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One of the best Bundesliga seasons I can remember came to a disappointing end in Saturday’s DFB-Pokal final.
While the league gave us two great stories with the rise and fall of Hoffenheim and the ultimate triumph of Wolfsburg, the Cup final was a damp affair.
Unless you happen to be a Werder Bremen fan, you’d probably agree with the rest of Germany that Werder’s 1-0 win over Bayer Leverkusen in Saturday’s Cup final made for a deflating end to the season.
Germans have a term for it: “Angsthasen Fussball” (scared rabbit football) — an appropriate description for a fear-filled struggle between two of Germany’s biggest underachievers this year, doing everything they could to avoid one last defeat before the holidays.
When Bayer Leverkusen, 1-0 down in the German Cup final against Werder Bremen, desperately poured forward in search of a late equaliser, somehow you knew there was no way they would turn this round.******They ended up losing another final on the same day their former midfielder Michael Ballack, who has also missed or lost everything there is to lose in football, including World Cup, European Championship and Champions League finals, was lifting the FA Cup with Chelsea after beating Everton.******But for Leverkusen it was more of the same bitter story of the past 12 years.******In 2002 they famously let slip a “treble”, losing in the Champions League final to Real Madrid, choking over the final three matches of the league to end up second to Borussia Dortmund and losing the German Cup final against Schalke.******Since 1997 they’ve finished second in the Bundesliga four times, most painfully in 2000 when a Ballack own goal against Unterhaching cost them the title on the last day.******That’s why they are called “Vize-kusen”.******Hold on, some might say. They have been to two Cup finals, fought for the Bundesliga four times and almost won the Champions League. There are not many teams out there who can boast to have done all that in such a short period.******That is true. But do these seven near-misses count more than Borussia Dortmund’s one Champions League win? Are they more precious than Schalke’s solitary UEFA Cup win? Or newly-crowned Bundesliga champions VfL Wolfsburg’s one and only trophy?******Whether fairly or not, no one apart from the Werkself fans themselves will remember Bayer’s almost-seven titles, nor will there be anything to display in the trophy cabinet.******Leverkusen keeper Rene Adler had a hard time fighting back the tears after the final whistle:***
“It is difficult to say anything meaningful. Second place, you don’t get anything for that. Second place is the first loser. It’s terribly bitter. Vizekusen is just a word. It is a shame it was again confirmed tonight.”
PHOTO: Bayer Leverkusen’s Michael Ballack walks past the European Cup after his team lost the Champions League final against Real Madrid at Hampden Park. May 15, 2002. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach
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.
There will be a heavy Brazilian influence in Wednesday’s UEFA Cup final between Shakhtar Donetsk and Werder Bremen in Istanbul — despite the absence of Werder’s influential playmaker Diego through suspension.
Brazilian players have made a major impact in recent finals and with Ukraine’s Shakhtar boasting five in their ranks, and Naldo lining up for their German rivals, expect the boys from South America to take centre stage.
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.
Paolo Guerrero scored twice for Hamburg SV on Sunday in their 2-1 win over Schalke 04, whose consolation was scored by his compatriot Jefferson Farfan.
Werder Bremen’s Weserstadion is not the most comfortable place to watch football, with its slightly rickety feel, but it must be one of the most exciting.
Saturday’s 5-4 victory over Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga made it 10 goals in the last two league games for Thomas Schaaf’s side, who have now shrugged off a bit of early-season lethargy to restate the case for being the most entertaining side in Germany, certainly, and quite possibly Europe as a whole.
Werder Bremen have dashed the Olympic hopes of Brazil playmaker Diego, telling the 23-year-old they will not release him and thus depriving the Games of perhaps one of the world’s most exciting young players
Werder sporting director Klaus Allofs said there was no legal reason for clubs to release their players because, he said, the Olympics are not part of world soccer’s governing body FIFA.