How often do we hear that old cliche in soccer, “this is our cup final”? A vital game, in which winning is the only option; nothing else will do.
As we approach the final knockings of the European domestic campaign, the calendar is packed with these “cup final” clashes in the league, not to mention some actual, proper finals to cap off the season.
So as you might expect, our five selections this week include some critical, season-defining games. In La Liga, there are two games that have enormous ramifications at both ends of the table, with a title decider and a relegation eliminator both on the cards. We also have the domestic cup finals in both Germany and England to look forward to.
With the season coming to an end and the World Cup about to hog the spotlight, we’ve also picked a classic final from eight years ago that’ll certainly whet the appetite for the Brazil showpiece.
All kick offs are in Eastern Time. Enjoy your weekend and enjoy the games!
Italy vs. France, World Cup Final 2006
Friday, 4:00PM, ESPN Classic
Not quite in the World Cup spirit yet? ESPN have done their utmost to get you well prepared for the Brazil spectacle, and are showing a host of classic games from the tournament from years gone by this weekend.
The 2006 final will be broadcast on Friday afternoon, giving you the chance to relive one of the most dramatic finals in recent memory. Italy and France locked horns in this one to cap off a wonderful World Cup in Germany.
The Italians had made it to the final two after a thrilling extra-time win over Germany. Fabio Grosso and Alessandro Del Piero netted late on in the last four, and spurred on by their inspirational skipper Fabio Cannavaro, the Azzuri were looking in great shape to notch their fourth world triumph.
France progressed after some inspirational showings from their veteran skipper Zinedine Zidane and were hoping to make it two World Cup wins in eight years after their triumph in 1998. With players like Zidane, Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira, they had every chance of toppling the Italians and bagging their second world crown.
A brilliant final rife with iconic moments, and a wonderful way to start off a scintilating weekend of soccer.
Barcelona vs. Atletico Madrid
Saturday, Noon, beIN SPORTS, beIN SPORTS Espanol and DishWorld
For a long time, this final day clash has been cited as a potential title decider, with La Liga enthusiasts desperate for a fascinating spectacle to cap off the season. In truth, it couldn’t really have worked out much better. If Barcelona win, the title is theirs. If they don’t, the glory will be Atletico’s.
These two have already met on five occasions this season, with Atletico Madrid unbeaten in every contest. Granted, they’ve only managed to beat Barcelona once—in the second-leg of the Champions League semi-final—but all other results would have been enough to see Atletico finish top of the La Liga standings.
It’d certainly cap off a remarkable season for Diego Simeone and his team. They could still potentially win a league and European Cup double, but in the same breath, Atletico could end up with nothing to show for their excellent campaign. A win here would take the pressure off the Rojiblancos ahead of that Champions League showdown with Real Madrid, knowing they already have a major title in the bag.
But what an opportunity for Barcelona. They’ve not been able to reach the high standards we expect from a Blaugrana team this season, but they’ve clung on in there and will surely fancy their chances of securing the win in front of a raucous Nou Camp crowd.
A truly fascinating match awaits us.
Arsenal vs. Hull City
Saturday, Noon, FOX, FOX Deportes and FOX Soccer 2Go
An enormous day for both Arsenal and Hull City for different reasons, but both sides will have their eyes on the same prize, as they contest the FA Cup Final at Wembley.
After sharing a Saturday with a host of Premier League fixtures last season, it’s refreshing to see the game given it’s own slot after the domestic commitments are done. The kick-off time however—5:00pm local time—remains a topic for discussion.
The Gunners have a wonderful opportunity to end their nine year trophy drought. The club have endured countless jibes about their lack of silverware since their FA Cup triumph in 2005, and getting another trophy in the cabinet would surely help to shift some of the mental shackles that have hindered this team down the years.
Arsenal trounced Hull City 3-0 in their most recent Premier League clash and will be hoping for a game of comparable ease here. But the Tigers have taken their eye off the ball a little in the Premier League towards the end of the campaign, and you suspect they’ll be a much more cohesive and considerably more motivated team this time round.
We all recall what happened when Wigan met Manchester City last season, so you’d be foolish to rule out Steve Bruce and his Tigers team.
Borussia Dortmund vs. Bayern Munich
Saturday, 2:00PM, ESPN3.com and Univision Deportes
The German Cup Final will see the best two sides from the Bundesliga battle it out in what looks likely to be a marvellous match-up. Bayern Munich will be hoping to secure a league and cup double in their first campaign under Pep Guardiola, whilst Borussia Dortmund will be hoping to finish a frustrating campaign on a high.
After their humbling defeat in the Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid, it’s imperative for Bayern that they finish this season strongly. They seem to have lost their sharpness after securing the league title with eight games remaining, and that’s showed with some very patch recent performances.
By contrast, Dortmund have found some excellent form after a very difficult campaign. Jurgen Klopp has had to juggle with a squad that has been gripped by injuries this season, but the integration of a host of young players towards the back end of the campaign has given Dortmund some real impetus. As has the stunning form of Marco Reus.
It’ll be Robert Lewandowski’s final game in a Dortmund shirt before he moves to Bayern Munich, so expect an interesting reaction should he find the net here. In their last meeting, BVB romped to a superb 3-0 victory at the Allianz Arena.
Real Valladolid vs. Granada
Sunday, Noon, La Liga simulcast on beIN SPORTS, beIN SPORTS Espanol and DishWorld
Naturally, the vast majority of the focus in Spain has been on the exceptional race for the title. But cast your eye down towards the lower reaches of the La Liga table, and there is a battle just as intriguing at the bottom. And there’s another final day clash that is set to have huge connotations for both teams involved.
Real Valladolid, who sit in 19th spot on 36 points, host Granada, who sit just outside the relegation zone in 17th place on 38 points. Between them in Osasuna, who are also on 36 points; they host bottom club Real Betis on the final day.
It means that a host of different scenarios are possible on the final day, but Valladolid must win in front of their own supporters if they are to stand any chance of staying up. And when you look at some of the results they’ve managed to get at home, it’s peculiar that they’re in involved in this relegation predicament, having taken four points from their two games with Real and Barcelona.
The same applies for Granada, who are a side capable of putting in some superb performances, although admittedly not as often as their supporters might want to see.
If Osasuna win their final day game, then they’re safe, then they’ll be relying on Valladolid to do them a favour against Granada. Valladolid will stay up if they beat Granada on Osasuna fail to win against Betis. Granada know a win on the final day will preserve their La Liga status.
Tell us, will you be watching the FA Cup Final or the final day clash in Spain? Let us know in the comments section of follow me on Twitter @MattJFootball