Friday, April 24, 2009

A Round-up of some of Europe’s Lesser-Cared-About Cups & Leagues

Justin Paul tells us about some lesser known Cup competitions & leagues in Europe that are quickly building to their seasonal conclusions, and teaches us a few cultural things along the way.

Let’s begin with the Coupe de France shall we, the Rennes-Guingamp final-- this will be an all-Brittany match up and should be a lot of fun. En Avant Guingamp were the team that gave Didier Drogba his real push, 20 goals in 45 games is what got him noticed by Marseille. (Rennes is the team of USA defender Carlos Bocanegra.)

Another Brittany side has won the Coupe de France fairly recently, Lorient FC (the side sporting a cardboard stand with a painted crowd behind one goal at present) did so in 2001 over SC Bastia.
Looking back to that earlier era, Nantes is another historic Breton city, whose football club won Coupe de France in 2000 over part-timers Racing Calais. But they are officially part of the Pays de La Loire Region these days, and Nantes fans are probably still trying to recover from the confusion of the actions of owner Waldemar Kita stripping the word "Atlantique" from the club's name. Or perhaps it is a hangover from Fabien Barthez's ill fated "retirement comeback" at the geographically confused city's club.

Nantes were also the last team to win the Ligue 1 before Lyon’s long current run, and their league Player Of the Year Eric Carriere used the season as a springboard to a relatively unglorified but productive time at Lyon. Ahhh 2001, when Nantes Atlantique's plucky Tahitian forward Marama Vahirua was a France U 21 starlet, who has never made it to Les Bleus. Sitting here today, in a year in which Lyon may lose their crown, 2001 is indeed a season worth reflecting on.

Moving on, Fenerbahce v Besiktas in the Turkish Cup final might not sound so surprising, but the storyline is that the way FB are playing they may not finish in the top 4 in the league claiming an automatic UEFA Cup spot, so winning the final might be crucial to see my boys in Europe next year. BJK topped FB in the Cup a couple years back when Jean Tigana was still in charge at Besiktas. For one of the Turkey's "big 3," Fenerbahce have only won the cup 4 times and not since 1983.
And keep your eyes on Sivasspor, the team from a city more known for its influential 16th century humanist Sufi poet Pir Sultan Abdal, and in more recent times for the violence between Sunni Muslims and Alevi Muslims, who are now on the verge of being the 2nd non-Istanbul team to win the league title (the other being black sea based Trabzonspor.)

Sivasspor are led by prolific Turkish striker Mehmet Yildiz, who has scored an incredible 81 goals in 85 games for the club. They also feature an Australian keeper in Michael Petkovic, who was a product of the Hellenic steeped club South Melbourne FC before his move to Turkey, in which he began as Trabzonspor. Petkovic may be an ethnic Croatian, but his success is proof that something Hellenic can still take root deep in the heart of Anatolia. Sivasspor also feature a popular Israeli striker named Pini Balili [CORRECTED], who is the most high profile Israeli to play in the Turkish league since prominent attacking midfielder Haim Revivo suited up for Fenerbahce and sold out and joined arch enemies Galatasaray (bias of the author is intentional).

Also I find it interesting that both Hamburg-Werder Bremen and Dynamo Kiev-Shakhtar Donestsk meet each other in their country's Cup Semis as well as the UEFA Cup Semis. I personally was sad to see the Ukrainians from Kiev and Donetsk beat both Paris St Germain and L'Olympique Marseille respectively, but I do think the UEFA Cup final will still be very intriguing, especially since it could be a 3rd Slavic winner in five years. France is still waiting for its first UEFA Cup winner.
Finally, the Ukrainian Cup Semifinal features rising club Metalist Kharkiv-- whose European scalps this year include Besiktas, Galatasaray, Olympiacos, and Benfica-- versus comparatively unheralded FC Vorskla Poltava. Kharkiv's European run was ended only by another Ukrainian Side, that being Dynamo Kiev. There is also a nice historical wrinkle in this one. Look at Metalist Kharkiv's uniform. It is yellow and blue, much like that of the Swedish national team. History has shown as that Poltava is the place where great Swedish aspirations to be an empire have died, as they did in the Great Northern War on June 27, 1809. Maybe a third strip may be in order for Kharkiv.


Blogger august oscar said...

Hi Justin, it's me, Oguz writing these lines from Maastricht, the Netherlands.
It was nice to read your post. I'm still amazed with your interest in anything about my home country.
But just a small correction.. Pini Balili is an forward player for Sivasspor. Probably, you'll also be interested in learning that he firstly featured for Istanbulspor in Turkey. It was during the season 2003/2004. He scored one of the three goals to Fenerbahce in the opening game of the season (it ended 0-3 in Sukru Saracoglu), which also marked the only game that German goalkeeper Robert Enke played for Fenerbahce.

I checked the federation's website to make sure about the details.

Enjoy your time there. Keep posting..


5:23 PM  

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