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In Praise Of The Unfashionable: European Football Round-Up

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England
It doesn’t take long in life to learn that money can’t always buy everything that you want. In football terms that can also sometimes be the case. In England this week we’ve seen lowly and comparatively skint Burnley knock the Chelsea ‘millionaires’ club out of the Carling Cup. Chelsea’s monthly wage bill, bank rolled by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, would probably be able to buy the whole Burnley club.

Also newly promoted Hull City continue to rattle a few golden cages in their first ever Premiership campaign. They have already gone to Arsenal’s swanky new stadium and won. On Sunday they drew 2-2 at another wealthy club Manchester City. Arsenal lost at home again this time 0-2 to Aston Villa.

Spurs recent run of excellent results came horribly unstuck at Fulham who took the lead following an appalling blunder by Heurelho Gomes the Tottenham keeper. However Stoke City couldn’t do a ‘Hull’ and got turned over 5-0 at Manchester United.

Spain
Another one of the world’s richest clubs Real Madrid lost 0-1 at Valladolid. The pressure is now on manager Bernd Schuster. His precarious position isn’t helped by the fact that he is a former Atletico Madrid legend.

Italy
In the big Rome derby Roma best Lazio 1-0, in a game that saw four players booked, two on each side, one each sent off. First to get red was Ledesma for Lazio on 66 minutes. He was followed by Perrotta of Roma on 87.

Portugal
Benfica beat Amadora 1-0 but top of the table Leixoes showed their championship potential by winning 1-0 at Sporting Lisbon with a goal from Sosa on 65 minutes.

France
St. Etienne have rung the changes this week. Out went manager Raymond Domenech and in came ex-Lyon, & Portsmouth manager Alain Perrin. However they still managed to lose 0-3 at Lille showing the new man just how much work needs doing. The only team who look capable of catching Lyon at the top are Marseille. Well that’s what I thought up until last night when they managed to throw a 2-0 winning position away, letting in three late goals at home to unfashionable Lorient, losing 2-3. The huge Stad Velodrome was not a happy place to be after this shocker. Manager Eric Gerets summed it up succinctly describing the collapse as a ‘catastrophe’.

PSG carried on their winning ways thumping Le Havre 3-1 away.

Germany
Bayer Leverkusen stay top having beaten Schalke 04 at home 2-1. Leverkusen’s Stefan Keissling continues to impress. How long they can hold onto him remains to be seen. Bayern Munich drew 2-2 at Borussia Monchengladbach.

Belgium
My game this week was Royal Excelsior Mouscron at home to Charleroi. Strangely these are two French speaking teams with Mouscron being literally yards across the France/Belgium border. Unfortunately I collected a speeding fine on the way to the game and the home team duly followed my example by storming to a 2-0 lead after 25 minutes. But in the second half Charleroi looked by far the fitter team. It ended 2-1 and with Mouscron visibly going backwards they had to hang on to all three points. This was especially the case after the referee added six minutes stoppage time at the end.

The weekend’s biggest game saw Club Bruges take on Brussels rivals Anderlecht in a 1-1 draw.

Scotland
Guess what? Yes Celtic beat Hamilton Academicals away 2-1 and Rangers beat St. Mirren 2-1 at Ibrox. No change there then! How Scotland could use a Hull City or anyone to break the ‘Old Firm’ stranglehold.

Holland
Our Euroscore featured match this week took place at the Amsterdam Arena, Sunday lunchtime. It ended Ajax 4 PSV Eindhoven 1.

Whether you like football or not watching this match could probably have illustrated exactly why the sport is called ‘the beautiful game’. Ajax have a long history of producing wave after wave of some of the most exhilarating footballers you can hope to see. For this grudge match they were without several first choice players including their captain the much sought after Klaas Jan Hunterlaar. It didn’t stop them from systematically dissecting PSV and eventually romping to a well deserved 4-1 win.

Ajax is a club with an undeniable aura of magic about them. Their tradition of total football has bred generation after generation of multi skilled footballers who can play in nearly any position. When a defender or midfielder pushes forward someone fills the position and the team’s shape is rarely lost.

Today it was Luis Suarez, Urby Emanuelson and Eyong Enoh that caught the attention. Goal number one came after 27 minutes when Ajax had enjoyed 66% possession. Emanuelson, slipped Dennis Rommadahl in on the right, and his cross was slammed low into the PSV net by Suarez after a sublime first touch.

PSV’s central defender Peiters was having a torrid time trying to keep check on Suarez who was threatening to run riot. When Ajax attacked they swarmed forward. It was the home team’s runs from deep that were inflicting the real damage.

The second half saw PSV take off Wuylens and replace him with Lazovic. His first contribution was to break wide on the right, trick the advancing Vermeer in the Ajax goal before laying it in the path of Ibrahim Afellay who tapped in for 1-1 on the hour. If anyone thought this would signal a PSV revival they would quickly be proved very wrong. Ajax simply stepped up a couple of gears and proceeded to destroy their opponents.

The second Ajax goal came on 74 minutes when substitute Miralem Sulejmani scored. The build up was totally exquisite. Suarez controlling a cross laying it back to Emanuelson who somehow managed to brilliantly flick the spinning ball over a defender and fire in a shot. Sulejmani was there to pick up the rebound for 2-1. It was a wonderful goal and underlined a superb Ajax performance.

The game was now threatening to boil over as PSV struggled to keep some sort of control. Quite how Salcido’s lunge at Suarez and then Emanuelson weren’t punished with at least a yellow card or two is beyond me. The inevitable third Ajax goal came on 77 minutes when a deep corner from Emanuelson was driven across the face of the PSV goal straight into Erik Pieters who completed a nightmare afternoon by deflecting it into his own net.

From this point on it was just a question of how many goals Ajax would have time to score. The fourth came when Brazilian substitute Leonardo stormed past the miserable Peiters and guided the ball past the keepers desperate dive. By now the PSV defender was no doubt wishing he had actually collected the two yellow cards he should have had earlier.

It was a thumping 4-1 victory for the Amsterdam team and from a neutral football fan’s point of view it was a wonderful display of exuberant football that I would gladly pay hard earned cash to have the privilege to watch.

Ajax has always been a selling club. This is possibly due to the fact that they always seem to have gifted youngsters coming through their excellent youth set up. With that in mind expect Eyong Enoh to start attracting even more attention after this superb display. I will be very surprised if he is still an Ajax player this time next year.

This was football how football should be played.

Next week I'm off to see Racing Club de Lens take on amateur side Arras from a kilometre or two down the road in the French Cup. Are we in for a shock? I hope not – I'm a Lens season ticket holder!

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About Jeff Perkins