Feb 20, 2014, 5:15 PM EDT
For much of the year the Europa League is scoffed at.
The bigger teams wouldn’t be seen dead competing in it, the medium sized teams use it as a reserve league for their squad players and there are a few smaller clubs who take it seriously.
Let’s face it, the Europa League lives a tough life as the UEFA Champions League towers over it, as the competition generally gets a pretty bad rep as the smaller brother.
And in case you didn’t know, the eight teams who finish third in their respective groups during the Champions League group stage are bumped down to the Europa League for the Round of 32 action. That means Europe’s second-tier continental tournament suddenly becomes awash with talented teams that didn’t quite make the cut in the UCL.
Such teams this season include reigning Italian champions Juventus, Dutch powerhouse Ajax and the extremely unlucky Napoli who somehow failed to qualify for the UCL knockout rounds, after becoming the only team in history to gain 12 points and not make the next stage of Europe’s top club competition.
Instead Napoli had to settle for a spot in the Europa League, and they faced a fired-up Swansea team at the Liberty Stadium on Thursday in an entertaining 0-0 draw. Yes, there were no goals. But the tempo of the game was impressive as both teams went for broke in an enthralling game.
In the first half the home side came flying out of the traps, as Swansea’s Nathan Dyer curled an effort towards the top corner but was denied, Wilfried Bony smashed over and had a shot well saved by Napoli ‘keeper Rafael Cabral, while just before the break Ashely Williams had acres of space in the box but headed over at the back post. At the other end Marek Hamsik smashed in a shot that Michel Vorm saved superbly, as the end-to-end action continued for the entire opening half. After the break Swansea’s tide of chances continued as Williams had another effort at the back post and then Wayne Routledge saw his shot saved superbly by former Liverpool ‘keeper Pepe Reina, who came on at half time following an injury to Cabral. Swansea kept pushing, but the fact that this game ended scoreless was neither here nor there.
The cut and thrust of knockout soccer on the European stage was exciting and as goals flew in across the rest of Europe, the Europa League came to life again. For most of the group stage games, empty stadiums saw placid games play out as many teams used this competition as an afterthought. But now that some of the biggest clubs in Europe find themselves ensconced in a second-tier tournament, they don’t want to be embarrassed by so-called smaller teams, and smaller teams want to embarrass them.
If this Swansea vs. Napoli tie is anything to go by, Thursday’s between now and May mean we are in for a real soccer treat.
Jul 1, 2015, 8:20 PM EDT
Big story for Dortmund, even if it’s a bit under-the-radar.
Jul 1, 2015, 7:30 PM EDT
Donovan, of course, was left off the World Cup roster last summer by Klinsmann, much to the chagrin of many U.S. fans.
Jul 1, 2015, 6:45 PM EDT
England’s fairytale run to its first Women’s World Cup semifinal meets the reigning champions in Edmonton on Wednesday
Jul 1, 2015, 5:50 PM EDT
Shay Facey knows Lampard from his time at Manchester City, and wasn’t bashful in praising the situation.
Jul 1, 2015, 4:26 PM EDT
He’s the latest addition for Roberto Mancini at the San Siro, along with Monaco midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia and Granada defender Jeison Murillo.
Jul 1, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT
As we gear up for a massive Gold Cup tournament, here’s a look at the superstars who will be on show in the United States of America.
Jul 1, 2015, 2:20 PM EDT
With the summer transfer window officially open, plenty of deals have started to trickle through. Here’s a roundup of the latest.
Jul 1, 2015, 1:50 PM EDT
USWNT legend Wambach joins the Dan Patrick show to preview the Women’s World Cup final.
Jul 1, 2015, 1:15 PM EDT
Can the Three Lionesses cause another upset to set up a clash with the USA in the final?
Jul 1, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT
Colombian forward is inching towards a move to Stamford Bridge.
Jul 1, 2015, 11:50 AM EDT
After giving away a PK in a pivotal moment of the USWNT’s World Cup semifinal, Johnston thanked her teammates for their support.
Jul 1, 2015, 11:19 AM EDT
The little magician grabbed three assists and carved open Paraguay’s defense time and time again. Sublime.
Jul 1, 2015, 10:50 AM EDT
Spanish club reveal snazzy new jerseys with plenty of meaning behind them. Check out the rainbow inspired get-up, here.
Jul 1, 2015, 10:15 AM EDT
Despite Di Maria’s stop-start debut campaign at Old Trafford, the Argentine international still has the backing of his teammates.
Jul 1, 2015, 9:22 AM EDT
Here’s the latest batch of gossip from around the PL.
Jul 1, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT
Joe Prince-Wright dissects the big deals of the summer so far and takes a look at the latest transfer gossip doing the rounds.
Jul 1, 2015, 7:10 AM EDT
England international right back Clyne has signed a long-term deal at Anfield.
Jul 1, 2015, 12:12 AM EDT
Jill Ellis takes a lot of criticism, but she got it right again on Tuesday, moves that got the U.S. into the World Cup final.
Jun 30, 2015, 11:50 PM EDT
It’ll be an interesting story to follow as it unfolds across American soccer’s top flight.
- Stars of CONCACAF: Ranking the top 10 players at the 2015 Gold Cup 5
- “Angel Di Maria has most talent at Manchester United,” says teammate. Agree? 8
- VIDEO: Breaking down the done deals and transfer gossip in PST Extra 0
- Liverpool complete $20 million signing of Nathaniel Clyne from Southampton 1
- Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup roundup: Union, Orlando, Chicago move on as Charlotte bounced 2
- With the World Cup on the line, the USWNT gave us a vintage performance to savor 3