Monday, May 11, 2009

Europe: The Final Countdown (Part 2)

Continuing our look at the end-of-season run in across Europe...

Italy / Serie A
This weekend will be referred to as The Great Stalemate of '09 in years to come - you mark our words. Out of the top six sides, only one - Fiorentina - managed to win a match while the other five drew theirs.

Fiorentina's 2-0 victory at Catania wasn't enough to see them move up from fourth place in the table, but they are now within touching distance of the automatic Champions League spots. Stevan Jovetic and Luciano Zauri were the men on target for Viola to create some breathing space between them and fifth-placed Genoa who could only draw 1-1 at Atalanta.

The big game of the weekend ended in another 1-1 draw, this time between Milan and Juventus. Both goals came near the hour mark, Clarence Seedorf putting the home side in front after directing home Massimo Ambrosini's scuffed shot before Vincenzo Iaquinta's diving header equalised for Juve.

That result ended Milan's run of five straight wins but also extended Juve's run without a win to six. On current form, Fiorentina look likely to make sure The Old Lady plays in the Europa League next season rather than the Champions League.

Elsewhere Inter could have virtually wrapped up the title had they not found Chievo Verona such tough opposition to break down. Goals from Crespo and Balotelli were equalised on both occasions to ensure the Nerazzurri will have to wait at least one more week before getting their hands on the Serie A title.

There were more draws involving teams at the bottom, except for Reggina who are now two points adrift of the opposition following their 5-0 thumping at Sampdoria. Lecce and Torino - both in the bottom four - drew 1-1 at the Stadio Olimpico while Lecce made it three games unbeaten by drawing 1-1 at home to Napoli.

Spain / La Liga
As if more proof were needed that nerves are getting the better of Europe's finest teams at this stage of the season, both Barcelona and Real Madrid failed to win their games this week.

A draw for Barcelona would, in hindsight, have been enough to clinch the Primera Division title after Real spectacularly crashed 3-0 away to Valencia. Former Real player Mata Garcia along with David Silva put the home side 2-0 up just after the half hour mark before Rubén Baraja added a third in the 68th minute to inflict a second successive defeat on Los Blancos.

Barca, meanwhile, were moments away from celebrating victory against Villareal, however Joseba Llorente struck in the 90th minute to seal a 3-3 draw at the Bernabeu. That means a win at Mallorca next week will be enough to end Real's feint hopes of claiming the title.

In other news, Sevilla did their chances of grabbing a Champions League play-off place no harm after beating Mallorca 3-1 while Atletico Madrid leapfrogged Villareal into fifth thanks to a 3-2 victory over Espanyol.

In the battle to avoid relegation, it's still 'any three from eight' as six of the bottom eight lost at the weekend. Getafe's 3-0 win over fellow strugglers Osasuna was enough to move them up two places to 15th while bottom club Numancia managed what was on reflection a creditable goalless draw against Real Valladolid.

Portugal / Portuguese Liga
Leaders Porto can finally start celebrating following their 3-0 win away to Maritimo at the weekend. With two games remaining, they are now six points ahead of Sporting in second but with a goal difference of +40 compared to the Lisbon club's +22.

Porto are more than deserving of their 24th title win. Unbeaten in the league since the start of November 2008, they're ending their campaign with a run of eight straight victories which will, in all likelihood, go up to nine if they beat relegation-threatened Trofense next week.

Last week's draw with Academica looks to have been the spanner in the works for Sporting who came back with a 2-1 win against Vitoria Setubal on Saturday. Brazilian striker Liédson scored both goals to maintain the pressure on Setubal who are one of four teams that could drop into Liga de Honra next season.

As reported last week, the bottom two teams played each other last Monday, the result being an unlikely 2-1 win for Trofense over Belenenses. An admirable 2-2 draw for Trofense against 3rd-placed Benfica on Saturday means Belenenses are now adrift at the bottom of the table by two points.

Elsewhere, Rio Ave did their chances of staying up the world of good by beating Vitoria Guimaraes 1-0 but they'll have to repeat that score or do better at Belenenses next Sunday to confirm their top flight status for another season.

France / Ligue 1
No Ligue 1 action this week as the Coupe de France Final was held on Saturday. For the record, Guingamp from Ligue 2 beat Stade Rennais 2-1. All three goals were scored in a 15-minute period - Carlos Bocanegra putting the Ligue 1 side ahead after 69 minutes before Eduardo Dos Santos got both goals for Guingamp with 72 and 83 minutes on the clock.

It's going down to the wire in Belgium as with only one game to go, Anderlecht and Standard Liege remain level on points with only four goals separating one from the other.

Both teams won at home on Saturday, Anderlecht beating lowly Roeselare 3-1 and Standard beating Club Brugge 2-0. The smart money, however, will be on leaders Anderlecht who next week travel to 8th-placed Genk while Standard have the altogether more tricky trip to Gent, placed just one position below them in the Jupiler League title.

Expect the margin of victory to be critical for both teams in next Saturday's season finalé.

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