No extra time for Zlatan as PSG impress on Ibrahimovic’s farewell. Five of Europe’s major domestic cup finals can’t be decided in 90 minutes on a weekend of late cup drama.
With France 2016 just a couple of weeks away, it was a weekend of domestic cup finals across Europe with titles decided in Spain, Germany, Italy, Portugal, France, England and Scotland. So perhaps it’s a good omen for the Euros that it was the ‘Coupe de France’ that provided the most goals and arguably the best spectacle of the weekend.
Thanks to the wonders of catch-up satellite TV, I was able to enjoy six of the showpieces in full, making a few observations and comparisons along the way. I was in for a few surprises and some serious overtime. Here’s my take on each game in order of entertainment value along with some ‘finals weekend’ numbers and awards:
1st – French ‘Coupe de France’
Marseille 2 – 4 Paris Saint-Germain
Despite watching this one with French commentary, this game grabbed my attention from the start and didn’t let go. Early goals for both sides and end-to-end action on arguably the worst playing surface I saw, there was plenty of skill and slick passing on show. Ibrahimovic’s two goals and an assist evidence that at 34, he’d still be a great addition to the Premier League. Player of the weekend.
Defying a 13th placed league finish where they secured just half of PSG’s 96 championship-winning points tally, Marseille played their part in a competitive, entertaining game in front of a large, passionate crowd. Two goals early in the second half for PSG could have ended the game as a spectacle but Marseille kept coming forward and Zlatan and co. kept countering at speed and great aplomb.
With few tackles worthy of the name, just one booking and relatively few fouls, both teams had time and space to play. But it was PSG who added a 10th French cup to their runaway 31-point Ligue 1 title.
Most notable for: 6 goals, most shots in 90 minutes, emotional goodbyes and not going to extra time
2nd – Scottish Cup
Rangers 2 – 3 Hibernian
Anthony Stokes kicked off my festival of finals with a well taken goal after just three minutes. Some fairly ordinary defending and non-existent marking contributed to plenty of chances for both sides but there were also some quality strikes in a game where the lead changed hands three times.
Despite this being the first final between two teams outside Scotland’s top division, Rangers were (old) firm favourites and looked like they were heading for a cup double when Andy Halliday gave them the lead with a powerful 25-yard strike. But that would have been unfair on Hibernian who went into the game having lost their last 10 cup finals.
Stokes alone had nearly twice as many attempts as Rangers when he equalized with 10 minutes left. And there was still time for Hibs Captain David Gray to head home deep in stoppage time for a historic last-gasp win. The crowd trouble at the final whistle sadly overshadowed a pulsating match that was a credit to the much-maligned Scottish game.
Most notable for: Lead changing three times, an early goal, a very late winner and spoilt celebrations
3rd place – Spanish ‘Copa del Rey’
Barcelona 2 – 0 Sevilla (AET)
With Spain’s La Liga teams continuing to dominate European football, it’s fair to say I was expecting this to rank above the French and Scottish showpieces. No shortage of great players on display but with no goals in 90 minutes, it was the momentum swings from three red cards and three ‘killer’ passes from by far the best player in the world, that stole the show.
Not at their best, Barcelona still looked dangerous and most likely until they lost Mascherano (sent off) and Suarez to injury. Europa League champions Sevilla adopted a more attacking approach but couldn’t make their numerical advantage count before being reduced to 10 in the last minute of normal time.
Cue a belated Leo cameo. Messi’s incisive pass had sent Neymar clear when last man Banega pulled him back and five minutes into extra time his magnificent vision and execution put Alba in for the opening goal of the game. The little Argentinian’s quick feet and close control were in evidence too as he wriggled clear of Carrico (leading to his dismissal) and minutes later mesmorising another Sevilla defender on the edge of the box before slipping Neymar through to seal the win. Barca secure a Spanish double double.
Most notable for: 3 red cards, momentum shifts, great ‘keeping, 42 fouls, Messi magic and a late finish
4th – English ‘FA Cup’
Crystal Palace 1 – 2 Manchester United (AET)
You can always rely on English football for action packed, physical and above all, competitive entertainment. Although lacking the quality of the Spanish and German game at times and overly-reliant on foreign imports, there was real quality in both United’s goals from two homegrown players.
As English games go, this felt like a bit of a slow burner until the game really kicked into life in the 78th minute – Palace’s sense of injustice at not being allowed to play the advantage in earlier goalscoring positions, eased when corner-taker Puncheon smashed the ball past De Gea from close range having not been picked up at the far post.
United’s misfortune at twice hitting the woodwork, soon forgotten when Rooney dribbled past five or six players before digging out a back-post cross for the equaliser. Chris Smalling became only the 4th man to be sent off in a FA Cup final in extra time but United defied their man disadvantage and avoided a shootout thanks to a spectacular 110th minute volley from substitute Jesse Lingard.
Most notable for: Rooney’s run, Lingard’s goal, Smalling’s rugby tackle, 38 shots, impatient refereeing and the palace fans
5th – German ‘DFB-Pokal Cup’
Bayern Munich 0 – 0 Borussia Dortmund (AET), Bayern win 4-3 on penalties
The two best teams in Germany by a country mile but with some notable absentees and others taking a final bow. Bayern were always going to dominate possession and you can’t blame Dortmund for focusing on the counter attack. But Manager Tuchel rightly wants to see more belief in future.
A physical game with 35 fouls split between the sides and Vidal’s shirt split down the middle. Sadly few attempts on target considering the Bundesliga’s leading three goalscorers all featured. Lewandowski, Aubameyang and Muller did all eventually register from the penalty spot but it was two Dortmund defenders, so resolute throughout the match, that eventually buckled under the shootout pressure.
Most notable for: Bayern possession, Dortmund defending, wayward efforts, missed penalties and Pep’s farewell celebrations
6th – Italian ‘Coppa Italia’
Milan 0 – 1 Juventus (AET)
Italy has developed a bit of a reputation over the years for defensive tactics and slow, deliberate build up. Unfair labels perhaps but not if this showpiece was anything to go by. Claudio Ranieri has won the hearts of the footballing world by effectively reminding the Premier League how to defend but he has done so embracing the “we’ll score more than you” English mentality.
Juventus were big favourites coming in having secured a 5th straight Serie A title, with Milan finishing a distant 7th. But it was Milan with the majority of the possession and efforts on goal during two hours of football that felt considerably longer. My man of the match, combative Milan midfielder Kucka, says it all. Juventus with the only goal of the game in the 110th minute to seal their Italian double double.
Most notable for: 50 fouls, 9 yellows, just 7 shots on target and wondering why we hadn’t seen Morata earlier
Cup Finals weekend in numbers
4 league and cup ‘doubles’ clinched (2 double doubles)
13 hours of football
21 goals scored
42 nationalities represented
46 yellow cards (4 red)
64 shots on target
89 domestic players (playing in their country’s cup final)
193 players appearing
214 attempts on goal
250 fouls committed
450,000 stadium fans
And the award goes to …
Most dominant performance – PSG
Most possession – Bayern Munich, 70%
Defensive blunders – Porto x2
Best player performance – Ibrahimovic, PSG
Best goalkeeper performance – Marafona, Braga
Best strike – Lingard, Man Utd and Silva, Porto
Best block – Durm, Dortmund
Forgot their shooting boots – German cup (Aubameyang and Kimmich spring to mind)
Closest matched sides – Italian cup, similar possession, shots on target and fouls
Most shots per 90 mins (match) – French cup, 33 shots, 13 on target
Most shots per 90 mins (team) – Hibernian, 21
Worst discipline – Spanish cup (Sevilla, 31 fouls, 9 yellows, 2 reds)
Best atmosphere – German cup
Nation with most players appearing – France, 22 (Notable mention – Brazil, 18)
Most domestic players appearing – Scotland, 63% (Germany 50% in big three leagues)
Biggest upset – Portuguese cup, Braga
Grandstand finish – Scottish cup, Gray’s last-gasp goal
Read More About: ac milan, Alvaro Morata, anthony stokes, aubameyang, Barcelona, chris smalling, claudio ranieri, copa del rey, coppa italia, coupe de france, crystal palace, david de gea, dfb-pokal, ever banega, fa cup final, hibernian, javier mascherano, Jesse Lingard, Juventus, Lionel Messi, Manchester United, marseille, Neymar, Porto, portuguese cup, psg, Rangers, robert lewandowski, scottish cup, sevilla, sporting braga, thomas muller, Thomas Tuchel, Wayne Rooney, zlatan ibrahimovic