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.
Sep 30, 2014, 2:18 PM EDT
Moscow was skunked by Roma 5-1 in the first round of group matches, while City fell 1-0 to Bayern.
Sep 30, 2014, 2:11 PM EDT
Check out if your favorite player made it onto Round 6’s Team of the Week.
Sep 30, 2014, 1:58 PM EDT
Mario Gotze drew a penalty that Thomas Muller finished, and Bayern Munich emerged victorious from a relatively-quiet stadium.
Sep 30, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
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Sep 30, 2014, 12:31 PM EDT
The Los Angeles Galaxy are really, really good, while Chivas USA is across town and the PR table.
Sep 30, 2014, 11:25 AM EDT
Fulham owner Shahid Khan is taking his time to make sure he gets things right this time around.
Sep 30, 2014, 10:38 AM EDT
Some called for his Manchester United captaincy over his lack of discipline, but two words: Roy Keane.
Sep 30, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
Which player ensured it would be back-to-back honors for a single team in the Premier League’s player of the week battle?
Sep 30, 2014, 9:13 AM EDT
The result of the weekend, however, was L.A.’s 4-0 defeat of the New York Red Bulls, and several players deserved Man of the Match honors.
Sep 30, 2014, 8:30 AM EDT
Maybe, just maybe, Newcastle will win against Swansea City this week and take another step toward getting well.
Sep 30, 2014, 7:52 AM EDT
FC Santa Claus is bringing soccer matches to the good boys and girls of the Ykkonen.
Sep 29, 2014, 11:44 PM EDT
Sepp Blatter confirmed FIFA voted strongly to eliminate third-party ownership in all professional settings, with a transitional period of a few years to be instituted immediately.
Sep 29, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT
The Men discussed all things Premier League on this week’s episode, including Phil Jagielka, Wayne Rooney, and a Peter Crouch chicken dance.
Sep 29, 2014, 9:36 PM EDT
With plenty of tournament success, the Mexican youth is turning the head of the senior team’s manager.
Sep 29, 2014, 8:47 PM EDT
Things surrounding Newcastle’s managerial position have become increasingly untenable.
Sep 29, 2014, 8:01 PM EDT
If PSG fail to make serious noise against top Champions League clubs, Laurent Blanc could be on his way out of Paris.
Sep 29, 2014, 7:12 PM EDT
Making $400,000 more than anyone else in the league, Kaka is set to lead Orlando City into MLS with a colossal paycheck.
Sep 29, 2014, 6:33 PM EDT
With MLS movement at a high, the controversial Malaysian expressed his wishes to enter the US realm
Sep 29, 2014, 5:51 PM EDT
He’s out with a broken tibia, but Giroud still remains vital to Arsenal’s long-term success.
Sep 29, 2014, 5:10 PM EDT
According to an ESPN report, Chivas will take at least a 2-year break to allow for a rebrand to occur and a new stadium to be built.
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