Author: Sanan SHAFIZADEH
Big football has fully entered Baku. Local fans have become accustomed to seeing the games of European masters in Baku thanks to the participation of Garabagh, Neftchi and Gabala in the group stages of the European League and Champions League. But no matter how much we love and passionately support our clubs, it’s impossible to compare the passions of the Europa League final with the matches of the group tournament.
Baku has long waited for this game preparing hard for it, given that the Europa League final will be a test before the upcoming 2020 European Championship finals. Once again, Baku did not disappoint and the finals were organized at the highest level, which was confirmed by the fans, teams and UEFA officials.
The special highlight of the current finals was a struggle between the two giants of English football, Chelsea and Arsenal. By the way, knowing that the participants of the Europa League final are two British clubs, each guest has been presented with a Tofig Bahramov-1966 key ring upon arrival at the Heydar Aliyev International Airport: a reminder that it was the objective decision of the Azerbaijani referee Tofig Bahramov that made it possible for the national team of England to beat Germany in the 1966 World Cup and become the only-time world champion in Britain's history.
The Europa League final turned out to be one of the most significant, if not the most significant of all sport events held in Azerbaijan. Just imagine: throughout the world, up to 800 million people were watched during the match. Broadcasts were broadcast live by 204 TV channels, on the day of the final more than 20,000 messages appeared in social networks with the Baku hashtag, more than 300 representatives of the world media in their reports did not pass by the hospitality of Azerbaijan and the beauty of Baku. Great masters of the ball - Luka Modric, Luis Figo, Fabregas, Eidur Gudjohnsen, Andrei Arshavin arrived to Baku to watch the final.
In general, 52 347 fans supported their teams at the Baku Olympic Stadium. Baku ranked third in the UEFA statistics board among countries that have hosted the Europa League final for the last ten years.
At the grand opening ceremony of the final match English deejay, composer and remixer Jonas Blue came onto the stage with 150 local dancers. While special effects lit up the sky over the Land of Lights, J. Blue sang a mix of his hits. This not only filled the audience with positive energy, but also was an expression of respect for both teams, which were to fight in the final match.
The most memorable part of the ceremony was the entry to the arena of giant Chelsea and Arsenal t-shirts during the performance of J. Blue. Although English football is famous for its fighting spirit from the very first minutes, Arsenal and Chelsea started the match very carefully. The first 15 minutes were even boring. Apparently, the teams were under the pressure of the final match and nobody wanted to make a mistake in the last game, where any mistake could be fatal. Arsenal tried to crack the Chelsea defense with flank attacks, but for their successful completion there were not enough precise shots, and the goalkeeper of the Pensioners played very well.
On the 18th minute, Gunners Alexandre Lacazette fell in the penalty area after going one-on-one with goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, but the Italian judge Gianluca Rocchi saw no violation. The referee also ignored the request of Arsenal players to use the VAR video replay viewing system, which, by the way, was first used in the Europa League games at the final in Baku. By the way, Rocchi deserves only good commends - he was literally not visible on the field, which is the highest rating for any referee.
Before the break, Olivier Giroud of Chelsea could not handle the ball from the best position and missed his chance to hit the gate of Arsenal.
Apparently, Chelsea head coach Maurizio Sarri made the right conclusions from the first half and found the right words for his team, since it was difficult to recognise the Pensioners in the second half of the game. The Blues began to actively pressure, forcing the opponent to make mistakes, often turning into sharp counterattacks. This tactic proved itself in the 49th minute of the match - Olivier Giroud supported the high cross from the left flank made by Emerson Palmieri with his head shot. Within 10 minutes, Eden Hazard successfully made another high ball from the same left flank, while Pedro increased the Chelsea advantage to two goals. Five minutes later, Hazard made a decisive penalty shot for a violation against Giroud in the penalty area of Arsenal. The fate of the final was sealed. It was clear that the Gunners could not win back three balls. Although the coach of Arsenal Unai Emery was trying to rectify the situation with substitutions, and some time after the substitute goal of Alex Iwobi, a comeback seemed possible. But Hazard was against, for whom it was the last match in Chelsea before leaving for Real Madrid in the summer. At the 72nd minute, Hazard scored his second goal in the game, fixing the final 4:1 score in favour of Chelsea.
After the final whistle, Sarri said that his team deserved the Europa League Cup: “I am very pleased. The award is very important for our fans. We deserved this victory, out of 15 games in the Europa League, we won 12, and finished three in a draw. This is our 64th game of the season, and physically it was very difficult, but we did it. During the break in the final game, I asked the players to play bolder, not to be afraid of defeat. And in the second half, we showed interesting football.”
Unai Emery admitted that Arsenal was weaker in the final game: “We knew that there would be a tough game. In the first half, they looked good, but after the break, the opponent used his chances. The first goal of the game was important and Chelsea scored. After the second missed ball, it became harder for us. We could not reach the goals for this season, but we have new challenges ahead. Arsenal is a great club, many players want to play here. We are working hard on attracting new players and will continue to develop next season.”
For the legendary goalkeeper of Arsenal, Peter Cech, the final in Baku was the last game in his career. Surely, the football player did not want such an end, but it’s absolutely not worth blaming him for four goals. Czech generally spent 781 matches at the club level and 124 for the national team, has four titles and four Golden Gloves of the English Premier League, five victories in the FA Cup, medals of the winner of the Champions League and the Europa League.
On the other hand, the Spanish midfielder of Chelsea, Pedro, became the first footballer in the world to win all the major international trophies. The 31-year-old Spaniard has won the finals of Champions League, European League, UEFA Super Cup, Club World Championship and the gold medals at various European and world championships.
It is worth also noting the great off-field organisation of events before the final match. Everyone knows provocative and aggressive temper of English fans who love to do what they want to do regardless of the outcome of game. But the competent work of the organisers allowed to completely eliminate any incidents before, during and after the match. Chelsea fans celebrated the victory of their favourite team on the streets of Baku with songs and dances, and no significant clashes and incidents were recorded. On the day of the match, the Baku airport received numerous charter flights, on which fans arrived. From the airport to the stadium they were taken on buses specially arranged for this, which brought fans also after the finals to the nearest metro stations, which worked until 4 am. Moreover, gratuitous delivery of fans back to the airport was organized.
By assigning the organisation of the final match of its branded product to Azerbaijan, UEFA has honoured the country with trust. Azerbaijan has accomplished the mission as required. UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin said that the final in Baku was organised at the highest level. With this final, Baku showed everyone that it was ready to accept four matches of the 2020 European Championship.
One year later, the Baku Olympic Stadium will again host the giants of European football. Let's hope that our national team will be able to take part in the 2020 European Championship not only as spectators, but also as members of the group stage.