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Eastern European teams struggling in Champions League

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If the opening two rounds in the Champions League group stage are anything to go by, eastern European teams in the competition will find it difficult to advance to the knockout stage.

As things stand at the moment, most of them could also be denied the consolation prize of carrying on in the Europa League after the winter break.

Teams from this part of Europe registered just one win, one draw and five defeats on Tuesday and Wednesday and most have a mountain to climb if they are to reach the last 16.

Five of them — CSKA Moscow, Otelul Galati, Dinamo Zagreb, Shakhtar Donetsk and Viktoria Plzen are bottom in their respective groups.

Soccer Break Wednesday – Champions League week special

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SOCCER-CHAMPIONS/REALGot your breath back yet? Perfected the Dejan Stankovic volley in your mirror ready to take out on the pitch? Well Tuesday’s first installment of four Champions League quarter-final evenings was spectacular and there is more to come on Wednesday.

First, a recap of last night. The Real Madrid backlash did kick in, though against the 10 men of Tottenham Hotspur and two extremely well-taken goals that on another night may have gone wide of the post.

Barca closing in on La Liga title

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SOCCER-SPAIN/In our latest Monday Spanish soccer post, Mark Elkington in Madrid reviews the situation in La Liga after Real Madrid’s shock 1-0 defeat at home to Sporting Gijon and looks ahead to this week’s Champions League action.

La Liga is Barca’s to lose

In a week when Real Madrid were reported by local media to have vetoed the playing of any Shakira songs in the Bernabeu because of her romance with Barcelona’s Gerard Pique, the Spain defender gained more than ample revenge.

Soccer Break Monday – Champions League last eight week special

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SOCCER-CHAMPIONS/With all the hype surrounding this week’s Champions League quarter-finals, the events of the weekend seem like a distant memory. Here’s a recap of a fascinating set of results around Europe the past few days.

Before we move on, your thoughts please. Does Wayne Rooney deserve to be punished for his outburst on camera against West Ham? And Fulham fans, did you take a picture with Michael Jackson on Sunday?

Soccer Break Friday – Champions League draw special

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SOCCER-EUROPA/Well well well. Now the Champions League really is wide open..

So here’s that quarter-final draw again:

Real Madrid v Tottenham Hotspur

Chelsea v Manchester United

Barcelona v Shakhtar Donetsk

Inter Milan v Schalke 04

As Gary Lineker put it, there will be an English team in the semi-finals, but could Tottenham make it two sides? Real are certainly not invincible.

Now, before taking a look at all the domestic leagues over the weekend, a recap of Thursday’s highlights from the Europa League. Quite a night of upsets.

Soccer Break Wednesday

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SOCCER-CHAMPIONS/A fine Wednesday to you all, and a few statistics to begin with. Attendance at the Nou Camp: 95,486. Estimated crowd noise (in decibels): 121.8. Estimated noise of a referee’s whistle (in decibels): 121.8.

The operative word above is estimated, because of course we have no idea, but a quick dig around on the internet shows some debate about whether Robin van Persie could have heard Massimo Busacca’s whistle despite the defeaning noise at the Nou Camp.

Soccer Break Tuesday

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SOCCER-ENGLAND/After Chelsea’s vintage performance in a 3-1 win at Blackpool, Tuesday’s edition will start with a look at Fernando Torres.

Poor old Torres. He’s undoubtedly a classy player, but one who seems to be feeling the burden of expectation that has fallen on him after his British transfer record fee of £50 million in January.

Can Shakhtar Donetsk gatecrash western Europe’s party?

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SOCCER-CHAMPIONS/Shakhtar Donetsk’s impressive 3-2 win at AS Roma in their Champions League last 16, first leg match was perhaps overshadowed by Arsenal’s unlikely comeback against Barcelona on the same night, but it will have nonetheless reverberated around Europe.

It would be audacious to expect Shakhtar to appear in the final at Wembley in May, but the Ukrainian champions appear to have one foot in the last eight after a textbook display of counter-attacking football at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.

Shakhtar win is fitting end for UEFA Cup

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The way the UEFA Cup has been going, it was fitting, perhaps even inevitable, that Shakhtar Donetsk triumphed over Werder Bremen to win the competition’s final final before its rebranding as the Europa League.

As Sonia Oxley pointed out, Easter European teams have been the ones taking it seriously of late, and as Justin Palmer noted, the Brazilian influence on the competition has been getting ever stronger. Werder were missing Diego and it showed, as they searched in vain for inspiration after falling behind for a second time. Shakhtar, of course, have far the greater Brazilian contingent.

No Diego but UEFA Cup final will have strong Brazilian influence

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There will be a heavy Brazilian influence in Wednesday’s UEFA Cup final between Shakhtar Donetsk and Werder Bremen in Istanbul — despite the absence of Werder’s influential playmaker Diego through suspension.

Brazilian players have made a major impact in recent finals and with Ukraine’s Shakhtar boasting five in their ranks, and Naldo lining up for their German rivals, expect the boys from South America to take centre stage.

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