It’s been known as ‘The Europa League’ for a full SEVEN seasons now. Yet, for some reason, we’re only just about getting our heads around it now. To some it’ll always be ‘The UEFA Cup’. We’re sure there are a few people still calling it ‘The Cup Winners Cup’. And at least one old fella still thinking of the competition as ‘The Inter-Cities Fairs Cup’.
Call it what you will, but – let’s be honest – it’s the Champions League’s less popular little brother. But just because the Europa League doesn’t have the same cachet as its bigger sibling, that doesn’t mean that the competition hasn’t treated us to some excellent football down the years. And for fans traveling to watch their team compete in a final, it’s still a big occasion. Just ask the followers of this year’s finalists, Ajax and Manchester United.
We’ve cast our minds back and come up with five memorable finals featuring clubs from England that you’re bound to remember too. So let’s go back in time and remind ourselves what exactly happened…
Sevilla Vs. Liverpool, 2015/16
Liverpool were all set to lift the Europa League trophy last season and nab a spot in the Champions League, until a second-half collapse saw Spanish side Sevilla secure their third Europa League title in a row. A cheeky outside-of-the-boot number from Daniel Sturridge had Liverpool heading down the tunnel at half-time a goal up. But a strike from Kevin Gameiro and then two from Coke saw them lose their second final of the season.
The final in Basel was to be a big disappointment for the Reds, especially after their Quarter Final heroics. They’d somehow scored three goals in the final twenty minutes against Jurgen Klopp’s old side Borussia Dortmund to progress. But they couldn’t take that momentum into the final and were, eventually, outclassed by a ruthless Sevilla. It was to be their fifth Europa League/UEFA Cup trophy. Not bad going.
Chelsea Vs. Benfica, 2012/13
Ajax may have made the final this year, but four years ago, when their Amsterdam Arena hosted a final, it was competed for by Benfica and Chelsea. Blues followers might have sneered at the competition at the start of the season, but by the final? They were all pretty keen to add to their ever-growing trophy haul.
Rafa Benitez’s men took a 60th minute lead after a particularly smart finish from Fernando Torres, only to be quickly pegged back by an Oscar Cardozo penalty. It looked like extra time and maybe even penalties might decide the thing until Man of the Match Branislav Ivanovic lobbed Brazilian ‘keeper Artur in the Benfica goal with a looping header in the 93rd minute. What a finish.
Fulham Vs. Atlético Madrid, 2009/10
Atlético might be Champions League stalwarts nowadays, but it wasn’t that long ago that a good season would see them happily accept a place in the Europa League (or UEFA Cup…). Still, when they took on Roy Hodgson’s Fulham back in 2010, they went into the game as fairly strong favourites. Which is no huge surprise when you look at the quality running throughout Quique Sánchez Flores’ side…
No disrespect to Aaron Huges, Chris Baird or Dickson Etuhu, but they hardly match up to figures like David de Gea, Tomáš Ujfaluši, José Antonio Reyes, Simão, Diego Forlán and Sergio Agüero on paper. That said, the West Londoners took the game to extra time. But it was to be the former Man United man Forlán who’d settle the tie at the death and send Fulham home dejected.
Middlesbrough Vs. Sevilla, 2005/06
We’ve already looked at Sevilla knocking out an English side. And a disappointing night for a team led by a former England manager that now plays in the Championship. So why not combine those two and talk about Sevilla knocking out another English side led by a former England manager that now plays in the Championship? This time, it’s Middlesbrough.
Fulham might have taken a Spanish giant to extra time in their Europa League final, but back in the 2005/06 season, the Smoggies were overrun and overwhelmed in theirs. That said, in the 77th the score was only 1-0 to Sevilla, courtesy of Luis Fabiano. Twelve short minutes later, though? The score was 4-0 and Steve McLaren’s men left Eindhoven with their tails between their legs.
Liverpool Vs. Deportivo Alavés, 2000/01
We end on a real corker. A bona fide classic of a game. A nine goal thriller played out in Dortmund’s impressive Westfalenstadion, it might look like a mismatch on paper now, but on the day – it was a rollercoaster of a game. Markus Babbel, Steven Gerrard, Gary McAllister and Robbie Fowler scored for Liverpool, but at 4-4, it needed a Golden Goal to seal the win…
Who was to be the Liverpool hero? Well, a man by the name of Delfi Geli. It’s fine – you’re forgiven for having never heard of him. He was an Alaves player. That’s right, the title-deciding goal was an own goal. Poor guy, eh?
Will the 2016/17 Europa League Final turn out to be a classic? Will Jose Mourinho pick up his second trophy of the season with his new club? Or will the old European giants of Ajax spoil the party? You’ll have to wait until Wednesday night to find out…