A solitary goal from Thomas Stewart was enough to see Shamrock Rovers gain a glamour tie against Twice European Champions Juventus in the Europa League Third Qualifying round. In muggy conditions Bnei Yehuda Tel-Aviv FC looked the most likely side to score, but Rovers goalkeeper Alan Mannus had a great game saving several times as the Israeli side pushed forward somewhat unnecessarily given they had the away goal. Then with 20 minutes to go Stewart pounced on a flick on from a long throw to stab the ball home.
The other Irish sides had mixed fortunes with recently formed Sporting Fingal losing 3-2 to Martimo again for a 6-4 aggregate loss, while Portadown crashed out to FK Qarabag who scored a late goal to secure a 3-2 aggregate win. Glentoran were always going to struggle against Icelandic League Leaders Reykjavik after losing the first leg 3-0, however they salvaged a little pride with a 2-2 draw, unlike Dundalk who were hammered 8-0 on aggregate by Levski Sofia. However Dundalk did get through the 1st round qualifier so have a European Victory to their name this season.
However it was not all doom and gloom as Cliftonville hung on away to HNK Cibalia to qualify 1-0 thanks to Ciaran Caldwell’s goal in the 1st leg. The reward a very tough if unglamourous tie against Bulgarian side CSKA Sofia.
Unfortunately it is very unlikely that either side will progress any further but still its nice to see two Irish clubs progress this far and even better that each side of the border will have a team to cheer.
Dublin based side Shamrock Rovers are in line for a glamour tie against Italian side Juventus if they can overcome Israel’s Bnei Yehuda, the first leg ended 1-1 and now they need to win in Tel Aviv to play one of Europe’s top sides.
Other UK based sides in action this week include Cliftonville who currently lead HNK Cibalia 1-0 and could meet Bulgarian side CSKA Sofia if they hold out. Northern Irish side Portadown play FK Qarabag but are 2-1 down and look like struggling to overturn this, while Sporting Fingal who are celebrating their first ever European Campaign trail Maritimo 3-2 but being at home a 1-0 win would be enough. Sporting Fingal have only been in existence since 2007 so this is a marvelous achievement by them. If they do get into the next round they could play Welsh side Bangor City who held Finland’s Honka Espoo 1-1 in their away leg and will be hopeful of progressing.
The other British Europa League Hopfuls are Motherwell who hold a 1-0 lead for their trip to Icelandic league leaders Briedablik and Dundalk who will need a minor miracle to overturn the 6-0 deficit they face against Bulgaria’s Levski Sofia.
It will be a great result if any of these clubs make it to the group stages but we can always hope.
Having finished a dismal (by their standards) 7th in the Premier League last year Liverpool have found themselves in the 3rd Qualifying round of the Europa League this season where they will face the winners of the Rabotnicki v Mika. Neither of their potential opponents are exactly household names with Rabotnicki originaly being a Second Tier Yugoslavian club prior to the break up. Now a member of the Macedonian Premier League they have had some success in Europe reaching the 1st round of the UEFA Cup in 2006-7 after failing at the 3rd Qualifying Round of the Champions League and in 2007-8 where they narrowly lost to Bolton 2-1 on aggregate. They hold a 1-0 lead after the first leg but have the away leg to come. However they should be good enough to overcome their opponents so setting up a money spinning tie with Liverpool. Armenian side Mika were only founded in 1999 have also played several European ties but have only ever one one, when in 2007-8 they edged past MTK Budapest on away goals.
New Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson joined the tournament with Fulham at this stage last season and proceeded to guide them to the final. Liverpool fans will be hoping for a repeat performance at least
In a season which began in July 2009 in the Europa League Qualifiers, Fulham finally ended it with a narrow 2-1 extra time defeat to Atletico Madrid in front of a crowd of 49,000 in Hamburg last night.
In an absorbing if not particularly thrilling final Atletico carved out most of the chances and it was not a great surprise when ex Manchester United striker Diego Forlan fired them into the lead in the 32nd minute with a typical poachers goal. However to their credit Fulham rallied strongly and after it appeared the chance had gone the ball somehow arrived to Simon Davies and he duly volleyed in the equaliser.
Fulham started the second half brightly but as time wore on they began to look tired and bereft of attacking ideas and as extra time loomed the Spanish side began to take control however Fulham held on and the game went into Extra Time.
Both teams looked desperately tired in extra time and with the prospect of a penalty shoot looming finally Fulham’s resolve was broken as Aguero got the better of a tired looking Chris Baird and whipped in a cross for Forlan and he touched into the net to end Fulham’s European adventure.
In what must rank as the best overall team performance of the season Fulham have reached their first ever European Final thanks to a 2-1 aggregate victory over Hamburg in the Europa League. Fulham have only competed in Europe once before back in 2002-3 season when they won the Intertoto cup and this season had to come through the third qualifying round and a playoff round just to reach the group stage.
After credible results in their respective away legs last night the odds of an all English Europa League Final came a step closer. Fulham were forced to defend resolutely and with Bobby Zamora looking somewhat below par will be happy to return to the Cottage with a 0-0 draw which gives them a great chance of progressing. However they will have to be careful as Hamburg do have some great players and Rudd Van Nistelrooy is very capable of snatching a goal in dificult away games. Hopefully with Zamora fit again Fulham can advance.
Liverpool also came through a tough tie and will be confident of overturning the one goal deficit that was inflicted by Diego Forlan’s 9th minute goal and they now look favourites to win the cup. If they do meet in the final it will be the second time that there has been an all English Final with Tottenham having met Wolves in the final back in 1972 when it was a 2 legged final. The second legs are due to be played on 29th April.
Given the current situation with air travel UEFA are currently considering whether to postpone the Europa League Semi Finals, both of which involve English clubs. This is understandable given the difficulty involved in land and sea travel which would be required for the teams, so possibly giving the home team an unfair advantage. Fulham could probably manage things a little easier than Liverpool using the Euro Tunnel and rail to get to Hamburg, so there game could still go ahead but getting to Madrid will be a real problem for Liverpool so if any game is postponed it will be this one.
However the Champions League games will go ahead and Barcelona can look forward to a nice long coach trip of around 700 miles to Milan while Bayern’s trip to Lyon will be a lot easier.At least there will be some quality football to watch if you cant get on your flight.
After the disappointment of seeing both Arsenal & Manchester United crash out of the Champions league, the Premier League regained a bit of pride as both Liverpool and Fulham advanced to the Europa League semi finals, setting up the prospect of an all English final.
German representatives Hamburg had to come from a goal down to take a slender lead into their Europa League quarter-final second leg with Standard Liège.
The Belgian club opened the scoring on 31 minutes via Dieudonne Mbokani nodded home off a corner kick for a 1-0 visitors’ lead before Mladen Petric equalised for Hamburg from the penalty spot on 42 minutes. Ex Manchester United Striker Ruud van Nistelrooy then grabbed the winner to set up a very interesting second leg in Liege on 22nd April.
In the other quarter Final not involving a British club Valencia were surprisingly held to a 2-2 draw at home to Atletico Madrid and had David Villa to thank for going into the second leg level as he grabbed their second equaliser late in the second half.
Fulham had to showall the heart and battling qualities which took them past Juventus against a well organised Wolfsburg team in the Europa League Quarter Final 1st leg at Craven Cottage.
The reigning German champions Wolfsburg came to contain and this contributed to a largely sterile first half which is probably best forgotten. However in the second half Fulhams potent strike force finally made an impact with first Bobby Zamora and then Damien Duff grabbing goals which looked like giving Fulham a comfortable cushion for the second leg. everything was looking good until the last few moments when Wolfsburg grabbed what might prove to be a crucial away goal, which their superior possession just about warranted.
The game is now nicely poised and it is diffucult to predict who will advance to the semi finals.