We’ve had a lack of features on the site lately due to some time constraints, however don’t worry you daily readers (yes, all 4 of you), we have some good stuff lined up the next few weeks including a profile of club in Nepal, interviews with ESPN’s Derek Rae, Goal.com’s John Duerden and many other profiles, interviews, and features covering all things from the beautiful game big and small. Ok, on to the Morning Kick-Off.
Champions’ League? Check out the Europa League
The Europa League was supposed to be a boring, second rate tournament, however yesterday’s matches brought back the magic of the old UEFA Cup, you know from years’ past when the UEFA Cup was an exciting, decent tournament. You can change the name and rebrand however you like, but if the matches aren’t of quality to the people watching them then a competition will go nowhere. Thursday’s matches however were the best advertisement UEFA could have hoped for in regards to the Europa League.
Valencia went through to the quarterfinals at the expense of Werder Bremen on away goals after an aggregate score of 5-5. Both teams combined for an incredible 8 goals in yesterday’s 4-4 draw in Germany. Anderlecht and Hamburg had their own 7-goal thriller in the Belgian’s 4-3 victory, though it was Hamburg who eventually advanced 6-5 on aggregate. It wasn’t just games with loads of goals though, it was more that nearly all of the matches had teams who were taking this tournament seriously. In the last few years it seemed that a presence in this competition was almost a bother for some teams, many of whom would rest players for upcoming league matches. Yes, that still does happens, but with the rebranding of the competition there appears to be a renewed desire amongst the participants to really gun for the title.
The quarterfinals should be a fantastic affair and surely after the recent matches there will be a renewed interest in this tournament from football fans as it enters the later rounds.
Another match that was superb to watch (not if you are a Juve fan of course) was Fulham’s 4-1 win over Juventus. This sealed a 5-4 aggregate win for the Cottagers and the winner which ensured passage to the last eight was a magnificent chip by American Clint Dempsey. You have to check this out:
It is in my humble opinion, the best ever goal scored by an American in Europe, not only for the genius of its execution, but also for its importance. This too coming from a player who has just come back after an injury that initially threatened to destroy his World Cup hopes. Quite simply, this is the American Cantona. He provides something unique, creative, and dynamic to Fulham and especially the U.S. National Team. Should the U.S. do well this summer, Dempsey will surely be one of the main reasons.
Derbies Around The World
It promises to be an exciting weekend of football across the world as some high profile fixtures are on tap. Manchester United and Liverpool battle it out at Old Trafford on Sunday with United looking to stay top of the table in England, while Liverpool continue to fight to claim fourth place and a Champions’ League spot for next season. Boca Juniors hosts River Plate in the Superclasico in Argentina. Both teams have not reached great heights recently, however this match is always special and is surely a must-see no matter what shape the teams are in.
In Australia, we have a dream final for the A-League as Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC contest the Grand Final for the first time against each other. This has proven to be Australia’s biggest derby (not in-true same city form, but you get the point) in the short history of the league. This is set to change next season though as both teams will get city rivals in the form of expansion sides Melbourne Heart and Sydney Rovers.
Finally, Panthinaikos and Olympiakos contest Greek football’s biggest fixture when they tangle at the Olympic Stadium in Athens on Sunday. Olympiakos’ domestic dominance in recent years, which includes 12 of the last 13 league crowns, looks set to come to and end as Panathinaikos have a hefty 7-point lead with only a few matches left to play. That said, these two sides absolutely loathe one another so form and what’s happening in the table go out the window, this is always a passionate and tense dogfight.