Standard Liege triumph in Belgium’s early cup final

bELGIAN CUPCELEBRATIONS over Standard Liege’s Belgian Cup triumph may have been put into perspective by the terrorism in Brussels on Tuesday morning, but the club’s 2-1 win against favourites Club Brugge deserves to be mentioned.

The Belgian national team postponed training on the day that the capital city was left stunned by bombing incidents. “Football is not important today,” said the Belgian Football Federation.

On Sunday, however, Standard won the Cup for the seventh time thanks to an 88th minute decider from Croatian centre-forward Ivan Santini, his first goal in the competition. Skipper Adrien Trebel was left as red-faced as the Liege shirts when he received the cup. Jumping up and down on the podium, his shorts fell down!

It has been a disappointing season for Standard Liege. They missed out on the Championship play-offs in the regular season and are in one of the four-team Europa League play-off groups that starts on April 2. They’re currently on their second manager as the summer appointment, Slavoljub Muslin, only lasted until the end of August. His replacement, Yannick Ferrera, took over in September. Standard finished seventh, one place below the top group. Brugge, Gent, Anderlecht, Oostende, Genk and Zulte Weregem will all play in the six-team Championship Play-Off.

Belgium’s cup final is one of the first to be played this season. Here’s a run-down on the situation in some of Europe’s domestic cup competitions:

Austria: Semi-finals – April 19/20 – Admira Wacker v St. Polten; Salzburg v Austria Wien
Bulgaria: Semi-Finals – April 6/20 – Montana v Lovech; Beroe v CSKA Sofia
Croatia: Semi-finals – April 5/6 (2nd leg) – Slaven Koprivnica v Rijeka; D.Zagreb v Hajduk Split
Czech Republic: Semi-finalists are Viktoria Plzen, Jablonec, Slovan Liberec and Mlada Boleslav
Denmark: Semi-finals – April 6/20 – FC Kobenhavn v Brondby; Roskilde or AaB v AGF
England: Semi-finals – April 23/24 – Everton v West Ham or Man.Utd; Crystal Palace v Watford
France: Semi-finals – April 19/20 – Lorient v PSG; Sochaux v Marseille
Germany: Semi-finals – April 19/20 – Bayern v Bremen; Hertha v Dortmund
Holland: Final – April 24 – Feyenoord v Utrecht
Hungary: Semi-finals – April 12 (2nd leg) – Ferencvaros v Debrecen; Bekescsaba v Ujpest
Italy: Final – May 21 – AC Milan v Juventus
Poland: Semi-finals – April 5/6 (2nd leg) – Zaglebie v Lech Poznan; Zawiska v Legia
Portugal: Final – May 22 –  Porto v Braga
Romania: Semi-finals – April 20/21 (2nd leg) – Targu Mures v Cluj; Dinamo v Steaua
Russia: Semi-finals – April 19 – Amkar Perm v Zenit; CSKA v Krasnodar
Scotland: Semi-final – April 16/17 – Rangers v Celtic; Hibernian v Dundee United
Serbia: Semi-finals – April 19 (2nd leg) – Borac Cacak v Javor Ivanjika; Spartak Subotica v Partizan
Spain: Final – May 22 – Barcelona v Sevilla Sweden: Final – May 4 – Malmo v Hacken
Switzerland: Final – May 29 – Lugano v Zurich
Turkey: Semi-finals – April 20/May 10 – Galatasaray v Rizespor; Fenerbahce v Konyaspor

Who’s up for a double? – The state of play in Europe’s knockout game

fa_cup (150x200)With the English FA Cup limping to the semi-final stage, the competition’s counterparts across the channel are also heading for conclusion. Achieving the double is notable in whatever country you happen to play your football and some of Europe’s big names can still end up with two prizes on their mantelpiece.

In Austria, the top four in the Bundesliga have reached the semi-finals of the OFB Cup. The semis will see league leaders Red Bull Salzburg, the holders, travel to third place Altach, while second-place Rapid Vienna will go to the team in fourth, Wolfsberger. These games will take place on April 15.

In Belgium, the situationin the Coupe de Belgique is similar. Leaders Club Brugge will meet second-placed Anderlecht in the final on March 22. Brugge beat their city rivals Cercle in the semi-finals, while Anderlecht disposed of Gent. Holders Lokeren fell at the quarter-final stage.

The Coupe de France has also reached the last four, which will be played April 7-8. Holders Guincamp will play Ligue 2 side Auxerre and the mighty Paris St. Germain, who are in second place in Ligue 1, will play St. Etienne, in what should be an interesting tie.

Bayern Munich have a great chance of a third successive double this season. They are odds-on to win the Bundesliga, but they are also in the last eight of the DFB-Pokal. They will travel to Bayer Leverkusen, while Dortmund will host Hoffenheim, Wolfsburg are at home to Frieburg and Bielefeld host Borussia Moenchengladbach. These games are also to be played April 7-8.

Italy could well see a repeat of the 2013-14 Coppa Italia. The competition has reached the penultimate stage and after the first legs, Napoli and Fiorentina are favourites to go through to the final. Juventus, Serie A champions-elect, slipped up in the first meeting with Fiorentina, losing 1-2 in Turin. Napoli, meanwhile, drew 1-1 with Lazio in Roma. Last season, Napoli won the Coppa Italia, beating Fiorentina 3-1.

KNVBThere have been a few surprises in the Dutch KNVB Cup this season. For only the fourth time in 50 years, the big three of Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord failed to reach the last eight.The semi-finals will see Twente play Zwolle, the holders, and Groningen will meet Excelsior. Zwolle, the highest-placed of the four, must fancy their chance of repeating their surprise success of 2013-14.

Spain’s Copa del Rey final will be between Athletic Bilbao and Barcelona, to be played on May 30, probably in Real Madrid’s Bernebeu. Now that Barca have overcome their problems from earlier this season, they have a good chance of winning the Spanish double. Bilbao coach Ernesto Valverde is playing down the importance of the final, but given the Basque side last won silverware of note in 1984, when they beat Barcelona in the Copa del Rey, who is he kidding?

Back in England, meanwhile, the quarter-finals have been uninspiring so far. Manchester United v Arsenal has a lot riding on it…