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.
Aug 27, 2014, 9:42 AM EDT
After Oliver Giroud’s bad injury, will Arsenal spend big to bring in Cavani?
Aug 27, 2014, 9:12 AM EDT
Have your say on where van Gaal’s side will finish this campaign.
Aug 27, 2014, 8:46 AM EDT
Eagles swoop to hand former boss his second stint in charge at Selhurst Park.
Aug 27, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
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Aug 27, 2014, 7:18 AM EDT
Experienced lower league manager set for second stint in charge of Palace.
Aug 27, 2014, 1:02 AM EDT
Red Bulls win their full tournament debut, while Club Améric takes a valuable point on the road.
Aug 26, 2014, 10:14 PM EDT
The rankings have had a big four — LA, RSL, Seattle, and Sporting. That group makes way for two new teams at the top of the PRs.
Aug 26, 2014, 8:20 PM EDT
Three-time Champions League winner adds depth to Roberto Martínez’s attack.
Aug 26, 2014, 7:31 PM EDT
United boss asks fans to withhold judgment on his team’s disappointing start.
Aug 26, 2014, 6:04 PM EDT
Red Devils hit a new low, with three other Premier League clubs bowing out in the competition’s second round.
Aug 26, 2014, 5:06 PM EDT
BATE Borisov and APOEL Nicosía are also into the group stage, with the five final spots to be decided tomorrow.
Aug 26, 2014, 4:27 PM EDT
U.S. Soccer is doing right by its biggest icon. Donovan will be called up for the Oct. 10 game in Connecticut.
Aug 26, 2014, 4:14 PM EDT
For the second time in seven weeks, Thierry Henry takes home our weekly honor.
Aug 26, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
Why the Jones to New England move would’ve been a whole lot better with a little more transparency. Or a lot more transparency, if you like.
Aug 26, 2014, 2:44 PM EDT
New England got a whole lot better on Tuesday, and the Revs new Designated Player will immediately cause opposition problems in MLS.
Aug 26, 2014, 1:58 PM EDT
Angel Di Maria has cost Manchester United a British transfer record of more than $98 million from Real Madrid.
Aug 26, 2014, 1:12 PM EDT
There’s still time to join up for a year of Fantasy Premier League fun via Yahoo’s free game, but don’t wait too much longer: the points are getting racked up!
Aug 26, 2014, 11:58 AM EDT
Both Kostas Manolas and Mehdi Benatia have been pegged for the Premier League all summer, but the former will head to Roma to take the Bayern-bound latter’s spot.
Aug 26, 2014, 11:27 AM EDT
Tuesday and Wednesday bring 10 second legs for 20 clubs hopeful of the group stage windfall and another step toward glory.
Aug 26, 2014, 10:47 AM EDT
Real Madrid goes to extremes, with only a touch of pink dotting their UEFA Champions League gear.
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