The 2022/23 season is winding down in various parts of the world, so this week was full of finals and play-off matches. As ever, we’ve picked out five big games for our weekly column:
🏆 UEFA Europa League: Sevilla 1-1 Roma (4-1 on penalties)
The first of the UEFA club competition finals this season saw Sevilla face Roma in Budapest. Both sides boasted some incredible records going into this match, but one of them had to give.
Sevilla had won every single tie after progressing past the round of 16 of the secondary UEFA competition, meaning they had converted six finals into six trophies.
In the opposition dugout, José Mourinho had won all of his five European finals, so he was looking to make it six from six for himself.
Before the match, the Portuguese manager had announced that star attacker Paulo Dybala would only be fit for half an hour’s worth of action, so no one expected him to start.
However, he did take to the field from the start, and opened the scoring in the 35th minute at the end of a quick counter-attack.
Of course, Roma’s plan was to defend in their compact 5-3-2 block and frustrate Sevilla, and those ideas only grew stronger after they took the lead.
For their part, the Spaniards decided to bombard their opponents with crosses. This tactic got them the equaliser in the 55th minute when Gianluca Mancini turned Jesús Navas’ delivery into his own net.
Everyone was looking forward to penalties after that, even through the half an hour plus eleven minutes of stoppage time in extra time.
Roma’s strategy there was very questionable, as they nominated a defensive midfielder and two centre-backs to take their first three kicks.
The latter two missed, while Sevilla remained faultless (thanks to an encroachment-enforced retake for Gonzalo Montiel’s winner) to lift the Europa League trophy yet again.
🏆 CONCACAF Champions League: Club León 2-1 Los Angeles FC
The first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final was a dramatic affair on Wednesday night. Hosts León have come away with the aggregate lead, but they will be a bit disappointed with how things turned out at the end.
The first half was close to perfect for them. William Tesillo opened the scoring just eight minutes in, and after controlling the match for the rest of the period, they won a penalty on the stroke of half-time. Ángel Mena stepped up to make it 2-0, putting his side in a commanding position going into the break.
León continued to create chances in the second half as they knew a third goal would put them in a very strong position for the second leg in Los Angeles.
They thought they had it in stoppage time when Osvaldo Rodríguez headed a cross home, but he was adjudged to have fouled the defender marking him, so the goal was disallowed. Just a couple of minutes later, LAFC raced up the other end and pulled one back through Dénis Bouanga.
Not only does that keep LAFC within a goal of their opponents, but it also means that a 1-0 home win would be enough for them to lift the title thanks to the away goals rule.
A great encounter surely awaits us at BMO Stadium on Sunday as both sides look to lift their first CONCACAF Champions League trophy.
🇹🇷 Türkiye: Ankaragücü 1-4 Galatasaray
The Turkish Süper Lig season is ending slightly later than expected due to the devastating earthquakes in February, but the title race has already drawn to a close.
Galatasaray have won the league for the first time in four years on what was the penultimate matchday for them, avoiding a showdown with rivals Fenerbahçe in their last fixture.
Jorge Jesus’ side did win their match against Antalyaspor, but Galatasaray knew that their fate was in their own hands when they visited the capital to face Ankaragücü.
Mauro Icardi put them in front early on, and even though there was a slight hiccup when Milson equalised for the hosts in the 16th minute, Gala did not look back after retaking the lead through the Argentine striker before half-time.
Goals from Barış Alper Yılmaz and Sérgio Oliveira sealed the result in the second half, as the party started on their side of İstanbul.
🇩🇪 Bundesliga Promotion/Relegation Play-off: VfB Stuttgart 3-0 Hamburger SV
It has been quite a week of highs and lows for Hamburg.
On Sunday, their fans invaded the pitch at Sandhausen to celebrate automatic promotion to the Bundesliga, but a late turnaround from Heidenheim in their match denied them that. So, they had to go to the play-off for the second time in two years.
This time, their opponents were VfB Stuttgart, who had picked up five points from their last three league games to avoid direct relegation.
They were on their fourth manager of the season as they kept chopping and changing in the quest for safety, but Sebastian Hoeneß seemed to be getting things right much better than his predecessors.
Still, given the way Hamburg had been playing throughout the season, they would have fancied themselves to get the better of Stuttgart.
But HSV have also made a habit recently of choking in big games, and they seemed to do that again here. They needed just seconds to concede here, as Konstantinos Mavroponos home a corner with less than a minute on the clock.
Hamburg would have been happy to go 1-0 down at half-time because Stuttgart also won a penalty before the half-hour mark, but Daniel Heuer Fernandes made a crucial save.
Less than ten minutes into the second period, though, they conceded twice more to Josha Vagnomann and Sehrou Guirassy, before making matters worse by having a player sent off in the 69th minute.
Barring a Sheffield Wednesday-like turnaround in the second leg, it looks like Hamburg will miss out on promotion to the Bundesliga by a very slender margin for the fifth time in five years.
🇮🇹 Serie B: Brescia 1-1 Cosenza (1-2 on aggregate)
The big play-off in Italy this week was the second leg of the Serie B relegation play-off, where Cosenza brought a one-goal lead. Their opponents were Brescia, who were the hosts for this crucial fixture by virtue of their superior league position.
Much like Stuttgart, Brescia had been changing managers to try and help their survival bid. They went one better than their counterparts in the Southwest of Germany, but they too could not avoid the play-offs.
The fans at the Stadio Mario Rigamonti certainly were not happy about their side’s performances this season having seen them play in the top flight as recently as three years ago and qualified for the promotion play-offs in the last two years, and tempers boiled over at the end of this match.
Brescia did open the scoring on the night and equalise on aggregate in the 74th minute to set course for extra-time, but a stoppage-time goal for the visitors meant it was not necessary.
With their fate effectively sealed, the home fans made their anger known by throwing a multitude of flares onto the pitch, causing the players to head into the dressing rooms and the result to be declared thereafter.
👀 What To Watch Next:
It’s cup finals galore this weekend, and here are some of the big ones:
🏆 UEFA Women’s Champions League: Barcelona vs Wolfsburg (Saturday, 14:00 UTC)
Barcelona are in the UWCL final once again, taking on Wolfsburg this time. The Catalans are searching for their second such trophy in Eindhoven, while Wolfsburg will look to win their first in nine years.
🏴 England: Manchester City vs Manchester United (Saturday, 14:00 UTC)
At the same time in England, an all-Manchester FA Cup final will kick off. Manchester United have the chance to win the tournament for the first time since 2016 to cap off what has been a pretty good season for them, while their local rivals look to get one step closer to a treble.
🏴 Scotland: Celtic vs Inverness CT (Saturday, 16:30 UTC)
The only remaining European cup final featuring a second-tier side is in Scotland, where Inverness face holders Celtic. A win for them would obviously be a massive upset, and it would also grant them a ticket to Europe for just the second time in their history.
🇩🇪 Germany: RB Leipzig vs Eintracht Frankfurt (Saturday, 18:00 UTC)
RB Leipzig have the chance to defend their DFB pokal title this Saturday when they face Eintracht Frankfurt, for whom this match also serves as the last route to next season’s Europa League.
🇧🇪 Belgium: Genk vs Royal Antwerp (Sunday, 16:30 UTC)
We’ll round things up with a dramatic three-way title decider in store for us in Belgium, where cup winners Royal Antwerp can win the league for the first time since 1957 and complete their first-ever double by beating Genk. The hosts can put themselves in contention with a win, but they must also hope that Union Saint-Gilloise drop points.
Stats courtesy Transfermarkt.
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