Before we get to hearing from a handful of experts this week on their regions, a word about the win over Ufa at Ibrox on Thursday night. It was another night where Ibrox was full of bears, who maybe had a sense of nerves as we are incredibly close to something that I believe we have craved for a good while now. Ufa didn't make it easy for us, but this was really down to their style of play which from very early on it was clear that damage limitation was the name of their game. That and possibly hypnotising the referee to have a sudden irrational fear for the colour yellow. I have a confidence in our defence to go to Russia and put in as professional a performance as we did in Slovenia, but I also think that this Ufa side are by no means a team we should feel threatened by. I really believe that both Maribor and Osijek are better sides than the Bashkortostan outfit. We will see of course, and naturally the correct course of action is to not get too excited...yet.
We had our first big game in Northern Ireland this weekend as the two most recent champions faced off in Belfast. Current champions Crusaders hosted Linfield in a ground where David Healy’s team were without a win since 2016. It has been this series of matches that have decided the destination of the league title over the last few years and it’s first blood to Linfield. Crues were made to a rue a number of missed early chances before Joel Cooper knocked Linfield in front. Jamie Mulgrew doubled Linfield’s lead and that was enough to send the Blues top of the league. Elsewhere, Coleraine lost their 100% record and left it late to snatch a 2-2 draw against Glentoran at the Oval. A superb 30 yard strike from Peter McMahon looked to have given the Glens all three points. However, Eoin Bradley headed home in the 88th minute to earn the Bannsiders a point.
Chris Marshall sinks his teeth into the first weekend of La Liga:
Hay La Liga! That’s right La Liga is back and from newly promoted Real Vallodolid’s point at Girona in the opening game of the season to Iker Munian’s last minute winner for Athletic Bilbao against Leganes late on Monday night there was drama all over the everlong Spanish football weekend. Perhaps the result of the weekend saw a Jose Morales inspired Levante beat Real Betis 3-0 at the Benito Vilamarin. His second goal in particular a joy to behold in a game that was far more even than the score suggests. Toni “Soprano” Mohamed made his managerial debut as Celta Vigo drew 1-1 with Espanyol, the Argentine’s full suit and shades combo set to be the talk of the next Madrid Fashion Week. Lionel Messi was still brilliant, scoring Barcelona’s 6000th La Liga goal as they beat Alaves 3-0. You know who scored they’re 5000th? That’s right the wee man himself. Some woeful defending from Villarreal saw them lose 2-1 at home to Real Sociedad. There was some joy though for The Yellow Submarine as Santi Carzola looked nothing like a player who hadn’t kicked a competitive ball in 636 days! On a Sunday of first’s Huesca celebrated their first ever La Liga game with a 2-1 win away to Eibar whilst there was a debut La Liga hat-trick for Andre Silva as Sevilla routed Rayo who at least had something to celebrate as they scored the first ever VAR awarded penalty in Spanish football. Gareth Bale looks up for the challenge of replacing Ronaldo as Real Madrid beat Getafe 2-0 in the first of many Madrid derbies to come throughout this season, this game the third of the weekend to hear the full time whistle sound after midnight to the annoyance of many. We had to wait until Monday night for the best game of the weekend as Atleti and Valencia played out a cracking one all draw in a game broadcast on Facebook as Eleven Sports got their Spanish football coverage off to a strong start. Off the pitch Javier Tebas continues his mission to annoy Spanish football fans with his proposed agreement to play a La Liga fixture in the US with a statement from La Liga’s 20 club captains now imminent to call out this lunacy. In Portugal Benfica and Porto completed comfortable away wins at Boavista and Belenenses respectively with Porto in particular coasting whilst Sporting Lisbon’s rehabilitation continued with a second win of the season. The madness seemingly to have subsided for now. That’s all for this week as we await the start of the Andorran season in September. However until then, hasta luego!
And finally, Craig Murray tells us about one of the hottest derbies from his region:
On the 15th of August the 134th Sarajevo Derby took place at Stadion Grbavica and it was to be a very entertaining encounter between two teams who’ll be up there for the Bosnian title, Zeljeznicar who were runners up last season and FK Sarajevo who are backed Vincent Tan, the infamous owner of Cardiff City. It only takes fifteen minutes for the game to burst into life when Benjamin Tatar blasts the ball into the top of the net after having intercepted a poor clearance from the Zeljio defence cue pandemonium in the Sarajevo section, Whilst the Bordo Bijeli are still partying a well worked ball is zinged across the box for Dženan Zajmović to slot it in the bottom of the goal from seven yards on 22 minutes. Shortly after Zejlo think they have gone ahead when SulejmanKrpić taps the ball into an open net after a goalkeeping fumble leading to him running to the Ultras only for it to be embarrassingly ruled offside. On 39 minutes Sarajevo go back in front after some skilful trickery in the penalty box through Amar Rahmanović , after an uneventful interval nothing of note happens until 73 minutes when Dženan Zajmović heads in from a tight angle to rescue the point which the goalkeeper and centre back should have stopped.
All in all, whilst the standard might not have been the highest the atmosphere more than made up for it.
James Forrest (@No_Not_That_1)