Thursday, October 4, 2007

Champions of Europe ----- 's second most imporant competition

Germany embraces the UEFA Cup. With Bayern Munich playing in Europe’s 2nd tournament for the first time in a decade, the rest of Germany is trying to keep up with the country’s biggest club. That includes Werder Bremen, Schalke 04 and Stuttgart, who are currently in the Champions League.

The going has been tough for the three Champions League teams. Werder Bremen and Stuttgart find themselves in 4th in their respective groups, having failed to secure draws this past week to secure the coveted 3rd spot, a position that drops teams into the UEFA Cup Round of 32. Schalke currently find themselves in 3rd spot, but questions at Chelsea following the dismissal of Jose Mourinho and Valencia’s inability to finish, leave the current second place team in the Bundesliga in a dubious position. A positive result in either of the upcoming fixtures with Chelsea could see the Gelsenkirchen side slip into second place.

It wasn’t like manager Mirko Slomka didn’t try. He employed a midfield with no width against Rosenborg, who dominated the midfield, but his team unfortunately countered for two goals. Werder Bremen’s Thomas Schaaf will be disappointed with his team’s loss to Olympiakos. The goal they so desperately wanted to concede after dominating possession by over 60% during the match, escalated into two others quickly, meaning they need to win one of the games approaching with Lazio to move up one space. Stuttgart have to hope they are less sucktacular than Lyon to secure third.

Meanwhile in the actual competition, Leverkusen, FC Bayern, Hamburg and even lowly Nurnberg made it to the group stages. Leverkusen gave away two early goals which seemed to jeopardize their chances, but pulled through at Uniao Leiria. Nurnberg used the away goals rule to get by Rapid Bucharest. Hamburg demolished a Lycra/Spandex blend from Bulgaria, while Bayern made short work of another Portuguese side. All four will find their group pairings this coming Tuesday.

If things go according to plan, the Bundesliga could see seven teams through to the quarterfinals of the competition, which is now being called “das Ligapokal Zwei” colloquially in Germany. It would undoubtedly give Germany a half-decent chance of capturing its first UEFA Cup since Bayern and Schalke’s double of 95/96 and 96/97. The closest the Bundesliga have come since was Borussia Dortmund’s loss in Rotterdam to Feyenoord in 2002. It was a tragedy, really, as Dortmund awaited the return leg only to find out the competition had changed to a one-leg final three years prior.

No comments: