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.
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.
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.
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.
Liverpool apart things didn’t go too well for the remaining British sides in the Europa League qualifiers last night.
Motherwell managed a credible 1-1- draw away to Aalesunds FK, who had to rely on a last kick of the game penalty to salvage the draw. Motherwell dominated the possession and a repeat performance in the home leg should see them safely through to the next round.
The same cant be said for the other Scottish contenders Hibernian, who like Ceitic in the Champions league employed strange tactics which backfired badly. Hibs boss John Hughes opted to play Colin Nish as the lone front man probably looking to keep the game tight. However the outcome was nothing short of a disaster as the Slovenian side dominated play and were good value for their 3-0 win. The 10,000 crowd were treated to a good display of attacking football from NK Maribor and Josip Ilicic looked a good player, grabbing 2 of the goals he is currently an under 21 international and could be a player with a future.
Shamrock Rovers managed a creditable result only losing 2-0 to Italian giants who were in front after 3 minutes when Brazilian Amauri hit the first of his goals. His second in the 75th minute ensured that Juve will have few problems in the second leg. Still Shamrock have done really well to get to this stage and were rewarded with a nice crowd of 5800.
Unfortunately Welsh side Bangor City Portuguese side Maritimo were in merciless form and the final 8-2 score was just about right. Still Bangor did manage a spectacular goal from Nicky Ward which at one stage ensured the score was only 3-1. Bangor’s second goal came in the 90th minute courtesy of Eddie Jebb. There is little doubt that Maitimo will now progress but it has still been a good season for the Welsh Premier League , even if the gap between the bigger European leagues and them is still massive.
A double strike by David Ngog was enough to ensure Liverpool will take a comfortable 2-0 lead into their home leg against Rabotnicki in the Europa League third qualifying round.
This was Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson’s first competitive game in charge, and he took a bit of a chance in leaving out 10 of his World Cup stars, including captain Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Glen Johnson.
Liverpool opened the scoring thanks to a defensive mix up and however Ngog showed a lot more skill when scoring the second with a cool six-yard volley following a nice Martin Kelly cross.
Roy Hodgson has been critical of UEFA for making Liverpool play a qualifying game only 18 days after the World Cup however the decision is correct as it would not have been fair on the other teams had Liverpool been given special treatment just because they are a major club. Anyway Roy Hodgson has been vindicated in his decision making and the second leg at Anfield should now be pretty much a formality.
Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson has decided to take a largely reserve squad to Macedonia for their Europa League 3rd round tie against Rabotnicki Skopje tonight. If this works out it will be viewed as an inspired piece of management, but if not then Liverpool will have the embarrassment of not having a European campaign this season.
Of course this could be his aim as with the addition of Joe Cole Liverpool will be a much better team in 2010-11 and a place in the champions league is far more valuable to a club of their stature than Europa League glory. Still with there only being four trophies available to the top premier league clubs spurning one might not be the best idea.
Hopefully Liverpool’ reserves will be good enough to win this one.
The expected Liverpool squad will be:
Cavalieri, Aquilani, Agger, Jovanovic, Kyrgiakos, Lucas, Wilson, Ngog, Spearing, Darby, Shelvey, Kelly, Skrtel, Eccleston, Ayala, Hansen, Gulacsi, Amoo, Dalla Valle, Ince
Motherwell will have their hands full defensively tomorrow night when they face Norway’s Aalesunds FK who have a 6 foot 8 1/2″ striker Tor Hogne Aaroy leading their line. Although not an overly prolific scorer he is certainly going to cause problems in the air. Aalesunds are currently 4th in the Norwegian Tippeligaen and as such will have to be respected. Craig Brown is expected to name the same squad that beat Breidablik in Iceland last week but they will need to play a lot better than in that game if they are to advance to the next stage. Success for the Scottish clubs is becoming vital if they are to maintain their UEFA ranking. They are currently close to losing their second Champions League spot and given the parlous state of Scottish footballs finances that could have severe repercussions.
Despite a valiant effort it now looks highly unlikely that Northern Irish side Cliftonville will be advancing in the Europa League, due to CSKA Sofia grabbing two late goals in their 1st round tie.
Cliftonville were only 1-0 down with over 70 minutes on the clock, despite having been under almost constant pressure, and at this stage it looked like the Irish side could go into the home leg with a real chance. However as they started to tire first Brazilian Marcos Marquinhos and then Rumen Trifonov scored to give Cliftonville a mountain to climb in the second leg.
The score in no way flattered CSKA and had it not been for some heroic defending including a superb double goal-line clearance Ciaran Donaghy then the score could have been worse.
Welsh Premier League side Bangor City came from a goal down to win 2-1 scoring a 90th minute winner against Finnish Premier league side FC Honka. Under pressure for most of the game they fell behind after 21 minutes when Sampo Kokinen scored and at this stage the neat Passing of Honka looked like it would be too much for the Welsh Side. However on 84 minutes Bangor struck the equaliser via midfielder Dave Morley and then to the delight of the majority of the 954 crowd, man of the match Chris Jones got on the end of a hopeful cross to snatch a dramatic win.
This is the first time a Welsh Premier League side has reached the 3rd Qualifying round and they will be rewardedwith a money spinning trip to Madeira to take on Portuguese first division side CS Maritimo.
Maritimo knocked Ireland’s Sporting Fingal out in round 2 but did conceded 4 goals in the process so Bangor will travel in hope knowing that a battling performance of similar magnitude could set up another great European night in Wales.