Thursday, June 05, 2014

Season's Review

With the kick-off of the 2014 World Cup now but a week away, bringing with it a focus on international footballing matters, it seems high time to make a brief review of how some of TOoT’s club favourites fared over the course of the domestic season across Europe.

Atlético Madrid, of course, achieved the magnificent feat of winning La Liga in Spain, a quite phenomenal team achievement in the face of the ‘financially-doped’ competition from their putrid ‘Royal’ city rivals & the resources Barcelona – who finished as runners-up in both league & cup - are able to call upon. As has been mentioned in the immediate aftermath, Atlético were also the most unfortunate beaten finalists in the Champions' League, their presence at the event further testament to the team’s talent, class & resilience in the context of distorted competition.

Other champions were Ajax in Holland, for the fourth consecutive season, who then surprisingly missed out on a Double by losing the Cup Final 1 – 5 to PEC Zwolle, &, delightfully, for the first time since 2007, breaking the stranglehold of Partizan, the mighty Red Star Belgrade in Serbia, concluding with a 3 – 3 draw at Vojvodina Novi Sad (having clinched the title in their previous match), who themselves finished fourth in the league.
Further news from the lower Serbian divisions was, frankly, disastrous, with both Smederevo, in last place of 16 teams, & Timok Zaječar, in 13th, suffering relegation from the second-level Prva Liga, the latter losing a final fixture 6-pointer to Inđija who thus leapfrogged to safety (from bottom of the table themselves with 5 games to go, which yielded an impressive total of 11 points, so fair play to them, at least), & the lovely Dubočica Leskovac being demoted from the third-tier Srpska Liga (East) after finishing 16th & last – for a team whose delightfully romantic name should be involved in the business end of the Champions’ or Europa Leagues, such further distancing from is a saddening blow indeed.
Elsewhere in the former Yugoslavia (during the time of which our favourites became established, of course) Hajduk Split trailed in a distant third behind perennial champions Dinamo Zagreb in Croatia, whilst Velez MostarBorac Banja Luka finished 5th & 6th respectively in Bosnia-Hercegovina.

Fifth was also the thoroughly undistinguished fate of Internazionale in Italy, a desperately disappointing & forgettable season for the mighty Nerazzurri, apart from perhaps the 7 – 0 away win at Sassuolo, albeit before the hosts had properly settled into Serie A, whilst, in similar fashion, KRC Genk ended 6th in Belgium, declining badly after early season promise had seen them keep pretty good pace with leaders Standard Liege, who themselves faltered to allow Anderlecht to claim the championship.
Things were brighter & more successful elsewhere in Belgium in the form of Westerlo, who were champions of the second division & will be joined in the top flight again next season by (Royal) Mouscron(-Peruwelz), who won promotion via the play-offs, both clubs having failed at that stage in 2012-13. Lommel (United) finished 5th in the second tier, just outside of play-off qualification, but that was a place & 9 points improvement on last season.
Of the RWDMs, the news was less good – the ‘FC Brussels’ version being relegated from the second division, failing to gain a license to continue at that level next season, despite finishing a comfortably mid-table 8th, & the phoenix RWDM 2003 club, born from the demise of the original, failing to complete the season at their lower regional level, & being firmly at the bottom of the table when they withdrew: a sad outcome indeed for one of TOoT’s very favourite European names from the 1970s & that time of getting into football on a continental scale.

Of other names, a new one to the instant-favourites this season, the truly wonderful Kischpelt Welwerwolz (Wilwerwiltz), achieved a most impressive 3rd in their section of the fifth level, given their recent seasons’ history tending  towards the bottom end of the table, & further up the league structure, more delightful news as US Hostert finished second in the ‘Division of Honour’ & thus earned promotion to the top flight again.

Ferencváros’ progress continued with a third-place finish in Hungary, with reigning champions Győri ETO coming up short only on goal difference to their successors Debrecen, whilst MTK Budapest revived to end-up comfortably mid-table.
Vasas, alas, will continue at the second level next season after even good a late-season run of results achieved nothing better than a final fourth place, whilst Szolnoki MAV finished a lowly 12th in NB II.

Saint-Etienne achieved a good 4th in Ligue 1 in France, excellent to see their name up around the higher echelons of the table once again, & only 2 points from Champions' League qualification, so they will have the opportunity to grace the Europa League, whilst another of our green & white favourites, Sporting Lisbon, were second in the Portuguese championship, thus earning themselves a tilt at the Champions' League – how about the 2015 final being between them & Atlético Madrid? In an ideal & gloriously aesthetic world, it might be.

Sparta Praha were crowned champions of the Czech Republic once again, & completed a domestic double with an 8 – 7 penalties win over League runners-up Viktoria Plzen, following a 1 – 1 draw courtesy of a dramatic 95th-minute penalty equaliser.
Also of our Prague favourites, SlaviaBohemians managed to finish a point clear of the relegation places, not least as a consequence of Sigma Olomouc’s failure to win their final fixture, although Bohemians did themselves a massive favour with a last-gasp winner at Jablonec in the previous round of matches, which followed a 3 – 2 Prague derby victory over Dukla.  Bottom club Znojmo lost each of their last 3 fixtures, including a crucial 6-pointer at Sigma, which also assisted Slavia’s & Bohemians’ respective escapes, cue much relieved ‘phew-ing’.

In Germany, Werder Bremen finished a most undistinguished 12th in the Bundesliga, the nadir of a forgettable season being the shameful 0 – 7 home defeat to the always-appalling Bayern Munich, the high point the two derby wins over Hamburg, which somehow felt like less of an achievement given the latter’s struggle in the relegation positions.
The fate of relegation alas befell both Dynamo Dresden, from the Bundesliga 2, & Lokomotive Leipzig, from the Regionalliga Nordost to the 5th level of German domestic football, a tragic descent indeed.
Carl Zeiss JenaFSV Zwickau, formerly the mighty Sachsenring, fared better in the Regionalliga Nordost, but not well enough to gain promotion, thus both will remain in the 4th tier for next season, as will Rot-Weiss Essen, 9th in the Regionalliga West, whilst at the next stage up, MSV Duisburg finished 7thHansa Rostock 13th in the 3 Liga.
Dynamo Berlin represent the success story of the season of the former East German cohort, winning the 5th-level NOFV-Oberliga Nord & consequently gaining promotion to the Regionallia Nordost.

Panathinaikos won the Greek Super League play-off to effectively finish 2nd & qualify for next season’s  Champions’ League, & also won their domestic Cup for a double of sorts.
Of our Ukranian favourites, Dnipro (the formerly magnificent Dnepr Dnepropetrovsk, in the Soviet Russian style we remain ‘Ostalgically’ attached to) finished second, Karpaty Lviv (though we go with the old ‘Lvov’ as preference) a disappointing 10thTavriya Simferopol bottom, although events in the Crimea & the uncertainty thus engendered tended to overshadow the latter situation.
Ararat Yerevan ended fourth in Armenia, a shame after they’d led the league, hopefully, in fine style at the mid-season recess, whilst Wisla Krakow also finished fourth in Poland.
Grasshoppers achieved a creditable second, & Champions' League qualification, in the Swiss league, as did Galatasaray in Turkey, also winning their domestic Cup, followed by a fourth-place finish for Trabzonspor.

Of our favourites in English domestic football, Wrexham ‘achieved’ a frankly disgusting 17th place in the Conference, their lowest ever finish in the league structure, & a steep decline (although perhaps not totally unpredictable) after 2013’s promotion near-miss & FA Trophy triumph.
The mighty Mossley finished 15th in the First Division North of Northern Premier League,  Blyth Spartans 8thMarine a lowly 20th in the Premier Division of the NPL, Stalybridge Celtic 19th in the Conference North, just about saving themselves from relegation, & Gainsborough Trinity little better in 16th, a disappointing decline from last season's 'almost' of promotion play-off defeat.

In the south, Marlow came 17th in Division One Central of the Southern League, consolidation at the higher level after last season’s promotion, & Hendon finished 8th in the Premier Division of the Ryman Isthmian League.

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