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The way the UEFA Cup has been going, it was fitting, perhaps even inevitable, that Shakhtar Donetsk triumphed over Werder Bremen to win the competition’s final final before its rebranding as the Europa League.
As Sonia Oxley pointed out, Easter European teams have been the ones taking it seriously of late, and as Justin Palmer noted, the Brazilian influence on the competition has been getting ever stronger. Werder were missing Diego and it showed, as they searched in vain for inspiration after falling behind for a second time. Shakhtar, of course, have far the greater Brazilian contingent.
And as someone who was based in Germany for a long time, I must just spare a thought for Tim Wiese, who had another European night to forget.
What have the UEFA Cup and the Eurovision song contest got in common?
A) Some people don’t take them as seriously as they could.
B) They give lesser known participants the chance to appear on prime-time TV.
C) East European countries have started to dominate them
And the answer, I’m starting to think, is C … because of A and B.
This year will be the third year in the past six that an ex-Soviet team plays in the UEFA Cup final after victories by Russian sides Zenit St Petersburg last year and CSKA Moscow in 2005.
Watching Shakhtar Donetsk’s dramatic victory over fellow Ukrainian team Dynamo Kiev, I wondered why eastern European teams were enjoying such a love affair with a competition others have lost their passion for.
Up until a few weeks ago you’d have been fined in Austria for flying a flag on your car. Only ambassadors and government officials were allowed to that. But bureaucracy is slipping and passions are stirring, albeit slowly, as Euro 2008 approaches.
In the last few days Austrian flags have been fluttering from cars in the capital after the government lifted the ban for the duration of the tournament to help drum up some atmosphere. Some of Austria’s cheap supermarket chains will sell tournament merchandise half-price this weekend, and at last the Austrians, whose first sporting love will always be skiing, are starting to show an interest.