Dubai: According to the English footballing mantra, football has been coming home since Euro 1996. But after the exploits of Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur confirmed their spots in the Champions League final, and then Arsenal and Chelsea booked an all-English clash in the Europa League final — football really is coming home ... well, via Madrid and Baku.
We are guaranteed to have English champions in both continental tournaments after a week of madness, mental fortitude and miracles.
First up we saw Liverpool humble the mighty Barcelona on Tuesday — coming back from 3-0 down in the first leg to win 4-3 at Anfield. Not to be outdone, Spurs needed only 45 minutes to fight back from the same deficit against giant-killers Ajax a day later to go through on the away goals rule. Now the pair will fight it out on June 1 to see who will be crowned champions of Europe.
In the continent’s second-tier tournament on Thursday night, Arsenal registered an emphatic 7-3 aggregate win over Valencia, and they will face fellow Londoners Chelsea, who overcame Eintracht Frankfurt on penalties thanks to a winning spot-kick from star man Eden Hazard.
They will battle it out for the silverware in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku on May 29.
It is the first time in the history of football that all four finalists are from the same country — and it is fitting that they are from England, the ‘home’ of football, after years of living in the shadows of European giants such as Real Madrid, Barca, Juventus, AC Milan and Bayern Munich. Regardless of the outcome in these finals, both cups will be in the trophy cabinets of clubs from England for the first time in the history of football.
It will be fascinating to see hordes of Liverpool and Spurs fans take over the Spanish capital in June, as — when the host city of the final was announced — organisers would surely have been expecting at least one Spanish side in the shape of Barca or Real taking to the pitch on that Saturday evening.
Three days earlier, Baku will become mini-London as the town will be painted red and blue by supporters of Arsenal and Chelsea. While both sides will be desperate to bring the Europa League cup home, it is the Gunners who have more at stake as victory will ensure them of a place in the Champions League next season, with the top four in the Premier League now realistically out of reach for Unai Emery’s side.
One advantage Arsenal could take into the showdown is how they looked to have a spring in their step on the road after some torrid times on their travels lately.
Additionally, Chelsea looked physically and emotionally drained following their penalty shoot-out success over their German opponents.
Chelsea coach Maurizio Sarri — never one to shy away from getting an excuse in early — claimed it was tough for English clubs to reach the end of the season in the sort of shape required to win trophies due to the demanding schedule.
“It’s not easy for an English team to arrive in the last month in a good condition physically,” he said. “We play more than other countries. We played match 61 today. It’s a big difference with other countries.”
At least Chelsea’s opponents will have had just as gruelling a season, and — in both competitions — football is definitely coming home. The teams just need to go to Baku and Madrid to fetch it.