Kings crowned across Eastern Europe
Football in Eastern Europe is entering a new age of prosperity, with the game thriving both domestically and internationally. Poland and Ukraine will co-host the continent’s flagship national tournament, UEFA EURO 2012, during June and July, while the 2018 FIFA World Cup™ will take place in Russia.
The region’s clubs have also been making their mark, with two Russian sides - CSKA Moscow and Zenit St. Petersburg - reaching the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League and Metalist Kharkiv of Ukraine qualifying for the quarter-finals of the UEFA Europa League.
The surge can partly be credited to the growing strength of the area’s domestic leagues, which have once again captured supporters’ interest in 2011/12. FIFA.com has all the details.
Dinamo Zagreb emphasised their recent dominance of Croatian football this season as they cruised to a league and cup double, the fifth time in the past six years that the club have achieved such a feat. Ante Cacic’s men were rarely troubled on their way to claiming a seventh consecutive title for the club, as they lost just once and conceded a mere 11 goals in 30 fixtures to finish 21 points clear of second-placed Hajduk Split, who were forced to settle for runners-up spot for the fourth year running.
With the number of teams participating in the division to be reduced from 16 to 12 for 2012/13, five sides faced relegation. Rock-bottom Varazdin endured a miserable campaign which ended with suspension from the league and an uncertain future. They were joined in demotion by Karlovac, Sibenik, Lucko and Rijeka, who will begin next season outside the top flight for the first time in 38 years after narrowly missing safety by the tightest of margins.
The goalscoring exploits of trio Michal Breznanik, Jiri Stajner and Michael Rabusic - who all reached double figures in the league this season - helped Slovan Liberec win the third title of their history after a close three-way battle with Sparta Prague and 2010/11 champions Viktoria Plzen. Sparta had actually been the early pace-setters, breaking a league record by winning all of their first nine fixtures before losing 3-0 at home to Slovan, who eventually triumphed by two points.
A final-day draw at home to Plzen proved enough for Slovan to lift the trophy and take their spot in next year’s Champions League qualifiers, where they will attempt to match the achievements of their opponents, who progressed to the group stage during this campaign. At the other end, newly-promoted Viktoria Zizkov finished last and suffered relegation, and were accompanied by Bohemians 1905. David Lafata struck 25 goals for Jablonec to finish top scorer for the second season running.
Slask Wroclaw won their first Polish championship for 35 years after taking advantage of a late slip by Legia Warsaw, who won just one of their last five games to waste a lead and end in third. Legia were still in contention on the final day but Rok Elsner’s goal earned Slask a 1-0 win at Wisla Krakow and with it the league title.
Ruch Chorzow finished in second while 2009/10 winners Lech Poznan completed the final four, having been boosted by the 22 goals of league top scorer Artjoms Rudnevs. In comparison, no single player scored more than six league goals for the champions. At the bottom, Cracovia ended the campaign last and nine points from safety, while LKS Lodz filled the other relegation berth and returned to the second division after just a season in the top flight.
Luciano Spalletti led Zenit St. Petersburg to back-to-back titles after losing just four of 44 games as the Russian Premier League aligned itself to a traditional European format. Zenit finished two points clear of CSKA Moscow in the 30-game regular season before the league divided into two sections of eight teams, and their lead was only stretched further during the remaining 14 fixtures. Spalletti’s side eventually ended the marathon campaign 13 points ahead of Spartak Moscow, with CSKA - whose striker Seydou Doumbia led the scoring charts with 28 goals - in third.
Anzhi Makhachkala, coached by Guus Hiddink and led by Samuel Eto’o, and Rubin Kazan, winners in 2008 and 2009, were disappointed with their fifth- and sixth-placed finishes respectively. Spartak Nalchik finished bottom of the relegation section and dropped out of the top flight after a six-year stay, while Tom Tomsk were also demoted following seven consecutive seasons in the Premier League.
The Ukrainian Premier League finished with the exact same top three for the third successive year, as Shakhtar Donetsk were champions ahead of Dynamo Kyiv and third-placed Metalist Kharkiv. Despite remaining unbeaten for the first 25 games of their campaign, Dynamo could not topple Shakhtar, whose 2-0 victory at home to their rivals in April played a major part in deciding the destination of the 2011/12 title.
Mircea Lucescu’s side also completed the double by winning the cup after extra time against neighbours Metalurh Donetsk. Just four wins apiece meant PFK Olexandria and Obolon Kyiv were relegated, the former returning to the second division immediately after securing promotion the previous season and the latter bringing to an end a three-year spell in the Premier League.