Next Year in Moscow

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And so we are here just less than a year fron the Super Bowl of world football-the FIFA World Cup.With the Confederations Cup going on underway in Russia which serves as a general rehersal for next summer’s big event,there are many questions still not solved in the qualifications groups.Only two countries together with the host of the tournament which is Russia have made it to the World Cup.As expected Brazil qualified for its 21st consecutive tournament,a record which no other nation will ever match it and there is Iran which is the first country to qualify from the Asian qualification zone before the final qualifiers in late August and early September which could see the return of Saudi Arabia to the World Cup which was absent from the last two previous tournaments in South Africa and Brazil.The Saudis biggest competitor is Australia which is looking to knockout the Saudis from the 2nd place which leads to an automatic qualification.Both the Green Falcons and the Socceroos will face Japan in the last two matches of the qualifiers.First the Socceroos will go to Tokyo before finishing the qualifications at home against Thailand,while the Green Falcons face their Arab neighbors before closing the qualifications at home against the Blue Samurais.In any ways in the second Asian qualifying group there will be a lot drama until the final whistle blows.Africa has been absent from the World Cup qualifiers played last November,however the end of August and early September are marking for a comeback of the African qualifiers.And someone will not see Moscow when in Group B of the African qualifiers both African powers Nigeria and Cameroon will face one another in Lagos for the crucial qualifiying match which will determine who will go to Moscow and who will stay at home.Meanwhile there is a possibility to see a new debutant in the World Cup with Burkina Faso leading Group D and it would be another sensation that the Stallions make to the first ever World Cup,meanwhile Egypt’s dream of finally making to the World Cup stage for the first time since the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy has been threatened by Uganda which is trying to make an underdog upset.In late August both teams will play a crucial match in Cairo which will determine the fate of the group.In Group A,Congo DR will try to fend off a challenge from Tunisia to make to their first World Cup since the 1974 FIFA World Cup in then Western Germany,they will meet each other in early September in a crucial World Cup match.In Europe there is no clear team which will qualify except for Germany,Switzerland,Poland and Belgium which are marching to Moscow.While with Sweden’s victory against France at home it complicated the situation in Group A where the Oranje,les Blues and the blue-yellows are engaged in a threeway race,the same can be said in Group I where Iceland’s victory over Croatia in Reykjavik it is race wide open where four teams participate and no one has a right make any mistakes while in Group G the only question will be who will between the La Furia Roja and the Azzurri go to Moscow from the automatic spot while who will go to the playoffs and that question might be answered in early September when both teams face each other.The race is also open because there is only a 4 point difference between Colombia which stis on 2nd place and Ecuador which sits at 6th place.But the most notable news is the hiring of Jorge Sampaoli at the bench of Argentina,this round of qualifiers didn’t went as planned for the Albicelestes and changes were necessary in other to avoid a potential nightmare if Messi and rest of the Argentinian team didn’t make to the World Cup next summer,since it would probably represent Messi’s final chance to win a World Cup with his country.The Albicelestes face Uruguay in a very crucial match to avoid the intercontinental playoffs and make their 12t consecutive World Cup.And this is where we stand a year from the Super Bowl of world football with a lot of questions and very few answers which will be more clear in late August and early September as we then say goodbye to the summer season.

HNK Rijeka conquers Croatia in a historic season

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For the last 11 seasons Croatian football has been dominated by Dinamo Zagreb which has dominated so much that everyone asked when their domination is going to stop and who would stop the Blues from Zagreb?However the unthinkable has happened,the Blues from Zagreb were stopped and it wasn’t their biggest rival Hajduk Split who stopped them since they are in a mess currently,it was the club which emerged in the recent seasons as their biggest competitor-HNK Rijeka.The Whites from Rijeka have not just won the Croatian First league title,but also won the Croatian Cup for the fourth time in their history which they won their first ever double crown and dethroned the Blues from Zagreb.The story of HNK Rijeka begins after WWII when in 1946 the club was founded under the name SD Kvarner and in 1954 then changed the name to NK Rijeka,during that period the club was bouncing between the First and Second Yugoslav Division  until 1958 when for eleven consecutive years it played in the Yugoslav First Division,however in 1969 the club was relegated back to the Second Yugoslav Division and again in 1974 gained promotion to the Yugoslav First Division and stayed with varying success until the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991.In the late 1970s the club achieves its biggest successes ever by winning back-to-back Yugoslav Cups,first in 1978 when they won the final against Trepča by a single goal and then the following year against Partizan Belgrade 2-1.When it came the Yugoslav First Division,the closest Rijeka was to a title was in 1984 when they finished 2nd only two points behind Red Star Belgrade and in 1987 they were fourth.In the Croatian First League,the closest Rijeka was to the title until they dethroned Dinamo Zagreb was in 1999 when in the infamous match against Osijek on the last matchday which was controversial due to referee decisions Rijeka played only a 1-1 which wasn’t enough to clinch the title instead it led to 18 years pain and suffering which ended this season.The turning point for the club began in February 2012 when Italian businessman Gabrielle Volpi bought the club and injected much needed financial resources into the club and there were two crucial moments which led to the foundations of the championship winning team this season,first was the hiring of Damir Miskovic as the club’s chairman and just a year later was the hiring of Slovenian coach Matjaz Kek on the bench of the club.The road to championship in fact started in late Summer of 2013 in Stuttgart when they knocked out VFB Sttugart from the participation in the UEFA Europe League which for Rijeka meant more money in the club’s finances and with Hajduk Split in mess,they have replaced the Whites from Split as Dinamo’s biggest competitor in the Croatian First League for the last three seasons.Besides the loss of crucial players affected the club,with Matjaz Kek on the bench it didn’t had a long term impact,in fact they began more and more to catch Dinamo which finally this season they dethroned them the top spot.Rijeka began its unbeaten run in the Croatian First League in February last year when the last time they suffered a defeat from Dinamo Zagreb at Maksimir Stadium.From late February 2016 to early May of this year the Whites went 44 matches unbeaten which is an unprecedented run in Croatian football,the only two losses came at the end of the season against Lokomotiva Zagreb (Dinamo’s feeder club) which was a 1-0 defeat in the last minutes of the match and on the last matchday against Dinamo when it was known that Rijeka would be the new champion of Croatia,besides that Dinamo won 5-2,the Whites got their rematch just four days later in the Croatian Cup final which they beat Dinamo 3-1 where they completed a historical double crown and became well deserved the new rulers of Croatian football after years of hard work and hopefully they will continue with future successes with will bring the club to new heights and write new chapters of the club which has a rich history.

 

 

The historical promotion of the Witches of Benevento

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If SPAL’s promotion was historical which has given the club from Ferrara located in Emilia-Romagna its first presence in the Serie A for the first time in a half-century of waiting then the following promotion story to the Serie A is a masterpiece of its own.Campania is a region located in Southern Italy which is famous for the city of Napoli which its club is among the top clubs of the Serie A and next season for the first time in 30 years since the relegation of Avellino from the Serie A,there will be a regional derby played in Campania between Napoli and the sensation which is Benevento,another surprise promotion story of this season.In fact the Stregoni have never played in the Serie A and just two seasons ago they were playing in Italy’s third division,the Lega Pro just like SPAL.Founded in 1929 the Stregoni or the Witches how are they known since in the club’s emblem they have a witch but also since the city of Benevento was known as a center of pagan rituals in ancient times,the club itself spent most of its existence in the lower divisions of Italian football until 2005 when the club went bankrupt and was saved by local businessmen the Vigorito brothers Ciro and Oreste who heavily invested (especially in the club’s youth system and infrastructure) in the club itself which marked the start of Benevento’s rise through the ranks of Italian football.Just three years later the club was promoted to the Lega Pro Prima Divisione at the time the third division,however the death of Ciro Vigorito has hit the club hard,but the fans demanded to change the name of the stadium to honor his name.Last year the Stregoni made history when for the first time in their history they were promoted to the Serie B after defeating 3-0 Lecce in the final match which gave them the Girone C crown,the same year when SPAL won the Girone B crown and like the Stregoni was promoted to the Serie B.However when it came before the beginning this year’s Serie B season,the club lost Gaetano Autera who guided the Stregoni to promotion who cited diferences with owner Oreste Vigorito,with Autera’s departure from the bench came former Novara and Pescara coach Marco Baroni who grew up in Florence like SPAL coach Leonardo Semplici and Baroni was appointed by the club as the new coach of the season and no one would ever even the most optimistic fans that Benevento would gain a historical promotion to the Serie A.Ironically their walk towards the Serie A started with a 2-0 victory over SPAL in the first matchday of the season and the club had a good started in the first month of the season where they collected 15 out of possible 21 points,the two worst months of the season came between mid-February and mid-April where the Stregoni won only two of their matches but the Stregoni made a strong season ending where they collected 13 out of 15 points where they finished fifth and sent SPAL to the Serie A after they beat Frosinone 2-1 in matchday 40 where they forced the promotion playoffs to be held.Between Spezia,Carpi,Perugia,Frosinone and Cittadella,the Stregoni were the ultimate underdogs and very few of them gave them a chance to live the Serie A dream,but they beat the odds and made it to the promised land of Serie A.First they beat Spezia 2-1 at home in a single elimination match,after that came Perugia which participated in the Serie A in the late 1990s and early 2000s and the Stregoni beat them 2-1 on aggregate score in two matches.The victory against Perugia gave the Stregoni a right to be in the history books by being the first club to achieve back-to-back promotions from the Lega Pro to the Serie A within a year and the Stregoni made it thanks to Romanian striker which was on loan from Inter Milan George Puscas who scored the goal in the second match of the playoff finals which sent the Stregoni to the Serie A for the first time in history where they will join Hellas Verona and SPAL,a club which they shared too many twist of fates this season which included that both clubs were promoted the same years both in the Serie B and the Serie A with Benevento helping the Biancazzurri with a 2-1 over Frosinone which sent the Biancazzurri to the Serie A after a half-century of wait as well that both of the clubs coaches came from the same city which is Florence,but Benevento’s promotion story is an act of sorcery itself and it is a trend of small clubs resurging from the relative obscurity to prominence.For next season one thing is for sure Benevento’s stadium the Ciro Vigorito will be full at every match and we can’t wait to see the return of the Campania derby with Napoli which will be a sellout.

Sechziger’s downfall into oblivion

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One of the ugliest stories of the 2016-17 season comes from Germany and it comes from Munich,it doesn’t involve Bayern Munich which are for the sixth consecutive season the Bundesliga champion,it involves its city rival 1860 Munich which has fallen into oblivion.Seventeen years ago the Lions achieved the 4th place in the Bundesliga whicb gave them a right to play in the qualifications in the UEFA Champions League were they were defeated by Leeds United and now the club it is threatened to be demoted to the Regionalliga Bayern which is the 4th division or the Bayernliga which is the 5th division of German football.The downfall of the Sechziger is a culmination of years of chaos which surrounds the club.After its highest point in 2000,just four years later under Falko Gotz the Lions were relegated to the 2.Bundesliga and after that the Sechziger became a mediocre 2.Bundesliga club with no hopes of returning to the Bundesliga instead were threatened with insolvency which saw their rivals the reds of Bayern Munich helping them numerous times.For the current catastrophe the fans point at Hasan Ismaik who bought the club in 2011 saving it from insolvency with plans getting them into the Bundesliga in the near future with moving from the Allianz Arena to their own stadium which would their former Grunwalder Stadium,however that didn’t happen.Instead the last seasons were cruel for the Lions.besides they finished twice 6th in 2012 and 2013 and achieved a 7th place in 2014,but the instability in the club management as well as the in the bench has pushed the club into a real crisis mode.Instead of fighting for promotion in the last two seasons,the Lions were fighting for survival in the 2.Bundesliga.In 2015 the Lions were forced to play a promotion/relegation match against Holstein Kiel which they barely won and avoided relegation,while last season they were 15th and avoided the promotion/relegation playoffs.This season the Lions ran out of luck.Autumn part of the season before the winter break was one of the worst of the Lions,they won a single match a 6-2 victory against Erzegebirge Aue at home from early September to late November with two mere draws against St.Pauli (2-2) and Kaiserslautern (1-1),the rest were defeats,with the results geting a bit better in the winter,the nightmare continued through the spring until the end of the season where they avoided direct relegation only by 2 points,in the relegation playoffs the Lions were placed against fellow Bavarian club Jahn Regesburg where in the first match was a 1-1 draw which gave the Lions hope in the second match in front of their homecrowd in the Allianz Arena,however the second match played two weeks ago was one of the worst and darkest days of the Lions in their history.The Red Shorts from Regensburg took a lead in the 30th minute and just eleven minutes later the Red Shorts had a 2-0 over the Lions at the Allianz Arena.With that angry Lions fans stormed the pitch which caused the match to be paused for 15 minutes.In the end unlike in the 2015 promotion/relegation playoffs the Lions were unable to retain their 2.Bundesliga status and were relegated,but the worse part is they didn’t paid the licence to play in the 3.Liga since they missed the payment deadline and will be forced to play in the Regionalliga Bayern or in the Bayernliga.Many blame for the current situation the current majority shareholder of the Lions,Hasan Ismaik who in turn has attacked the club management for the failures.Ismaik entered the club in 2011 when the Lions were on the brink of insolvency,coming as a rescuerer Ismaik promised to bring back the Lions to the Bundesliga as well to get their own stadium,instead his ambitious plans were a mere empty promise where Ismaik violated the will of the club’s shareholders and the fans.In the last two seasons the Lions changed in total seven coaches,that isn’t a way to build an ambitious club wanting a return to the Bundesliga and in the midst of the promotion/relegation playoffs the club management ended in a turmoil where only Vice Presidents Heinz Schimdt and Hans Sitzberger have stayed since Chief Executive Ian Ayre and Club President Peter Cassalette resigned from their positions and left the club.With not paying the licence fees for the 3.Liga,being threatened to be relegated even further into lower tiers,a club management falling apart and an uncaring owner,the Lions are destined to spend the following years in the football wilderness which is sad for a club which is a symbol of the citizens of Munich and was a dominant force in German football in the 1960s where it won the 1966 Bundesliga title,the 1964 German Cup and participated in the final of the UEFA Cup Winners Cup in 1965 which they lost to West Ham at the legendary Wembley Stadium.Truly a very sad and dark period is coming for the Lions.

 

A half-century wait for SPAL has ended

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One of the 2016-17 season promotion stories comes from Italy,from the region of Emilia-Romagna.Besides the region is represented in the Serie A with Bologna and Sassuolo,next season it will be richer for another club,a blast from the past from the 1960s-SPAL.It is a historical promotion for the club from Ferrara which last time played in the the Serie A in the 1967-68 season and for nearly a half-century was in the football wilderness.The story of the Biancazzurri starts in 1907 when salesian priest Pietro Acerbis founded the club as Societa Polisportiva Ars et Labor with the football section founded in 1913 and until the end of WWII,the Biancazzurri were spending their existence in lower divisions of Italian football.But in 1946 Paolo Mazza came back to the club who in the 1936-37 season coached the Biancazzurri,this time as the role as a chiarman and with him began the rise of SPAL in the Serie A.In 1951 under coach Antonio Janni,the Biancazzurri were promoted to the Serie A for the first time and from that point began the era of the Biancazzurri in the Serie A where they will stay for 13 years until 1964 when they were relegated to the Serie B.During the 1950s and 1960s the Biancazzurri produced some of the most famous names of Italian fooball which some of them became also became some of Italy’s famous coaching names from Luigi Delneri (who currently is the coach of Udinese),Edoardo Reja(who coached clubs like Napoli,Lazio and Atalanta) and most notably Fabio Capello who began his playing career in the Biancazzurri before he swtiched to Roma and also played for Juventus and Milan,while as a coach he won trophies and titles with Milan,Juventus and Real Madrid.Thanks to its youth academy SPAL went to preserve its Serie A status,but was forced to sell its best players to bigger clubs like Armando Picchi who switched to Hellenio Herrera’s Inter and Saul Malatrasi who played for both Milan clubs.In the 1959-60 season the Biancazzurri made their highest finish in the Serie A where they clinched the 5th place which to date that is their best result ever in the Serie A,while in 1962 they made it to the final of the Coppa Italia which they lost to Napoli and it all came an end in 1964 when the Biancazzurri were relegated to the Serie B after 13 of presence in the Serie A,but climbed to the Serie A again in the following season and stayed there until 1968 when on the last matchday Juventus midfielder Gianfranco Zigoni scored the fateful goal which sent the Biancazzurri to the Serie B and to a journey through a football wilderness which will last for the next half-century and with the club’s youth academy no longer producing good players which would sold to bigger clubs,finances also began to dry up,the situation began to turn from bad to worse in 1981 when Paolo Mazza died and the club when from crisis to crisis with no end in sight,with the club twice refounded in the last decade the last time just four years ago when the club began to play in the Serie D besides current Juventus coach Massimilliano Allegri began his coaching career 13 years ago.But the rise of Biancazzurri which started four years ago in the Serie D,culminated this year in a historical promotion which no one couldn’t imagine.With the Colombarini family owning the club and making wise investments together with the hiring of Leonardo Semplici which was hired to the bench in December 2014 he has led the club to back-to-back promotions,for the club happy days were back again.Their start of the promotion to the Serie A this season wasn’t good since they won one of their first six matches,but from the beginning of November the Biancazzurri lost only four matches and ended in 1st place of the Serie B with 78 points,four points more than 2nd placed Hellas Verona.Truly a well deserving return of the Biancazzurri from Ferrara which after wandering half-century through the football wilderness and two bankrupcies in the last decade they made it back to the Serie A which brought back the golden era of the 1960s of Italian football and gave us another beautiful underdog story of the season and hopefully they will stay in the Serie A for a period of time.