Monday’s Weekend Wrap-up: Trophies Galore in Europe

This Saturday saw the finish of most of Europe’s largest domestic tournaments. Though the Coppa Italia had already ended, the FA Cup, Copa del Rey, Coupe de France and DFB Pokal finals were all played.

 

Olivier Giroud scored arsenal's 4th goal in the 90th minute despite coming on as a substitue.

Olivier Giroud scored arsenal’s 4th goal in the 90th minute despite coming on as a substitue.

Arsenal and Aston Villa competed in the final of the FA Cup. At first it looked fairly even, but Arsenal quickly started looking like the better team. The match stayed tied for the first 40 minutes.  Right before the end of the half, Theo Walcott scored to break the deadlock. Arsenal broke loose after that. Sanchez, Mertersacker, and Giroud all added on before the slaughter was over. The victory makes Arsenal the most

Messi was the star of the Copa del Rey final, scoring two goals.

Messi was the star of the Copa del Rey final, scoring two goals.

successful team in the FA Cup, with 12 victories, just edging Manchester United. It could be the start of a breakthrough for them, as they also won the FA Cup last year.

The next big tournament played was the Copa Del Rey. Another where the latest winners also hold the record for the most wins. Barcelona’s 3-1 triumph over Athletic Bilbao brought their total number of victories up to 27. Ironically, Bilbao have the second most wins, 24. Anyways, it was another domination match by Barcelona, with Messi striking two great goals. Neymar had one, making him top goal scorer in the tournament with seven. There only slip up was letting Williams head in an 80th minute consolation goal. Barcelona played their usual possession game, ending with an enormous 77%. One of the most notable points of the game is that it was Xavi Hernandez’s last in the Camp Nou. His last in a Barcelona kit will be against Juventus in Berlin for the Champions League final.

Paris Saint-Germain beat out 8500 other clubs, including Auxerre 1-0 in the final to claim the Coupe de France title for the 8th time. Edinson Cavani continued his good run of form by scoring the winning goal. The most notable reason for mentioning the Coupe de France is that it makes PSG the first club to win a domestic French treble. That means they won Ligue 1, the Coupe de France and the Coupe de la Ligue. A large achievement, despite the fact that they were, you know, favorites for all three competitions.

Jurgen Klopp coached Dortmund for seven years, bringing them to new heights.

Jurgen Klopp coached Dortmund for seven years, bringing them to new heights.

Despite all those great tournaments, the one that will probably be talked about the most is the German DFB Pokal final. It was played between VFL Wolfsburg and Borussia Dortmund. It was the last game Dortmund played under legendary manager Jürgen Klopp, and they wanted to send him off with some silverware. They had already shocked favorites Bayern Munich in the semi-finals by eliminating them on penalties, so a win against another large club would mean a great deal. Dortmund got off to a great start, with Aubameyang scoring early. Wolfsburg fought back though, and Dortmund lost their last game with Klopp in charge 3-1. This could be the end of an era for Dortmund, so it’s a shame they couldn’t send Klopp off better. A disappointing end to a disappointing season.

Bobby Boswell is DC United's captain this season.

Bobby Boswell is DC United’s captain this season.

Two other games I want to talk about quickly. Napoli lost 4-2 to Lazio on the final Serie A matchday, losing a chance to claim Lazio’s Champions League spot. Napoli manager Rafa Benitez will join Real Madrid in time for next season, so it would have been nice if he could have given Napoli a chance to get into the Champions League.
In MLS news, DC United came from behind to beat Philadelphia Union 2-1 to secure their spot on top of the eastern conference. 2nd place New England tied the LA Galaxy, leaving the gap at 4 points with 14 games played.

Did you know that the FA Cup is the oldest soccer competition in the world.  The first year it was held was 1871.

Mario Balotelli: The Premier League’s Biggest Flop

When Luis Suarez left Liverpool for Barcelona for just under $100M, Liverpool needed a strong replacement. Suarez had scored 31 goals in just 33 games to claim both the Premier League and the European Golden Boot as highest goal scorer, and the Premier League’s Player of the Year the season before.

Mario_Balotelli_(15440231808)_(cropped)

Mario Balotelli with Liverpool

When 24 year old Italian striker Mario Balotelli was brought in from A.C. Milan, expectations were high. The only issue was Balotelli’s minor anger issues. But he had already proven himself to be capable of scoring goals in the Premier League with Manchester City. Liverpool bought him for $24M, which seemed like a bargain at the time. With Daniel Sturridge, who had scored 21 goals last season, Liverpool looked like they had a potent striking force. But Sturridge spent most of the 2014/15 season with an on and off calf injury. Balotelli managed to strike home a few goals early for Liverpool, including one against Real Madrid in the Champions League. His form quickly started to slide though, and he finished with just 15 Premier league appearances. This included just a single goal, a late winner vs. Tottenham in a 3-2 victory.

This left Liverpool with Steven Gerrard and Raheem Sterling as top goal scorers, and they are both close to guaranteed to leave this transfer window. Balotelli is not Liverpool’s only bad transfer this season though. A combined $69M was spent on striker Adam Lallana and defender Dejan Lovren from Southampton, and they both flopped. If Manager Brendon Rodgers keeps his job next season, he will have some serious transfer work to do.

Did you know that Balotelli got in trouble with Inter Milan because he appeared on a Italian TV show wearing an A.C. Milan jersey.  He was playing for Inter at the time and A.C. Milan are their derby rivals.

Dnipro: So close, yet so far

Last night was the final of the UEFA Europa league, an exciting tournament with not quite as much fanfare as the Champions League. The final; played between favorites and last year’s Europa league champions Sevilla from Spain, and shock finalists Dnipro from Ukraine. As I am part Ukrainian, and I always like a good underdog story, I was cheering for Dnipro through the whole tournament, including the final.
The most impressive reason for Dnipro to make it so far was because they couldn’t play any of their games in their home stadium. The group and knockout stages of the tournament are played in two “legs”, or matches, where the winner is whoever did better in both games. So if team one won 1-0 in the first game, but team two won 2-0 in the second game, team two would be declared the victor with a final score of 2-1. Normally the two legs are played at each team’s home stadiums, so each team has an advantage in one match and a disadvantage in the other. But for Dnipro, that wasn’t possible. Their home stadium, in the city of Dnipropetrovsk, is in the middle of the conflict in Ukraine, and it was decided that games couldn’t be played there. No home games is a large disadvantage for any team, especially one that is already weaker than many of the teams in the tournament.
Nonetheless, Dnipro fought through it all, beating top tier teams such as Greek champion’s Olympiacos, Ajax from the Netherlands, and top Italian team Napoli. So then came the final, played in only one match, in a neutral city and stadium. Warsaw in this case. Dnipro got off to a great start scoring early, but then conceded 2 goals. They equalized, but it would be Sevilla who got the last laugh, scoring to clinch a 3-2 victory and a record 4th title.
Had Dnipro won, they would have been only the second Ukrainian team, after Shakhtar Donetsk, to win the Europa League. But alas, it wasn’t meant to be. You can still count on Dnipro being a forced to be reckoned with next season, and for me to be yelling my head off while watching every game.

Did you know that until 2009 the Europa League was called the UEFA Cup?