Russia hoped its impressive showing at Euro 2008, when it produced majestic performances against Sweden and the Netherlands in reaching the semifinals, would end the cycle of underachievement and herald its arrival as a major player in the international game. It failed to qualify for the World Cup two years later, though, losing in a playoff to Slovenia, which prompted the departure of manager Guus Hiddink. He was replaced by fellow Dutchman Dick Advocaat, who has stuck largely to the same core of players -- which has led to accusations that he is biased toward the Zenit St Petersburg he led to the UEFA Cup in 2008.
As Cup final victories go, Liverpool's Carling Cup final success (3-2 in a penalty shootout) over Cardiff City on Sunday was particularly unconvincing. When a Premier League team plays a side from a lower division, even if it plays a team from lower down the same division, anticlimax is probably the best it can hope for; to win by a comfortable two- or three-goal margin.
The "always a bridesmaid, never a bride" quips about Brad Guzan's European career can head to the back burner. At long last, Guzan is Aston Villa's No. 1 goalkeeper. With Monday's word that regular starter Shay Given will be out for the next month after tearing his hamstring in the first half of Aston Villa's 1-0 loss to Manchester United on Saturday, the Villans will turn to the 27-year-old Illinois native between the pipes. Guzan looked at ease upon entering against the Red Devils and didn't concede a goal, though he was hardly put to the test in 52 minutes.
Already the vultures are hovering. Porto will be back in the Champions League next season, but the problem is that it is unlikely to be this Porto, the side that has dropped just four points in the league all season, and swept all before it in Europe.
After 188 minutes of wildly entertaining, at times outrageously open football Tuesday, it all came down to Bastian Schweinsteiger's tired legs. The Bayern Munich midfielder failed to keep up when Goran Pandev started running from the halfway line and could only watch in horror as the Macedonian smashed in the epic winner that sent Internazionale into the quarterfinals of the Champions League.
MADRID -- The phone lines opened at 10 a.m. on Tuesday. At the same time, ATMs all over Spain were activated. Tickets were on sale for Atlético Madrid's Copa del Rey match against Universidad de Las Palmas at the Vicente Calderón -- the ground where the fans are proud of their loyalty and where season-ticket sales actually increased in the summer in which Atlético was relegated. When the lines closed that evening, 12 long hours later, 24 tickets had been sold.
Roy Hodgson always was likely to face two problems at Liverpool: that his football was too boring for the fans, and that his training was too boring for the players. A certain stodginess leading to long-term grumbling was perhaps to be expected, but what nobody predicted was that Liverpool would be as bad as it has been so far this season, and that there would be immediate outrage.
In what was a rather quiet week for American soccer players abroad, aside from Sacha Kljestan's second goal for RSC Anderlecht and Clint Dempsey's returning to the starting lineup for Fulham, one up-and-comer managed to make some serious career headway.
The Premier League is effectively a series of mini-leagues, and for many sides, seeking promotion or avoiding relegation is the main goal of the season. There is a clutch of sides for whom relegation should be no more than a distant threat, but for whom European qualification is an impossibly distant prospect. Here we look at three of the mid-table sides that may be moving up or down a notch this season:
Roy Hodgson arrived at Fulham in 2007 without much fanfare. He was regarded, probably largely because of an unhappy spell at Blackburn Rovers, as a mediocre manager who'd had reasonable success abroad with a string of mid-ranked countries -- Finland, Switzerland, Sweden -- but who couldn't really cut it at the highest level. His two years of rebuilding work at Internazionale in the 1990s, in which the Italian club finished seventh and third and reached the final of the UEFA Cup, was broadly ignored.
Atletico Madrid face second-bottom Valladolid Wednesday, the team that's won just six times all season, and it's Valladolid everyone expects to win. But Atletico doesn't mind. It expects Valladolid to win too -- and it won't be bursting any blood vessels to ensure otherwise.
If Liverpool had played its entire season at home, it'd be in fourth right now, cosily certain of Champions League football after the summer and in absolutely no danger of finishing below noisy neighbors Everton. The team has taken an impressive 28 of the last 30 available league points at Anfield.