Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Football Filings

I'm still in London and saw a bit of cricket yesterday - look for a post on that shortly. For now, it's been a busy week in the world of soccer and I want to give a few quick updates on some of the news that matters to me.

European Football Sucks Less

A year ago, I wrote a post titled "Why European Football Sucks" which detailed how the top teams in the top European leagues are always the same. The season is just about over and a quick look at the tables shows little change. But there was one big difference: in the English Premier League, Tottenham Hotspurs took 4th place while Liverpool dropped to 7th. Spurs will now enter the Champions League qualifying later this year while Liverpool will be in the Europa League.

Things are largely the same in the other leagues. In Spain, Barcelona leads Read Madrid by a point with one game left as these top two teams remain unchanged. Italy sees perennial favorites Inter topping the table with Roma 2 points back and AC Milan a distant third. At least Juventus has fallen, allowing Sampdoria and Palermo a chance at Champions League glory with one weekend left. Scotland again sees Rangers on top with Celtic 2nd while Bayern Munich has regained the title in the Bundesliga after finishing second to Wolfsburg last season. The defending champions fell to 8th, while last year's 4th-place finishers Hertha Berlin dropped to bottom of the table and have been relegated to the second division. Finally, France sees Marseille take the title for the first time since 1992. So there has been a few interesting moves, but nothing along the lines of Montreal's run in the NHL playoffs or Phoenix challenging for the NBA title. So European football still sucks for the results, but just a little less this year.

Fulham Loses Europa League Final

The highlight of the European soccer season for English fans has been Fulham's surprise run to the final of the Europa Leauge, the second-tier competition run by UEFA. The final was held tonight and unfortunately Fulham lost to Spanish side Atletico Madrid 2-1 after extra time. What's interesting is that Atletico were not in the competition when it began last July. They were added to the round of 32 after finishing third in their group in the Champions League. For some reason, UEFA rewards this failure with a spot in the Europa League. The eight Champions League teams that finish 3rd join 24 sides that have fought through a difficult group stage. Naturally these Champions League washouts are better than the Europa League teams and often win the competition, as happened this year. Fulham had already defeated Juventus and Wolfsburg; it's too much to ask them to have to defeat 3 CL squads to win a European title. C'mon UEFA - stop rewarding teams that lose in the Champions League and let's have a true second-tier competition!

Korea Dominates AFC Champions League

The AFC Champions League just held their round-of-16 games and Japan is noticeable by its absence. Not a single J-League club has made it to the quarterfinals. Kawasaki Frontale and Sanfrecce Hiroshima were dropped in the group stage while Kashima Antlers lost 1-0 to defending champions Pohang Steelers and Gamba Osaka were beaten 3-0 by Seongnam. In fact, all 4 teams from East Asia are Korean. I think this could be a turning point for Asian soccer - Japan may be on the downswing while Korea ascends. The upcoming World Cup will be an interesting test of this theory.

The bright side to having all the Japanese teams eliminated is that tickets to the final in Tokyo in November will again be easy to get.



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