No Fairy Tale Ending For Stevenage Borough In Carling Cup

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Stevenage Borough the Football Leagues newest arrival were given a harsh welcome in their League (Carling) Cup debut last night as a much weakened Portsmouth side won 2-1 at Broadhall Way.

The crowd of 4,236 saw Stevenage fall behind after only 8 minutes, when 18 year old Dutch striker Nadir Ciftci struck his 1st senior goal in what is only his second ever senior appearance, and although Darren Murphy managed to level things with a deflected shot Portsmouth soon regained the lead.

The winning goal came from one of the few senior players still at Portsmouth,  Michael Brown who met youngster Joel Ward’s cross to head home.

Stevenage to their credit did try but they lacked any decisiveness in front of goal and overall Portsmouth were worthy winners.

Portsmouth’s squad was again threadbare and they only managed to submit 4 substitutes, and the squad again comprised a large contingent of untested youth players. They are going to have a long hard season in the Championship unless they can get their transfer embargo lifted.

As for Stevenage, well their limitations were cruelly exposed against what was in effect thrown together team. Fortunately League 2 is not as strong as last season and on this display they can look forward to a mid table finish in 2011.

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Stevenage Borough Make Their League Cup Debut Against Portsmouth

Having won the Conference Championship last season Stevenage Borough have another first tonight when they play in their first ever League Cup (Carling Cup) tie against Portsmouth who were playing Premier League Football last season. The clubs have never met before and this will also be Stevenage boss Graham Westley’s first League Cup tie in charge.

This will be a very interesting tie not just because the teams were playing so many divisions apart last season, but also because it will give both clubs some sort of gauge as to where they are in playing terms this season. Portsmouth are still struggling to put together a squad following their collapse into administration last season while Stevenage looked a little star struck on Saturday during their Football League Debut draw with Macclesfield.

Team wise Stevenage only have a couple of players out these being David Bridges who is suspended, and Jon Ashton who has a hip injury. They have a deep enough squad to overcome this however, unlike Portsmouth who could be down to around 15 fit players.

Portsmouth who are the the no 1 seed from the Southern teams did make the quarter finals last season as well as being Surprise FA Cup finalists, and despite being short of numbers the still have plenty of talent and should be just too good for Stevenage.

Whatever the result it will be worth watching and those with Sky sports can catch the game at 19.45 or if you live in the vicinity tickets are still available.

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Mixed Fortunes For British Clubs In Europa League Draw.

The Three English participants in this years Europa League should comfortably progress to the group stages thanks to being handed relatively straight forward ties.

Manchester City, who finished 5th in the Premier League last season have what should be a fairly straight forward task against FC Timisoara of Romania who just scraped past Finnish Minnows MyPa 1947 in the qualifying rounds. Unless Manchester City decide they don’t want to compete in this competition and put out a youth side there progression looks assured.

Aston Villa might have a bit more of a problem against Austrian side Rapid Vienna who boast several internationals in their squad and are 32 times Austrian Champions. They also have some European pedigree having twice reached the old Cup Winners Cup Final. If any of the English clubs are likely to struggle it will be them.  Martin O’Neil will need to put out a full strength squad if they are to progress to the group stages.

Liverpool have a potentially tricky but very winnable tie against Turkish side Trabzonspor, who although not a household name in the UK are the most successful Turkish club who are not based in Istanbul, having won the league 6 times and the main domestic cup 8 times. The clubs have met once before in Europe in the 1976-7 season in the European Cup ( the Champions League predecessor) 2nd round. Liverpool won 3-1 on aggregate but did lose 1-0 in the away leg before going on to lift the trophy for the 1st time.

Overall it will be a bit of a surprise if England doesn’t have all three teams in the group stages, although if one is to miss out it will probably be Villa.

The same cant be said for the remaining Scottish sides all of whom face tough tasks and it is not inconceivable that all three could miss out on the group stages.

Celtic face Dutch side FC Utrect, who finished 7th in the Eredivisie last season should be no match for the Scottish side, however Celtic being poor travelers will want to get a good lead in the home leg and anything less than a win at Park Head will probably se them go out. Still their spirited Emirates Cup performance and passable result against Braga should see them start favourites for this game.

Dundee United have a very tough draw, taking on Greek side AEK Athens who have played in Europe every year since the 1991-2 season and are veterans of 180 European games, including wind in the group stages of the Champions league. They made the group stage last season but heavy defeats by Everton effectively ended their hopes of further progress. Dundee United however are a team on the up and will enter the competition full of confidence thanks to an excellent SPL season. They also collected the Scottish Cup thanks to a comfortable win over Ross County. This one could be close but hopefully the Scots side will do enough to prevail.

Motherwell who have had to come through two qualifying games to reach this stage having first beat Breioablik of Iceland and then Aalesunds of Norway, will be hoping to make it three Scandanavian wins in a row when they face Denmark’s OB Odense. Odense are no world beaters and are currently languishing in 6th place in the Danish League although with only 3 matched played its early days. Motherwell have done really well to reach this stage given their limited resources and unfortunately this may be where their European Adventure ends.

Finally it is great to see Wales have a representative at this stage in the shape of The New Saints (TNS),who qualified by virtue of their Champions league achievements. TNS had a big European night against belgian side Andrelect and now have another nice tie against experience Bulgarian side CSKA Sofia, who put Cliftonville out in the last round.

Much as I would like to see TNS go through there is no way that they can overcome a side of CSKA’s caliber. Despite this hopefully the people of Wales will turn out and give them some decent support.

So overall we expect Liverpool Man City & Villa to progress without too much fuss, Celtic to scrape through thanks to their home form, Dundee United to just sneak it and Motherwell and TNS to bow out.

Still 5 British clubs in the group stages is a good result and if they take the tournament serious then a repeat of last seaons successes looks on the cards.

Europa League play-off draw in full:

Liverpool (England) v Trabzonspor (Turkey)

FC Timisoara(Romania) v Manchester City (England)

Rapid Vienna (Austria) v Aston Villa (England)

Celtic v Utrecht (Holland)

Dundee United  v AEK Athens (Greece)

OB Odense (Denmark) v Motherwell

CSKA Sofia (Bulgaria) v TNS (Wales)

Besiktas(Turkey) v HJK Helsinki (Finland)

Slovan Bratislava (Slovakia) v VfB Stuttgart (Germany)

Sibir Novosibirsk (Russia) v PSV Eindhoven (Netherlands)

BATE Borisov (Belarus) v Maritimo (Portugal)

Luzern (Switzerland) v Lokomotiv Moscow (Russia)

Gyor ETO (Hungary) v Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia)

PAOK Salonika (Greece) v Fenerbahce (Turkey)

Villarreal (Spain) v Dnepr Mogilev (Belarus)

Paris St Germain (France) v Maccabi Tel Aviv (Israel)

Bayer Leverkusen (Germany) v Tavria Simferopol (Ukraine)

CSKA Moscow (Russia) v Anorthosis Famagusta (Cyprus)

Hajduk Split (Croatia) v Unirea Urziceni (Romania)

Feyenoord (Netherlands) v Ghent (Belgium)

Racing Genk (Belgium) v Porto (Portugal)

Debrecen (Hungary) v Litex Lovech (Bulgaria)

Aris Saloniki (Greece) v Austria Vienna (Austria)

Galatasaray (Turkey) v Karpaty Lviv (Ukraine)

Palermo (Italy) v Maribor (Slovenia)

Club Bruges (Belgium) v Dinamo Minsk (Belarus)

Omonia (Cyprus) v Metalist Kharkiv (Ukraine)

Vaslui (Romania) v Lille (France)

Napoli (Italy) v Elfsborg Boras (Sweden)

Sporting (Portugal) v Brondby (Denmark)

Grasshoppers (Switzerland) v Steaua Bucharest (Romania)

Borussia Dortmund (Germany) v Garabagh Agdam (Azerbaijan)

AIK Stockholm (Sweden) v Levski Sofia (Bulgaria)

Sturm Graz (Austria) v Juventus (Italy)

Getafe (Spain) v APOEL Nicosia (Cyprus)

AZ Alkmaar (Netherlands) v FK Atyrau (Kazakhstan)

Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk(Ukraine) v Lech Poznan (Poland)

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Champions League Draw Kind To Spurs

The draw for the knock out round of the champions league has been rather kind to British hopefuls Tottenham Hotspur who have been paired with Swiss side Young Boys of Bern in what should be one of the easier ties to predict.

The draw has thrown up some tasty looking games with Dutch giant Ajax getting a really tough draw against Dynamo Kiev and German side Werder Bremen drawing the fast improving Italians Sampdoria.

The full draw is below:

Young Boys v Tottenham
Dynamo Kiev v Ajax
Werder Bremen v Sampdoria
Braga v Sevilla
Rosenborg v FC Copenhagen
Sparta Prague v MSK Zilina
Zenit St Petersburg v Auxerre
Basle v FC Sheriff Tiraspol
Partizan Belgrade v Anderlecht
Red Bull Salzburg v Hapoel Tel-Aviv

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Gallant In Defeat Describes Most British Clubs Europa Cup Qualifiers Efforts

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Only Liverpool & Motherwell have progressed through the Europa League qualifying rounds this season, however those who fell last night at least gave their fans some hope with battling losses.

Performance (in defeat) of the night has to go to Ireland’s Shamrock Rovers who showed tremendous tenacity in Turin only losing the second leg 1-0 thanks to a goal from Del Piero. This result will not have gone down too well in Italy, especially following the national teams disastrous World Cup campaign, and Juventus coach Luigi Del Neri took the step of publicly defending his teams performance.

Bangor trailing 8-2 from the first leg actually took the lead in their home game with a goal from Alan Bull. However two second half goals from Martimo snatched the win for the Portuguese side. The only disappointment was the crowd with only 556 turning , not much of a reward for a great effort.

Cliftonville also took the lead against their more illustrious opponents and it was only two goals in the last five minutes which spared CSKA Sofia’s blushes as the Irish side almost snatched a great win.

The wooden spoon performance was reserved for Scottish Premier League side Hibernian who after an inexplicably poor performance in the away leg didn’t fare much better at Easter Road losing 3-2 to a Maribor side who were good value for the win. Poor performances like this from the Scottish teams is starting to damage their European Coefficient and if this worrying trend continues they could eventually lose their second Champions League place.

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Liverpool Cruise through In Europa League

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Liverpool as expected had an easy second leg against Rabotnicki Skopje winning 2-0 and 4-0 on aggregate. Liverpool totally dominated the game and the impressive crowd of 31,202 were rewarded by the inclusion of England internationals Joe Cole, Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Glen Johnson. This was a much stronger team than the one put out in Skopje and it is nice to see Roy Hodgson paying this competition the respect it deserves. It might lack the glamour and money of the Champions League but it still gives the fans European football. Liverpool even at this early stage have shown enough to indicate they will be one of the favourites to lift the trophy in 2011.

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Champions League Knock Out Draw Favours Spurs

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Tottenham Hotspurs who will be playing in their 1st ever champions league this season have been seeded for the final knockout stage and so will avoid the big guns remaining in the qualifiers. Although there are no easy ties at this stage of the competition Spurs will be hoping to dodge Dynamo Kiev or Sampdoria and get one of the weaker teams like Young Boys of Bern who somehow scraped through against Turkish side Fenerbache in the last round. The draw is taking place latter today.

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Motherwell Fly The Flag For Scotland With Great Europa League Win

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In a largely disappointing night for the British clubs still involved in the Europa League qualifiers SPL side Motherwell finally gave Scottish fans something to cheer as they dispatched Aalesunds FK with a 3-0 win at Fir Park. The Motherwell contingent of the 7,721 crowd never really had much to worry about as the home side swept into the lead on 4 minutes, and effectively killed off the tie with a second after 13 minutes. After that Motherwell were content to allow the Norwegians to have possession, confident that their defense could cope with any fight back. Their third goal in the 89th minute put the icing on a great European performance and on this form they could with a kind draw find themselves in the group stages.

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Liverpool Look The Only Assured British Qualifiers Tonight

Tonight’s Europa League Qualifying ties makes grim reading for British fans, with only Liverpool likely to progress with ease following their 2-0 win  against Rabotnicki Skopje. The only other side with a realistic progression chance is Motherwell who’s manager Craig Brown seems to have got his tactics right in Europe this year and having gained a credible away draw in Norway they know that a 0-0 draw at home to Aalesunds FK will see them through. Motherwell have a full squad to choose from and hopefully they will not do anything too stupid and advance to the final knockout stage.

The other British sides still involved are:

Shamrock Rovers who have done Ireland proud in holding Italian Giants Juventus to only 2-0 in their home leg, and they will have a night to remember in Turin. Even if they get hammered it is great to see them reach this stage.

Scottish Premier League Hibs have a mountain to climb following their 3-0 defeat NK Maribor,  as do Cliftonville who trail CSKA Sofia 3-0, and Welsh Premier League side Bangor City who at 8-2 down will be hoping to salvage a bit of pride at best.  It will be a major surprise if any of these sides make it through.

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Fenerbahce & Celtic Both Exit Champions League

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In a night of few surprises the main headlines were reserved for the early demise of Glasgow Celtic and Turkish side Fenerbahce, both of whom would have expected to progress prior to the competitions start.

Celtic who had a mountain to climb after an embarrassing performance in Portugal at least put on a slightly better performance against Braga, however their opponents came with a solid game plan and at times Celtic were forced into hitting hopeful long balls up the field. The 2-1 win at least salvaged some pride and they will now drop into the Europa League knock out round where they could meet some stiff opposition.

Fenerbahce were expected to come through easily enough against Swiss side Young Boys of Bern who were lucky to escape the home leg with a 2-2 draw. However a goal from Cameroon born striker Henri Bienvenu a few minutes before half time was enough to take them through. Fenerbahce were reduced to 10 men in the second half and they will also now play in the Europa League Knockouts.

The most entertaining match of the night saw Ajax progress thanks to away goals following an exciting 3-3 draw at PAOK Saloniki where Uruguayan World Cup Star Luis Suarez again grabbed a goal. Ajax will have to play a lot better than this if they are to make much of an impression inthe group stages, assuming they get through the knockouts.

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