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Beyond Barcelona: Europe's Memorable League Winners in 2011

Updated on April 30, 2016
Players celebrate with fans after Genk won Belgium's Jupiler League. Genk did so despite finishing second in the overall standings due to a unique playoff format.
Players celebrate with fans after Genk won Belgium's Jupiler League. Genk did so despite finishing second in the overall standings due to a unique playoff format. | Source

For most soccer fans, 2011 will be remembered mostly for the dominance of FC Barcelona, as the club accumulated four major trophies through the year, including La Liga. FC Barcelona was just one of many clubs to defend their respective league titles, including one that just been dominant in its country, despite not always getting the recognition of being an elite club.

However, perhaps the best stories are not alway the clubs that successfully defend their league titles. In 2011, five impressive results saw different clubs achieve titles. It started with a club feature no-name stars and ended with a club winning a league title after a century. Along the way, a French club won for the first time in over half a century while a Belgian club did enough to win the league title in a special playoff.

The Crucial May Match

A Season Unexpected

More Joy Outside Bucharest

It seemed that not too long ago Bucharest was often where Romania's best clubs played and won titles. Between 1980 and 2007, only one club outside of Bucharest won the country's top division. Between 2008 and 2011, Romania has seen three first-time league winners from three different regions.

None was as surprising as what unfolded at that of FC Otelul Galati. Before the 2010-11 season, FC Otelul Galati never finished higher than fourth in Romania's top division. Two seasons earlier, the club was in first place in the league after four games. Galati never contended for the title, however, and the club languished to a 12th-place finish. In the 2010-11 season, FC Otelul Galati went unbeaten at home as the club won 12 of its 17 games. That exceptional home record included 1-0 victories over Rapid Bucharest and Steaua Bucharest and a 3-3 draw with Dinamo Bucharest.

Those results were impressive considering Galati had no star players on the roster, and the most goals scored by one player was eight. They did, however, have a former Romanian international managing the team. Romania's most capped player entered his second season with the club as the manager. By 2011, Dorinel Munteanu, a member of four major tournaments, guided Galati to unchartered waters.

The road to a league title began with a 1-0 victory at reigning league champions CFR Cluj. It got even better on May 17 when Galati defeated Politehnica Timisoara 2-1 as the match would determine the league leader. Then Galati got more news courtesy from the Court of Arbitration for Sport, because a fixture originally scheduled for February ended up being a 3-0 victory for Galati over CS Pandurii Targu Jiu, who had unpaid debts.

With these six points, FC Otelul Galati won the league title, and its reward would be a first ever foray to the UEFA Champions League.

The Best in the United Kingdom?

Ask even the most ardent fans who is the best team in the United Kingdom, and few might mention a club from Northern Ireland. This organization happens to play at Northern Ireland's historic Windsor Park, home of the national team andLinfield FC. They were the inaugural league winner of the Irish League in 1891 and 2011 saw Linfield FC win the club's 50th league title

Linfield dominated the league by winning 26 matches in 38 games, including all five during the final phase of the season against the other top five clubs. Linfield amassed a plus-51 goal differential to finish 11 points clear of Crusaders FC. Two notable lopsided games during the first phase of the season included an 8-1 of Crusaders FC on Oct. 18, 2010, and a 6-2 victory over Donegal Celtic three weeks later.

He began a second stint at the club in the previous season while on loan from Stockport County, and Peter Thompson continued to add to his scoring prowess, starting with that 8-1 drubbing. He scored 89 goals during his first stint between 2001 and 2008 and Thompson returned to the club. He scored a penalty kick in the club's title clincher at Lisburn Distillery on Linfield's second visit.

That game saw Thompson scored his 23rd goal. It would be the third time in six seasons that Thompson led the league in scoring.

Linfield lost only once at home during the season and did well on the road as well, including and two 4-0 victories away at Lisburn Distillery.

Players come to congratulate Moussa Sow (8) after scoring a hat trick against Lorient on Dec. 5, 2010. The 6-3 victory for Lille was the highest scoring match of the 2010-11 Ligue One Season
Players come to congratulate Moussa Sow (8) after scoring a hat trick against Lorient on Dec. 5, 2010. The 6-3 victory for Lille was the highest scoring match of the 2010-11 Ligue One Season | Source
Moussa Sow (L) and Eden Hazard (R) celebrate during a match against Brest in Ligue 1. Sow finished as the league's top goalscorer, while Hazard finished as France's Player of the Year in 2011.
Moussa Sow (L) and Eden Hazard (R) celebrate during a match against Brest in Ligue 1. Sow finished as the league's top goalscorer, while Hazard finished as France's Player of the Year in 2011. | Source

Revival at Villeneuve-d'Ascq

Like Otelul Galati, this winner eventually qualified for a group stage berth at the Champions League. It did so in one of the club's most historic seasons, considering it went over half a century trophyless.The last time LOSC Lille Metropole won France's Ligue 1 in 1954. The World Cup, held in Switzerland, had yet to start.

After four games in the 2010-11 Ligue 1, Lille scored only two goals as the club drew its first four games, hardly a contender for the league title.

But LOSC Lille Metropole won 21 matches and lost only four games throughout the 38-game season. The first victory came in one of France's historic derbies. Two-goal performances by Gervinho and Pierre-Alain Frau helped Lille at RC Lens in the Derby du Nord 4-1. A week later, Senegalese striker Moussa Sow broke a tie against Auxerre with a 90th-minute goal to guide the club to victory.

He scored the club's first goal of the season to tie the match at Rennes, which he transferred from before the season; it would be a scoring season to remember. Sow also scored a hat-trick in a 6-3 victory against Lorient on Dec. 5, 2010. With one game to spare, Lille clinched its first league title since 1954 thanks to its 2-2 draw away at Paris Saint-Germain (PSG). In that match, Senegalese striker Moussa Sow extended his league lead to 22 goals. Sow was not done, however, as his hat-trick tormented his old team as he finished as league's top goal scorer.

Sow would be one of four candidates for Player of the Year in France. He lost out to his teammate who was also emerging in France.

He was voted France's Best Young Player in the past two season. Belgian international Eden Hazard topped that by winning the Player of the Year. He and Gervinho tied for the team lead with nine assists, and one of Hazard's signature moments came late in the season. His goal right before halftime at Nancy Lorraine put Lille on the precipice of that league title.

Before winning the league title, however, Lille had made history thanks to a Polish international. He only scored two goals during the league season, but Ludovic Obraniak had arguably one of the most famous goals for the club. His 89th-minute goal against PSG gave Lille its first French Cup since 1955.

In doing so, Lille achieved the club's first ever double.

Genk's Golden Moment

The Curious Tale of the Halved Point

It can be possible for a club to finish second in the league could and win a league title due to a disqualification. However, in 2011, that was not the case as one of the most peculiar situation unfolded, and it came down to a halved point.

Genk finished one point behind Anderlecht in Belgium's Jupiler League in 2011. That happened to be enough for Genk to win its first league title since 2002. Genk managed to win the league over sixth-place Standard de Liege, despite going unbeaten in the final ten matches. One word arises: how?

Determining Belgium's league winner is unique as it started last season. How it goes is that after 30 matches, the point values for the top six clubs are halved and rounded up. If two teams are level on points upon the conclusion of the championship phase, then the next tiebreaker would be whoever had their points rounded up.

Whoever had its point rounded would see that point deducted.

In the 2010-11 season, Genk and Lokeren would always be ahead of the other clubs in the event of ties. Despite leading after 30 games, Anderlecht struggled in the championship phase. The club lost five of the ten matches, including a 1-0 loss at Genk and a 4-3 home loss to Lokeren on the final day of the season.

Genk's home match against Standard Liege on the season finale became a de facto league title game. Standard Liege, sixth in the standings, won eight games in the championship phase. Standard was on course for the title after Eliaquim Mangala scored a late first-half goal. However, Genk just needed a draw. With his club losing 1-0, Genk manager Frank Vercauteren made a crucial substitution that proved pivotal. Two minutes after coming into the match, Kennedy Nwanganga scored the tying goal.

With goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois making crucial saves for his club, Genk hung on for the 1-1 draw to win just the club's third league title to go with their successes in 1999 and 2002.

League Standings After 30 Games in Belgium

Club
Wins
Draws
Losses
Overall Points
Halved Heading into Champ
Anderlecht
19
8
3
65
33
Genk
19
7
4
64
32
Gent
17
6
7
57
29
Club Brugge
16
5
9
53
27
Lokeren
13
11
6
50
25
Standard Liege
15
4
11
49
25
Anderlecht, Gent, Club Brugge and Standard Liege's point totals were rounded up after being halved. Should they tie any club, the halved point would be deducted.

The 10-Game Playoff Table

Club
Wins
Draws
Losses
Championship Points
Overall Plus Halved
Genk
6
1
3
19
51
Standard Liege
8
2
0
26
51
Anderlecht
3
2
5
11
44
Club Brugee
4
4
2
16
43
Gent
0
4
6
4
33
Lokeren
1
3
6
6
31
Genk defeats Clue Brugge on tiebreaker as Club Brugge's point value was rounded up heading into the Championship Phase.

At Long Last: A League Title After A Century

In Norway, Molde is a city whose nickname is the "Town of Roses." However, entering its 100th year of existence, Molde FC hardly ever had any rosy, signature moments, except one year: 1999. That was the year when the club finished second in the league. At the time, second place it was good enough for a Norwegian club to qualify for the UEFA Champions League playoffs. There, Molde overcame Spain's Mallorca on an away goal to reach the Champions League group stage. Molde followed that up by overturning a 2-0 deficit to defeat Olympiacos at home.

Molde was often the bridesmaid but never the bride. This club had finished second seven times before 2011 but never won a title. Molde was looking to continue its winning ways, having finished unbeaten in the final eight games of 2010 to avoid relegation. To continue its winning ways, Molde hired a former player revered in England for his role as the "Super Sub." Having played for Molde in two seasons, Ole Gunnar Solskjær entered his first season as manager in 2011.

Things did not start well: Molde opened its season with a 3-0 loss at Sarpsborg 08. But after that loss and two draws, Molde found their form, winning 14 of their next 18 games. That included a June 29 match at Valerenga, which saw Molde win 2-1 to go top of the table and would eventually stay there for the rest of the season.

Molde lost both games to perennial contenders Rosenborg during the season, but Rosenborg struggled surprisingly. Molde took advantage by going unbeaten in 10 straight matches following a 3-1 loss at Rosenborg on Aug. 7. One of those games including a home game against Strømsgodset on Oct. 30: Molde allowed a late equalizing goal to finish 2-2. However, Rosenborg lost at home to Brann 6-3.

With two games to spare, Molde won the Tippeligaen for the first time.

Leading Molde in scoring was Senegalese striker Pape Pate Diouf with 12 goals. Diouf's best performance during the season came on July 3 when he scored four goals in a 5-2 home victory over Aalesund.

And so 2011 proved that anything can happen with luck and sometimes with a particular player. In 2011, five champions earned their way to a league title and in some respects into the annals of footballing lore. History happened, revived and begun all in 2011. Europe witnessed many different champions crowned among the 53 nations. But it was in Romania, Northern Ireland, France, Norway, and Belgium that the best stories unfolded in a year that was dominated by Barcelona.

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