European Football

What’s going on in Mittel Europa?

Dinamo Zagreb...when people turned out to watch them

Dinamo Zagreb…when people turned out to watch them

We’re familiar with what’s going on in the big five football leagues: the English Premier; La Liga; the Bundesliga; Serie A and Ligue 1. But what about some of the lower profile competitions, leagues that contains some big names from a more democratic age?

There’s no doubt that some familiar names are running the show in many Central European leagues, but there are very few tight battles as some of the leading clubs start to pull away from their respective packs.

In Austria, it’s looking like Red Bull Salzburg will clinch their third Bundesliga title in four years. They are currently six points ahead of Rapid Vienna. The two sides recently drew 3-3 in the Ernst Happel Stadium. Salzburg went into a three-goal lead inside half an hour, but Rapid came back and finally levelled in added time through Philipp Prosenik. The key games for Salzburg are trips to third-placed Rheindorf Altach on May 16 and Sturm Graz (fourth) two days later. The season ends on May 29.

The Bosnian title race is arguably one of the most interesting in Europe. The top five are separated by five points, with Siroki Brijeg in pole position with 46, three points ahead of Sarajevo and reigning champions Zrinjski. Siroki, a Croat-backed club, come from a small town of under 30,000 people. They were runners-up last season.

In Croatia, Dinamo Zagreb’s monopoly continues. They are heading for a 10th consecutive title win and are currently 12 points ahead of Rijeka. The top two meet on the final day of the season on May 29. Despite constant success, Dinamo’s attendances are abysmal. At the 40,000 Maksimir stadium, Dinamo are averaging a mere 1,700 a game. Croatian domestic football isn’t in great shape, but Dinamo’s crowd is way below the 2,800 league average and 60% down on 2013-14. Perceived corruption at the club (and generally, in Croatian football) and hooliganism have played their part in this said decline.

The Czech title is looking like a two-horse race, with Viktoria Plzen five points in front of Sparta Prague. Sparta haven’t given up the title they last won in 2014, however. They sacked their manager, Vítězslav Lavička, after losing to Jablonec (in third place) in the Czech Cup this week and new man Zdeněk Ščasný has been tasked with retaining the title. Across the border in Slovakia, Trencin could win their first title this season. They are two points ahead of Zilina. The two clubs meet on May 23, a week before the end of the campaign.

Hungary’s title race is starting to look one-sided, with Videton 11 points ahead of Ferencvaros. Fradi have just beaten Budapest rivals Ujpest 2-0 in their new Groupama Arena in front of 21,000 people. It meant that Ferencvaros have now gone 13 games unbeaten. While this bodes well for Hungary’s most popular club, they look to have too much ground to make up on Videoton. Incidentally, Videoton and Ferencvaros meet on the final day of the season, May 29.

With eight games to go, Romania’s championship is a battle between Steaua Bucharest and Targu Mures, with the former two points better off than the latter. At the other end of the table, Rapid and CFR Cluj are both in relegation trouble. Steaua have had a mixed season in many ways, being stripped of their name and identity earlier in the campaign. In December, the supreme court in Romania ruled that the club’s registration by controversial chairman Gig Becali, was illegal. So every item of branding had to be returned to the Romanian defence ministry. Meanwhile, Becali has just been released from prison after serving a sentence for match-fixing and illegal land swaps. He wouldn’t win any prizes for diversity: he banned Queen records at the club because Freddie Mercury was gay; and he tore up the contract of a loan player because he was bald. He claims he’s changed!

In Switzerland, it’s business as usual, with Basel enjoying a 10-point lead over Young Boys Berne. Basel have a toughish run-in, with a home game with Young Boys and away trips to FC Zurich and Thun. It looks like a sixth successive title for the RotBlau.

Game of the People will be looking in on Swiss football on May 29 in the form of the Zurich derby on the final day: FC Zurich v Grasshoppers.

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