On Wednesday 20th May 2009 we will witness the last ever final of the Uefa Cup as we know it. The successor to the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, which ran between 1955 and 1971, the Uefa cup was traditionally a competition for the runners up in a nation’s league however since merging with the Cup Winner’s Cup in 1999 it also invites the winners of certain domestic trophies to take part in the competition. In England these are the League and FA cup.
This year’s finalists Werder Bremen and Shakhtar Donetsk have not had an easy ride to the final and they have had to earn their plaudits as any finalist should.
Both sides have progressed via elimination from the group phase of the Champions League. Shakhtar faced Spurs, CSKA Moscow, Marseille and Dynamo Kyiv en-route and Werder took on the might of A.C. Milan, St. Etienne, Udinese and Hamburg.
Shakhtar have had a tendency to leave things late in the majority of their games in the competition this year, scoring only 2 of their 12 goals in the first half. Both coming against Marseille in the Quarter finals. Perhaps this is an indication of a good fitness routine being maintained throughout the Ukrainian winter break (December-March) and the freshness that comes with such a break.
Bremen on the other hand have had a disappointing season in the Bundesliga, currently sitting in 10th place and can only achieve a 7th place finish at best. This will leave them without any European football next season a situation that I’m sure they will do their best to counter. They have always been a very attacking side and this is very evident given their goal tally, 64 in the league and 15 in the Uefa Cup, however they have been blighted by their leaky defence letting in a bucketful of goals. Conceding over 2 goals in every tie in the competition this season.
Winning the trophy should help ensure that they enjoy the benefits of a European campaign. Shakhtar will not have this worry on their mind as they sit comfortably in second place in the Ukrainian Premier League and will enter the qualifying rounds for the Champions League and should at least guarantee them a place in the Group phase of the Europa League.
A more illustrious reason for both sides to go hammer and tong on Wednesday evening is that neither side has won the competition in their history. Bremen have won the Cup Winner’s Cup in 1992 but for Shakhtar this is their first appearance at the final of any competition at this level and a win would be a great achievement for them.
I think that despite Bremen’s attacking prowess, they are coming to the end of a long and arduous season, they have leaked goals and Shakhtar while nowhere near as potent up front as the Germans will be in their stride after the freshening winter break and their league form at the moment has been spotless. I will have to go for a 2-1 Shakhtar victory in normal time.