Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Europe: The Final Countdown (Part 4)

Italy / Serie A

A thrilling 3-2 win for Roma over Milan on Sunday means the former have secured a place in the Europa League for 2009/10 while Milan need to get a draw against 4th-placed Fiorentina next week to enter next season’s Champions League.

Fiorentina lost the chance to close the gap on the top three having only just grabbed a last ditch equalizer at Lecce. Their 1-1 draw means Lecce are officially relegated while The Violets are assured of a Champions League qualifier due to their superior head-to-head record over fifth-placed Genoa. Juventus remain third, level on points with Fiorentina after a comfortable 3-0 win at Siena.

In addition to Lecce, Reggina are also confirmed as Serie B contenders for next season following their 1-0 defeat at Lazio on Friday. That leaves one place left to be decided, and that’ll be between Torino and Bologna. Both teams have 34 points, however Torino slipped into the relegation zone after their 3-2 defeat against Genoa while Bologna picked up a vital point away to Chievo Verona on Sunday.

Next Sunday’s crucial fixtures see Bologna in a winnable home tie against Catania whereas Torino play Roma who haven’t lost in their last four. Perhaps the realization that a secured place in the Europa League will cause them to take their foot off the gas, but only time will tell…

Spain / La Liga

As mentioned last week, the only remaining issue to be resolved at the top of La Liga is the one surrounding the last Champions League place. What was a four-horse race has now been halved following Villareal’s 3-1 win over Valencia. Both teams were contenders to grab third spot, but Atletico’s 4-1 win over Bilbao and Sevilla’s 1-0 victory over Deportivo La Coruna means they both stay in the hunt while Villareal and Valencia are left with a less certain future.

Sevilla’s win looked just as uncertain as their winner came in the 90th minute through a Diego Perotti strike. For Atletico, however, their three points came all the easier thanks to a Diego Forlan hat-trick which takes him above Samuel Eto’o to lead the top scorers chart.

So it’s Sevilla in third, three points ahead of Atletico in fourth and while fifth-placed Villareal are assured of at least a Europa League spot next season, they could overtake Atletico Madrid if they beat Mallorca and Atletico lose to Almeria.

At the other end, two of the three relegation places were decided at the weekend when Recreativo Huelva lost 1-0 at home to Racing Santander while Numancia lost by the same score at Getafe.

The final relegation spot is likely to be fought over by Sporting Gijon (17th) and Osasuna (18th). With Barcelona resting their star players for today’s Champions League final, Osasuna found it rather easier to pick up a 1-0 win against their opponents on Saturday than would normally be the case. Walter Pandiani

Sadly for them, Gijon also picked up three points after a 2-1 victory away to Real Valladolid so it’ll be down to the wire this weekend. Gijon are at home to already-relegated Huelva while Osasuna play Real Madrid whose season effectively ended some weeks ago. Should be interesting…

France / Ligue 1

We’ll have to wait a little while longer to find out who will win Ligue 1 this season after Bordeaux and Marseille both won their somewhat nervy games on Saturday. Bordeaux remain the only team unbeaten at home with a game left to play and if they can get a draw in it against Caen (who could go down), they’ll secure their first title since 1999.

Marseille’s outside chances remain intact partly thanks to an own goal by Nancy’s Damian Macaluso which contributed to a 2-1 win for Eric Gerets’ side. They’ll be playing Rennes on Super Samedi and a win for them could bring Marseille their first piece of silverware since their Champions League win in 1993, so long as Bordeaux lose.

Lyon secured third place and a Champions League qualifying round spot after they defeated Caen 3-1. Juninho was on hand to open the scoring from the penalty spot after 34 minutes in what’s likely to be his last home match for the club. He was substituted after 80 minutes and left the field in tears as Lyon’s fans gave him a well-deserved ovation at the end of an 8-year association with the club.

In the battle for the only Europa League spot, Toulouse sneaked into fourth place with a 2-0 away win at Nice to overtake PSG who lost 2-1 at Valenciennes. Toulouse, however, have the ominous task of having to beat Lyon at home next weekend in order to retain their position while PSG play host to Monaco.

In the battle to stay up, Sochaux did their chances of survival the world of good with a 2-1 win over Nantes. It means Sochaux fly up to 15th spot in the table and though they could still be relegated next week, their fate looks somewhat more rosy than it did seven days ago.

Nantes, however, stay next to bottom in the table and will need to beat Auxerre next week to have any chance of staying up. They’ll be hoping other results go their way, but that may all be inconsequential as Auxerre have won eight of their last ten games and could condemn the yellow-and-greens to Ligue 2 action next season.

With Le Havre already down, the final place will no doubt go to either the fast-fading Le Mans, the faltering Caen or a Saint Etienne side that slipped back into the bottom three at the weekend after a 1-0 win to the aforementioned Auxerre. They’ll face a tricky Valenciennes next week knowing that only a win will do to keep them up. Sooner them than us.

Portugal / Portuguese Liga

Finally to Portugal where the only remaining issue was that concerning the two relegation places. In the end, the two favourites to go down, Trofense and Belenenses, actually did fall through the trap door.

Trofense’s 1-0 defeat at Paços de Ferreira saw them finish on the bottom of the table while arch-rivals Belenenses also failed to avoid the drop when they were thumped 3-1 by Benfica.

And so another season in Portugal ends. Porto were champions by four clear points at the close of proceedings while Sporting Lisbon were second a massive seven points in front of Benfica in third. Nacional Funchal and Sporting Braga will join Benfica in the Europa League next season with Leixões Matosinhos well short of the required total to do the same.

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