Inspiring, breathtaking and thrilling football is by no means the preserve of Europe’s acknowledged big five leagues - the Premier League, La Liga, the Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1. For that reason, FIFA.com has turned the spotlight on the continent’s smaller countries and presents a host of newly-crowned champions from around Europe.
In Switzerland, FC Basel snatched the Super League in a heart-stopping finale. On the final day, FCB won away to Young Boys Bern, condemning their opponents from the Swiss capital to second place by a three-point margin. It is Basel’s 13th national league title, and they also won the cup to make it a domestic double.
Last Saturday, Red Bull Salzburg crowned a consistent 2009/10 campaign by retaining the Austrian Tipp3-Bundesliga title. The Red Bulls finished a point ahead of Austria Vienna to claim the honours for the third time in four seasons. Not for the first time, the man standing head and shoulders above the rest for Huub Stevens’ team was Marc Janko, who followed up a 39-goal haul last term with 18 this time round.
Sparta and Partizan undefeated
Sparta Prague landed a sixth championship of the new millennium in the Czech Republic. The nation’s oldest club went through the 30-game season undefeated, conceding a paltry 14 goals in the process. Keeper Jaromir Blazek, a member of the Czech squad at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™, was an understandably strong contender for Player of the Season.
In Poland, Lech Poznan won the league for the first time since 1993. Now champions five times in all, Lech took the cup in 2004 and 2009, but the Ekstraklasa title proved elusive for 17 long years. Striker Robert Lewandowski fired 18 goals to finish as the Polish top flight’s leading scorer.
Emulating Sparta Prague’s achievement, Partizan Belgrade avoided defeat throughout the 2009/10 campaign. The serial champions in Serbia comfortably made it back-to-back SuperLiga titles, boasting the best attacking and defensive records in the final standings.
Dominant in Denmark
Litex Lovech took the league honours in Bulgaria for the first time since 1999. Coach Stanimir Stoilov’s side proved untouchable in the A PFG, coasting to the title ahead of Sofia-based rivals CSKA and Levski. After winning the cup twice in a row, the team spearheaded by French ace and the league’s leading scorer Wilfried Niflore went one better and sealed championship glory.
In Denmark, FC Copenhagen won the league for the seventh time in a decade. After collecting the double last term, the country’s leading club had to be content with the SAS Ligaen honours this time round. The tightest defence and the most potent attack proved too much for runners-up Odense.
Mario Mandzukic (14 goals), Pedro Morales (13) and Milan Badelj (11) contributed significantly as Dynamo Zagreb sealed the title in the Croatian 1. HNL. Krunoslav Jurcic’s team scored 70 goals in their 30 matches, and like many of their fellow champions, also boasted the best defence. Hajduk Split were left with the unloved runners-up spot, as 2008/09 double winners Dynamo were simply too crushingly consistent again this term.
Maiden triumph for Koper
In 2007/08, CFR Cluj won the double in Romania, but ended up a disappointing fourth the following season. However, Italian boss Andrea Mandorlini and his men bounced back last term and took the Liga I honours for the second time in their 103-year history.
The powerhouse in Slovakia in the new millennium is undoubtedly MSK Zilina. After winning the league in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2007, 2010 brought a fifth championship in nine years. In 33 matches – the 12 top-flight teams play each other three times – MSK conceded just 17 goals, leaving dethroned champions Slovan Bratislava to lick their wounds in second spot.
The Slovenian championship was a clear-cut affair, with FC Koper and coach Borut Jarc marching to a maiden Prva Liga triumph. A strong collective, featuring four players (Mitja Brulc, Miran Pavlin, Dalibor Radujko, Dare Vrsic) with ten goals or more to their names, saw the rookie champions finish fully 11 points clear of last season’s winners Maribor.
Ten on the bounce for Tiraspol
With two games to play in the Prva Crnogorska Liga in Montenegro, Rudar Pljevlja can no longer be toppled from top spot. In their 90-year history to date, the club from the north had a solitary cup win in 2007 to boast for their efforts, but dominated their domestic rivals at will last term.
Sheriff Tiraspol underlined their near-complete dominance of the Moldovan scene. The men from the country’s second-biggest city have won the Divizia Nationala for a staggering tenth time in a row. With two games still to play, the serial champions have scored 70 goals and conceded a mere eight, although they have in fact lost three games. Likely runners-up Iskra-Stali Ribnita lie a yawning 17 points off the pace.
The honours in the Umaglesi Liga in Georgia went to Olimpi Rustavi. The team from the Kvemo Kartli regional capital claimed the second league title in their history after their maiden triumph three years ago.