International Break is over. Football club fans can breathe again. Hey, UEFA Nations league turned out pretty hawt in its Group Stage though.
Now we’re back into the club scene. On Friday’s, the scheds always run fairly light. But that just gives is a chance to jet-set around the world together.
The Track starts close to home, as always. Pretty Eurocentric all the way around, though we’ll bounce to some less-visited leagues there before we meander even farther.
Turn ON electronic devices, smoke ’em if you got ’em and don’t wait – help yourself to the drink cart in back. Let’s take off!
1. Morelia vs. Cruz Azul – Liga MX
We ease out of International Break – when so many of the top domestic leagues everywhere have been off so that players can take part on their home National Teams’ matches – with a dandy in Mexico.
Every club is about to play their last match of the Apertura. (That’s the first half-season. Most of Latin America has two separate league tournaments each year.) The top half the league (eight clubs) will qualify for the Liguilla (postseason tournament).
Cruz Azul lead second-place CF America by three points in the table. That means if they can manage any kind of result (win or draw, worth three points and one, respectively), they will have wrapped up the #1 seed. True to form from all season, Cruz Azul has only allowed two goals in their last five matches, all wins and draws for them.
Morelia are currently #8, clinging to that last Liguilla berth. Obviously, this is a daunting last match, but at least they get to host it. With a win, they could actually climb as high as 5th place. A loss or even a draw opens the door for the two teams which are two points behind them.
Morelia are as good on offense as their defensively-leaning guests today. But they allow about twice as many goals. Noob thinks they’re good for no better than a draw on their own pitch today. (8:00 PM Eastern, Univision Deportes)
RESULT: Cruz 0-2
B. Lyon vs. St. Etienne – France Ligue 1
This is the best European match of the day, though there are only three being held in the top leagues there. It comes from a league that’s catching a lot of criticism this year. The league has been slipping in the UEFA rankings, and now only its top three clubs will qualify for the next Champions League (the pinnacle of international club tournament competition).
Also, it’s considered a one-club league for quality this year. Paris Saint-Germain are 13-0-0. The other 19 clubs are being referred to as a “farmer’s league”.
** A what? Noob had this answered for us on the Bros Talking Soccer podcast recently as a listener question they fielded. It’s a demeaning term for amateur or semi-pro clubs or leagues in which the players all have day jobs. Think “beer league” or “rec league” as a rough American equivalent from softball or other sports, though those aren’t quite as disparaging. **
In what is otherwise a very tight table, these two are in 4th and 5th place. Lyon have been the more successful team recently, as their competing in the currently-running Champions League. In their last 10 league matches, they only lost one to someone other than PSG. Still, the defense has only been meh.
St. Etienne get a lot of low-scoring draws, don’t appear to have the firepower to compete for a top-three spot. But they’ve not lost in their last four matches, and so can’t be discounted, even in on the road. (3:00 PM, beIN Sports)
RESULT: Lyon 1-0 Though those around them now have a game in hand over Lyon, the win today puts them in #B.
Number B sees no issue with idea of a farmers league.
3. Go Ahead Eagles vs. TOP Oss – Netherlands Eerste Divisie
This is from one of Europe’s better footballing countries, though not its top league. Eerste is the Dutch second division.
Coolly-named Go Ahead Eagles (who were originally “Be Quick”. Really.) are in 1st. That’s the only table position guaranteed to get Promoted to Eredivisie (the Dutch Premier League). At least one other will move up, but there will be playoffs at season’s end to determine what club or clubs get to move up as well.
Top OSS are in 4th. They don’t play “small ball”, but concede the fewest goals in the league at the expense of scoring a very pedestrian amount of goals themselves. They’re not the direct threat for the title that #B Sparta Rotterdam is.
RESULT: Oss 0-1 With the upset, Oss remain in 4th, but now only two points behind the three co-leaders.
4. Olimpija Ljubljana vs. Mura – Slovenia Prva Liga
Now we deep further down the UEFA domestic rankings to league #30. That’s a touch below average, but remember that Europe’s is the top confederation in the world. And hey – they’re playing. It’s Friday 😛
The majority of leagues qualify just one club to Champions League, which is the case here. Only two teams are at all competing for the title. Ljubljana and Maribor are the two perennial powerhouses and current leaders. Ljubljana trail them by four points in the table here at about the season’s halfway point.
The second-best European international tournament for clubs is the Europa League. Mura is in 3rd right now, just high enough to snag one of those slots. Noob thinks Domzale is going to pass them soon, after the drubbing Mura will endure today.
RESULT: 2-2 Mura with the come-from-behind W! Goals for them at 89′ and 90′. Your a bright, shining star, Tomi Horvat!
Slovenia! Come for the footyball, stay for the…stern-looking comedy clubs?
That’s comedian Marjan Sarec.
5. Flamutari vs. Partizani Tirana – Albania Super League
So the top 30 is about as far down the rankings as Noob looks in Europe for matches with which to intrigue and delight. But now is when we begin our true Friday Globetrotting, Noobites!
Albania’s league is just a little further down the ladder from Slovenia’s (#34). Naturally, they also get just one team into Champions League. Tirana are #1, two points up on Skenderbeu Korce. These are the only two realistic title-chasers.
If you recognize the name Skenderbeu, congratulations! They’ve been on Noob before, noteworthy for having been banned 10 years from international competion for match-fixing. Flamutari are in 6th.
RESULT: Falmutari 1-0 Upset City!
6. Balzan vs. Hamrun Spartans – Malta Premier
Couple o’ midtable teams from Malta. #47 league in Europe. Let’s just Fun Fact these bad boys.
Fun Fact: The village of Balzan is only a few thousand people. But it’s part of an area known as Three Villages and borders the city of Birkirkara (country’s second-largest).
Fun Fact: Hamrun are also nicknamed tas-sikkina, meaning “of the knife”, roughly. It might refer to many people from there being stevedores on the docks, or to Sicilians living there illegally in the 1500’s who were known to do dances that involved pulling the stiletto knives from their socks and waving them around.
7. Gibraltar United vs. Glacis United – Gibraltar Premier
League #51 of 55! When you’ve only got a population of maybe 35,000 people, hard to climb very high. Gibraltar United is in 3rd. They’re fewer than ten matches into the season, but it already appears they won’t have the defense to keep up with the usual championship suspects – Europa FC and Lincoln Red Imps. Glacis are in 7th.
RESULT: United 2-1
8. Ferizaj vs. Prishtina – Kosovo Premier
Kosovo’s league is #53. That’s so low, the country only gets two clubs into the Europa League instead of the more usual three.
But this may be mostly due to how new specifically-Kosovar football is. They’ve only had their own recognize football federation since the 2016-17, and didn’t start earning points for ranking until a year after that. With a population of about two million, they should be able to raise the league to a a higher profile in time.
Ferizaj are in second-to-last place, a position that would get them Relegated at season’s end. So yes, there is at least one more level if football there. Prishtina wouldn’t know. They’re in 1st, having only given up four goals in fifteen matches.
Prishtina was the best club from what is now Kosovo back in the Yugoslav First League days.
9. Aiglon vs. New Star – Martinique Division d’Honneur
That southern European weather was dreamy for a couple matches there. Kosovo? Eh. So to the Carribbean we go!
Powerhouse league? Nah. But despite being a French Overseas Territory (and so non-FIFA member), in CONCACAF. Hallooooo, neighbors.
The top two finishers in this league will qualify for the Caribbean Football Union (subgroup of CONCACAF) Club Championship. That event, in turn, serves as a qualifier for the CONCACAF Champions League. It’s very early, but Aiglon are #B and the numbers indicate they’ll stay there and have only one threat for the title. New Star are 5th place.
RESULT: Aiglon 2-1
10. Al Hudod – Al Quwa Al Jawiya – Iraq Premier
We finish our Trekking Track in Asia! This isn’t quite a top-ten league there, but close, and high enough that they qualify the maximum two teams into the AFC Champions League.
Al Jawiya were runners-up last year, 6-0-0 so for this season. Early results indicate Al Shorta likely to be their top threat. It certainly won’t be Al Hudod, wallowing down in 13th. Why so bad? See that there? Noob just scored on Hudod. There, it happened again. Bless you. Someone sneezed and scored on ’em. You get the idea.
RESULT: Hudod 1-0 A clean sheet? Well, well!
So long from Baghdad, home of Al Hudod!
Statue of Karahmana and the forty jars