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

A PSG treble is the least they should expect

French champions pay more than any other club in the world

PSGParis St Germain are on the brink of creating French football history. Ligue 1 champions already, and French League Cup winners, they face Auxerre in the Coupe de France final next weekend (May 30) in a bid to win an unprecedented treble. Only the UEFA Champions League would have eluded them in 2014-15.

But some might say, “so what?…they have more money than any other French team”. That’s certainly true, but it is also just been revealed that PSG pay higher wages than any other sports team in the world.

Research by Sporting Intelligence – an excellent website, by the way – shows that the average annual wage for a PSG player is £5.3m with the average weekly wage per player at £ 102,000.

PSG can only beat the teams they face, and they have proven to be France’s top side over the past few seasons. They have a distinct financial advantage – Monaco are the nearest challengers in Ligue 1 with an average weekly wage of £36,000 per player.

Having the most money doesn’t necessarily buy success, but it certainly helps. If you look at the top 10 football clubs in the world in terms of weekly wages, five – PSG, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Juventus have won their respective titles this season. But next time you hear from unhappy Manchester United and Arsenal fans that they cannot compete with the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea, the statistics do not indicate a big chasm in terms of financial clout.

There’s no getting away from the fact that the petrodollars from Qatar have propelled PSG into the “bulge bracket” of Europe’s football clubs. Over £300m of transfer fees went into building the current squad, the bulk of that in the first two full seasons of Qatari ownership – EUR 150m in 2012-13 and EUR 130m in 2013-14. It’s given them strength in depth that no French club (indeed, major European outfit) can match.

If you look at their squad, PSG could probably field two teams capable of a strong league campaign, and today, whenever a top player comes up for grabs, PSG are invariably listed among the suitors. Such rumours currently prevail about Manchester Unuted’s aunhappy Angel Di Maria and Juventus’ midfielder Paul Pogba. There’s also talk of an audacious bid for Cristiano Ronaldo.

This has not only made PSG unpopular, a la Chelsea and City in England, but has provided an excellent motivational tool for their Ligue 1 opponents.

That, and injuries to players like Zlatan Ibrahmimovic, who missed chunks of the season but still managed to score 19 goals in 24 Ligue 1 games, conspired to make PSG’s early season exploits a little frustrating. They won just three of their first nine games, developing a habit of drawing with clearly less-equipped teams. For a while, it looked like Marseille or Lyon might spring a surprise title win, but PSG’s run-in has been impressive, taking them to the top for the first time as late as March 30.

paris-saint-germain 2PSG won’t secure genuine credibility until they win the UEFA Champions League, and even then, it will be attributed to their financial firepower rather than skill. Nobody minds, though, if Barcelona win the UCL, even though their wealth is only marginally less. It’s human nature that “new money” is always frowned upon and envied. PSG went close this season, beating Barca in the group stage and accounting for Chelsea in the last 16. The men from Qatar will be hoping that this season is merely the springboard to European domination. They might like to consider how difficult it has been for Manchester City to break into that group, despite having £ 5m to spend every week.

Domestically, PSG have it sewn up, and they should secure the Coupe de France when they face second division Auxerre. On paper, it looks easy enough, as Auxerre are in mid-table. Unlike PSG, who have faced Ligue 1 opposition all the way through, Auxerre have had a far easier run, although they beat holders Guincamp in the semi-final 1-0.

If PSG win, they will make history as the first French club to win all three major prizes. They will also be the first team since Lille, in 2011, to win the league and cup double, something which has been completed 15 times in French football history.

But of course, no matter what Laurent Blanc’s team wins, it will always be attributed to the enormous wealth the club enjoys. That’s why ultimately, Blanc, and his team of expensive imports, will be judged on what they achieve outside of the French borders….

Paris St Germain’s 2014-15 squad and each player’s transfer value (if known):
Sirigu (EUR 4m); Marquinhos (EUR 31.4m), Luiz (£50m), Thiago Silva (EUR 42m), Maxwell (EUR 3.5m), Aurier (EUR 8m), Van de Wiel (EUR 6m), Pastore (EUR 39m), Verratti (EUR 12m), Motta (EUR 10m), Matuidi (EUR 7.5m), Cabaye (£25m), Lucas (EUR 45m), Cavani (EUR 64.5m), Ibrahimovic (EUR 20m), Lavezzi (EUR 26m).