DAVID SMITH - Sunday, July 4, 2010
With most of the world's sights still fixed on South Africa, the Europa and Champions League got off to a quiet start this week featuring the créme de la créme of teams falling in the category of "never heard of 'em, don't even know how to pronounce 'em". While the chances for nearly any of these teams to reach the group stage of their respective competition lay somewhere between winning the lottery and Christiano Ronaldo finishing a major tournament with any level of dignity, these early rounds offer some respite for the hardened soccer junkies who can't bear the thought of looking on the scoreboard to see that there's absolutely no meaningful games happening that day.
Yes, the two-day break between completion of the Round of 16 and the first quarterfinal matchup has been excruciating.
While no Americans took part in these early rounds of the 2010-2011 European season, one hopeful soon-to-be Yank had a fantastic night in practically assuring his team a place in the next round. In an inspired performance, Yura Movsisyan fired a pair of goals and drew a penalty leading to a third in Randers' 6-1 KO punch over Luxembourg team F91 Dudelange.
The former Real Salt Lake player netted the team's second goal - and ultimate winner - when he beat the keeper in the 17th minute, and topped off the night just before the final whistle with a solo effort for their sixth score. The forward also contributed on the team's third goal when he won a penalty just after halftime, converted by team captain Søren Pedersen, and by all accounts was a handful for the overpowered Luxembourg outfit.
Movsisyan's superb performance was simply a continuance of his strong play throughout the spring for Randers, where he bagged a gaudy seven goals in only 13 games, and played a major, if not decisive role in helping the team climb from the grave of a 15-point deficit below safety at the season's midway point to their eventual survival. Their entry into the Europa League by way of their Fair Play Ranking was just the icing on the cake, and opened the door for Thursday's dominating smash-and-grab performance against Dudelange.
Barring an improbable turnaround on the return leg in Luxembourg, Randers will face Slovenian team ND Gorica, almost-yearly participants in the early rounds European competition over the last 15 years. While they would likely be considered favorites against the Slovenian team, somebody should consider warning Movsisyan that recent history has taught us he might need to put several into the net before he's officially awarded any on the scoresheet.
In other news...
Two hours earlier and 1500 miles southeast of Randers, FK Dnjepr-Transmash Mogilev's midfielder Dmitri Turlin scored a clutch 90th minute equalizer to give the Belarusian team a 1-1 draw with their Albanian hosts KF Laci in the thrilling first leg of their Europa League first-leg series. Before anybody starts to wonder if I'm such a soccer junkie that next week's whopping three-day break between the semifinal and the highly-anticipated third-place game of the World Cup will reduce me to catching bugs in the park and trying to have them re-enact Germany's recent thrashing of England, allow me to make three points in closing:
1. I didn't actually watch the aforementioned game.
2. The German bugs would still probably beat England 3-1 in regular time (although the England bug-team amazingly has good odds to hold the mini-Germans to a scoreless draw...go figure!)
3. The winner between Mogilev and Laci will play YA fave Mikkel Diskerud's Stabaek in the next round of the Europa League. Sadly, Thursday's result means he'll have to wait a little bit longer to find out where this summer's European tour will first take him.