than they had to, but this was not what the majority of the spectators had come for on that day anyway. The away end consisted of one half of the stands behind one goal, separated by a large empty block towards the covered main stand, filled with 4000 to 5000 BFC supporters. The locals put on a good show singing and celebrating and started to let off smoke bombs during the second half, which led to a break by the referee trying to achieve the impossible: get things in order again… Not with this lot, my friend!

About five minutes before the end, we had already talked about leaving early to not get cordoned in for an hour until the police had cleared the surrounding streets, it was clear that something was seriously happening on the other side. People were leaving the covered stand towards our end although there wasn’t even an exit for them on that side. So we thought we better have a look what was going on outside while the majority of the all too care-free FCK supporters celebrated the team after the game had finished. Walking down the steps behind the end it was pretty clear what was going on; we basically walked in the middle of about 60 BFC boys on the right opposite of 10 K-Town lads on the left, with the police standing 30 meters behind looking away and unbelievably having no clue what was happening right in front of their eyes. This was the same police who had manned the separating block during the whole game but had mysteriously disappeared five minutes before the end of the game!

All hell started breaking loose after hundreds of BFC hooligans now made their way over the empty separation block abandoned by the police ten minutes earlier, chasing away families, kids, dads and younger FCK supporters, punching everyone in their way. Outside the grounds, the police were a sorry sight, with everybody, BFC and FCK, mingled together. It was sheer luck K-Town only had a small crew and BFC was too surprised about the ease of ‘infiltration’, that nothing more happened. BFC were now swarming in from the streets on all sides as well, but so were the police reinforcements so we got the hell outta Dodge and starting drinking to having gotten away…

The whole incident was all over the TV in the evening and the newspapers in the following days, with the police blaming the stewards for not having followed protocol. Apparently, they really had opened the gate between home and away ends, either because they were incompetent, scared of getting leathered by the big boys, or simply in on the whole goddamned thing! I just have a sneaking suspicion that the truth will somehow never come out.  Aside from this black mark, things might not be looking too good for BFC Dynamo’s footballing ambitions. Berlin suburb club Lichterfelder FC, the hosts of their first away game this coming weekend, have already announced that they’re not willing to play BFC under these circumstances. Stay tuned how another eventful 5th division season unfolds for BFC Dynamo.