Aug 27, 2008

The Wednesday Wrap: Lucky, lucky Liverpool

Though we were not impressed with Liverpool coming into the season (a view that was not exactly expunged by their first few performances on the pitch), we didn't think qualifying for the Champions League would be anywhere near this difficult. We shrugged off the scoreless draw in the first leg as an anomaly Stevie G and co. would easily reverse in the return leg. Well, not exactly. Turns out it took some heroics by Pepe Reina and an overtime goal by Dirk Kuyt to see Reds through to the elusive group stage. This against a team from Belgium. Yes, Belgium, the country that is said to have invented french fries (or chips as they're known to some of our readers) but whose soccer players haven't really been heard from since the 1986 World Cup (when Belgium made the semifinals).

The game many of us were anticipating most turned into a rout. Atletico Madrid, whose praises we were singing in full voice earlier, beat up on Schalke 04 by a 4-0 score, easily (at least after some early jitters) overcoming the 1-0 loss from the first leg in Gelsenkirchen.

It was a good day for the Soccer Source ranking committee. Not only did FC Basel of Switzerland (where one of our number grew up) qualify for the group stage for the first time since 2003, but our much poo-pooed decision to keep Shakthar Donetsk in the Top 25 is suddenly appearing very wise indeed. The Ukranian side is through to the group stage as well after an impressive win at Dynamo Zagreb, though we're not sure how much longer we can keep calling them Ukranian; all three of Shakthar's goals were scored by guys who are about as Ukrainian as Georgia's Olympic beach volleyball players are Georgian (interestingly enough, both sets of players are born in the same country --and it's nowhere near south-central Asia).

While we're signing our praises (only a bit longer we promise), another team we are bullish on (Olympique Marseille) also advanced, though not without difficulty against Norwegian side Brann Bergen. And (returning to the Ukranian theme here) Dynamo Kiev will be part of the group stage as well, having beat Spartak Moscow with ease.

But it wasn't all roses for Top 25 clubs. A team we had at #20 this week (Galatasaray) failed to qualify today, losing at Steaua Bucharest, while the Turkish side we dropped from the list (Fenerbahce) made it through after beating Partizan Belgrade.

Anyway, the field of 32 is set and the group stage draw can commence tomorrow. But here's some bad news: unless we're mistaken, only one (1) of the 32 teams has U.S. players on its roster and the club in question (Villareal) is not likely to play Jozy Altidore in these games (while Giuseppe Rossi, its other "American" has all but renounced his citizenship. Not that he was going to play either. Still, not nice. Hey Giuseppe: you were born in New Jersey, you traiterous little b*tch!)

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