Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Mon 4 May 2009

Europe: The Final Countdown (Part 1)

With just four games remaining in many of the top leagues in Europe, we thought we'd give you a regular round-up of what's happening around the continent as the 2008/09 comes to an end.

As you'll be aware by now, the latest Bundesliga action is summarised in Duffman's Bundesbag report every Tuesday or Wednesday here at SPAOTP, so for the purpose of these updates we'll concentrate on the top flight elsewhere...

Italy / Serie A
After a three-match stumble, leaders Inter finally won again, 2-0 at home to mid-table Lazio. Former Portsmouth midfielder Muntari picked up his third goal of the season before Ibrahimovic returned to the top of the goalscoring list with his 21st.

Milan kept up the pressure with their fifth straight win that saw Catania defeated 2-0. Inzaghi and Kaka split the bill with a goal each to extend Milan's lead over third placed Juventus who now haven't won a game since the end of March. The Old Lady could only manage a 2-2 draw with relegation-bound Lecce.

As well as Lecce, bottom-placed Reggina also did their chances of survival some good with a 2-1 away win at third-bottom Bologna. Those results mean Torino are now only one point above the drop zone as things hot up near the bottom of the table. There's also another 'sei puntatore' next week as Torino play host to Bologna while the big match at the top end sees Milan at home to Juventus.

Spain / La Liga
Result of the Week was undoubtedly Barca's 6-2 away win at Real Madrid. Lionel Messi and Thierry Henry grabbed a brace each while Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique scored one each to inflict a defeat on Real for the first time since Barca beat them at the Nou Camp back in December.

That result means Barcelona are now seven points clear at the top with only twelve remaining, therefore if Barca beat Villareal next Sunday and Real lose to Valencia the day before, the title will be Barca's.

Elsewhere, the SPAOTP anti-jinx worked a treat once again as Sevilla won away to Villareal directly after we pointed out their poor recent form last week. Their 2-0 win came just at the right time as fourth-placed Valencia surprisingly lost 3-0 to Espanyol to increase their chances of grabbing a place in the Champions League qualifying round next season.

The bottom two in La Liga, Numancia and Recreativo Huelva, both took maximum points to almost completely close the gap on Sporting Gijon who played out a 1-1 draw with Bilbao. Getafe and Osasuna both slipped nearer the bottom after losing their games 2-1 to Mallorca and Huelva respectively so it remains very squeaky in a 'bum time' sense going into the final four games...

France / Ligue 1
Without question the tightest and most interesting title race in France for years is nearing its climax as Marseille lead the table by a single goal after this weekend's matches. After Eric Geret's men could only draw 2-2 with an impressive Toulouse on Saturday, Bordeaux drew level with them on points by beating Sochaux 3-0 yesterday.

That was Bordeaux's seventh straight win (a run that goes back to March 14th) and the end of Marseille's six-win run, all of which leaves Lyon practically out of the running following their shock 2-0 defeat away to Valenciennes.

A seven point gap has now appeared between the top two and Lyon who would have dropped to fourth had it not been for a rejuvenated PSG losing 1-0 to Stade Rennes. Elsewhere, it was a bad weekend for the teams near the foot of the table apart from Le Havre who picked up a 2-1 win against fellow strugglers Nantes. Le Havre are now only nine points adrift of Saint Etienne in 19th but must remain the favourites to return to Ligue 2 in a month's time.

Portugal / Portuguese Liga
Porto extended their lead at the top of the table to six points this weekend after a comfortable 3-0 win away to Maritimo. Sporting Lisbon's run of four straight wins came to a shuddering halt when they played out a tame goalless draw against mid-table Academica but Benfica in third were unable to take advantage when they lost 3-1 away to Nacional.

Benfica now look doubtful to grab the second Champions League spot and may yet suffer the indignity of going into the Europa League qualifying round now that Nacional are only three points and one place below them in the table.

The two teams occupying the bottom two places, Trofense and Belenenses, play each other tonight with the latter capable of escaping the relegation zone if they win. Trofense fans, however, won't be optimistic having seen their side win only one game in the last thirteen.

Next weekend's games see Porto at home to Nacional while Trofense get the fixture they were desperately hoping for - an away match at Benfica. Sporting are at home to struggling Vitoria Setubal while at the other end, Belenenses are at home to the team third from bottom and just outside the relegation zone, Rio Ave.

Finally...
To the Netherlands where Steve McLaren managed to secure a spot in the Third Qualifying Round of next season's Champions League after his FC Twente side won 3-0 against the team already crowned champions for this season, AZ.

With only one game remaining, Twente are now assured of their runner-up spot after Ajax crashed 4-0 to Sparta Rotterdam yesterday. Ajax will take their place in the Europa League along with either PSV or Heerenveen.

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