Photo by ISIPhotos.com/Greig Cowie
By JUSTIN FERGUSON
Three of the top clubs in Europe will be back in the Champions League next season after Arsenal, AC Milan and Schalke pulled out close wins on the final day of their respective seasons.
Arsenal denied North London rival Tottenham the final Champions League spot in the Premier League by holding onto a 1-0 win at Newcastle United. After a scoreless first half, Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny struck the game-winner in the 52nd minute. The defender scored off of a headed pass from teammate Per Mertesacker, who had latched onto the end of a Theo Walcott free kick.
But Newcastle United, who finished their season with three straight home losses, were not going down without a fight on Sunday. Owner Mike Ashley promised a £1 million reward to his club if they finished off their dreadful season with a win, and the Newcastle offense kept plugging away at Wojciech Szczesny’s goal after Koscielny’s opener.
The drama increased for the visitors just before stoppage time when Tottenham’s Gareth Bale struck a miraculous 89th-minute goal back at White Hart Lane. Another one of the Welsh winger’s trademark missiles secured a 1-0 lead over Sunderland for Tottenham, who needed a win and an Arsenal draw to get into the coveted fourth place.
Back at Newcastle, Walcott had a brilliant chance to kill the match off in stoppage time, but his wide-open effort struck the post. Walcott’s miss meant the tension would continue until the final whistle, but Newcastle United were unable to put together a final attack.
The 1-0 victory for Arsenal ensured the Gunners will be back in the world’s biggest club tournament for the 16th straight season. Tottenham, who missed a Champions League berth last season because of sixth-place Chelsea’s victory in the 2012 Final, will be back in the Europa League for the third consecutive time.
Here are the rest of the results from this weekend’s top European action:
Fernando Torres’s first Premier League goal in 2013 sealed Chelsea’s third-place finish in a 2-1 win over Everton. The embattled Chelsea striker, who scored the Blues’ opener in their midweek Europa League Final victory, hit a volley past Tim Howard in the 76th minute after receiving a header from substitute Victor Moses. The season-ending win was exactly one year after Chelsea’s penalty shootout win over Bayern Munich in the Champions League Final. Chelsea will go straight to the group stage of next season’s edition of the UCL, but it is still unclear who will lead them back into the tournament. As Stamford Bridge buzzed at the growing possibility of a Jose Mourinho homecoming, interim manager Rafa Benitez quietly finished his tumultuous seven-month reign with his 28th win in 48 matches.
Sunday’s match between league champions Manchester United and West Bromwich Albion was already going to be memorable, but no one expected what happened at The Hawthorns in Sir Alex Ferguson’s 1,500th and final match in charge of the Red Devils. The legendary manager did not go out a winner as United blew a three-goal lead in a record-breaking 5-5 draw with West Brom. The visitors scored three times in the opening half-hour, but West Brom clawed back and grabbed a late equalizer from loaned Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku. The powerful Belgian scored goals 12, 13 and 14 of his successful campaign in the second half as United were lucky to escape with a draw. The match marked the first time in Premier League history that both teams scored five or more goals, and it was only the second time Ferguson was in charge of a league match with 10 goals.
Here are the results from the final matchday in the Premier League:
Arsenal 1, Newcastle United 0
Tottenham Hotspur 1, Sunderland 0
Chelsea 2, Everton 1
West Bromwich Albion 5, Manchester United 5
Norwich City 3, Manchester City 2
Liverpool 1, QPR 0
Fulham 3, Swansea City 0
West Ham United 4, Reading 2
Wigan Athletic 2, Aston Villa 2
Southampton 1, Stoke City 1
After a frustrating 14-year wait, Atletico Madrid finally defeated rival Real Madrid on Friday to claim the Copa del Rey crown. The cup final was decided in extra time as Miranda’s 98th-minute header would be the winner in a 2-1 result at the Bernabeu. Cristiano Ronaldo’s 14th minute header was canceled out by Diego Costa’s 35th-minute strike, but the exciting first half faded into an ugly second. Yellow cards were handed out left and right in a half in which Real manager Jose Mourinho was ejected for arguing with the fourth official. A desperate Atletico side took control of the extra time period from the outset, and the visiting club finally broke through eight minutes in. Ronaldo added to Real’s woes six minutes from time for kicking at Atletico midfielder Gabi, which resulted in a red card. The incident caused a scuffle between both benches, and unpicked Real sub Pepe appeared to come to blows with Atletico manager Diego Simeone.
Real Sociedad and Valencia remained level on points as both sides in the hunt for fourth place in La Liga grabbed road victories on Saturday. Sociedad fell behind Sevilla off an early goal from Ivan Rakitic, but a Rakitic own goal and an Imanol Agirretxe volley sealed the win for the visitors inside the match’s opening half hour. Meanwhile, Valencia edged Getafe 1-0 in a match devoid of much action. Jeremy Mathieu scored the match’s only goal just before halftime, raking in a pass from Ever Bangea into the bottom corner of the net. Sociedad still remains in fourth place with a +7 advantage in goal differential and just two matches left in the season.
League champions Barcelona stayed on track for a record-tying 100 points with a 2-1 home win over Real Valladolid. The bottom-half visitors gave up two sloppy first half goals before converting a penalty just before the final whistle. A lazy pass landed at the feet of Xavi, who fed the ball to Pedro for the opener in the 21st minute. Valladolid defender Marc Valiente put a Barcelona corner kick into his own net a few minutes before halftime, and the hosts were in complete control of a rainy match at the Nou Camp. Barcelona will now look for wins against city neighbors Espanyol and Europa League hopefuls Malaga to close out their title campaign.
Here are the results from this weekend’s La Liga action:
COPA DEL REY FINAL: Atletico Madrid 2, Real Madrid 1 (ET)
Valencia 1, Getafe 0
Real Sociedad 2, Sevilla 1
Granada 3, Osasuna 0
Barcelona 2, Real Valladolid 1
Rayo Vallecano 3, Levante 2
Deportivo La Coruna 2, Espanyol 0
Athletic Bilbao 2, Real Zaragoza 1
Schalke secured their spot in the Champions League with a 2-1 win at fifth-place Freiburg on Saturday. Freiburg gifted Schalke the win in the 54th minute as Immanuel Hohn’s hurried clearance from a Jermaine Jones effort struck Julian Schuster and cannoned back into his own net. Schalke, who opened the scoring in the 20th minute on a Julian Draxler strike, clamped down in defense after the own goal and held onto the slim road victory. Although the loss kept Freiburg out of the UCL, the smaller club will be happy with a Europa league spot, their first continental bid in a decade.
Hoffenheim pulled off a stunning 2-1 result at second-place Borussia Dortmund to grab a relegation playoff spot. As Fortuna Dusseldorf struggled in a 3-0 loss at Hannover 96, Hoffenheim needed an upset over the Champions League finalist to keep their dreams of staying in the Bundesliga alive. Robert Lewandowski got the hosts off to a flying start with a sixth-minute goal, but two penalty conversions in the span of five minutes put Hoffenheim in control late. Marcel Schmelzer seemed to have killed off the survival dreams for Hoffenheim deep into stoppage time with an excellent strike. However, Lewandowski was whistled for making an attempt on the ball from an offside position, and the disallowed goal secured a massive victory for the visitors. Hoffenheim now face Kaiserslautern in a two-leg playoff for a spot in the first division.
Here are the results from this weekend’s Bundesliga action:
Schalke 2, Freiburg 1
Hoffenheim 2, Borussia Dortmund 1
Bayern Munich 4, Borussia Monchengladbach 3
Frankfurt 2, Wolfsburg 2
Augsburg 3, Greuther Furth 1
Bayern Leverkusen 1, Hamburg 0
Hannover 3, Fortuna Dusseldorf 0
Nurnberg 3, Werder Bremen 2
Stuttgart 2, Mainz 2
AC Milan waited until the very end to salvage their Champions League spot in a dramatic 2-1 comeback victory at Siena. As fourth-place Fiorentina pounded last-place US Pescara 5-1, Milan had to battle back from an early deficit. Claudio Terzi caught the visitors’ defense napping by heading home a well-placed cross in the 25th minute. The Milan offense pushed for the two goals they needed to ensure the third place finish, but the woodwork and Siena goalkeeper Gianluca Pegolo kept them out for the longest time. Both sides were down to 10 men when Mario Balotelli drew and converted a penalty in the 84th minute. Three minutes later, Philippe Mexes stayed with the play and rebounded his own effort for the winning goal. Milan will be back in the UCL for the fifth straight year while Fiorentina, bitterly disappointed from the Milan comeback, will be back in Europe for the first time since 2010.
Fiorentina will be joined in the Europa League by Udinese, who capped off an incredible end to the season with a 5-2 beatdown of Inter Milan. Udinese needed a victory to keep Lazio from one of the qualifying spots, and they got off to a quick start on the road with a goal from Giampiero Pinzi just 42 seconds into the match. Juan and Tommaso Rocchi got on the scoreboard for struggling Inter, but the defense was unable to cope with a hot Udinese offense that converted five of their six chances on goal. Udinese’s win kept Lazio from a top six finish, but the losers of Sunday’s 1-0 decision at Cagliari could get into the Europa League with a win in the upcoming Coppa Italia final against city rivals Roma.
Here are the results from this weekend’s Serie A action:
AC Milan 2, Siena 1
Fiorentina 5, US Pescara 1
Udinese 5, Inter Milan 2
Atalanta 2, Chievo Verona 2
Bologna 0, Genoa 0
AS Roma 2, Napoli 1
Cagliari 1, Lazio 0
Parma 3, Palermo 1
Torino 2, Catania 2
Sampdoria 3, Juventus 2
Lyon’s 1-1 draw at Nice may have kept them in the lead for the final Champions League spot in France, but the result allowed Saint Etienne to add more pressure heading into the final weekend of the season. OL overcame a 73rd-minute red card on Sunday to equalize three minutes later, and the draw eliminated now 6th-place Nice from UCL contention. However, Saint Etienne pulled to two points behind Lyon on Saturday with a 2-0 win over second-place Marseille. Loic Perrin and Brandao each scored in the first half, and the hosts held on for a win that keeps their UCL dreams alive.
Also on Saturday, David Beckham played in what appeared to be his final professional match as Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain defeated Brest 3-1 in their home finale. Beckham recorded an assist from a corner kick in his performance, which ended with an emotional 82nd minute substitution. The superstar midfielder made a tearful exit, hugging his teammates and gesturing to the thunderous crowd at the Parc des Princes. Beckham, who joined PSG from the Los Angeles Galaxy during the January transfer window, celebrated his 10th domestic league title by joining his teammates in raising the Ligue 1 trophy after the final whistle.
Here are the results from this weekend’s Ligue 1 action:
Saint Etienne 2, Marseille 0
Nice 1, Lyon 1
PSG 3, Brest 1
Bastia 2, Nancy 1
Evian Thonon 2, Valenciennes 0
Montpellier 0, Lille 0
Toulouse 2, Sochaux 1
Stade de Reims 1, Lorient 0
Stade Rennes 1, Ajaccio 1
Troyes 1, Bordeaux 0
What do you make of these results? Thoughts on Arsenal’s performance? What do you think Tottenham need to do to ensure a top four finish next season? Think Milan deserved to hold onto third place in Serie A? Excited that Jermaine Jones and Schalke are going back to the Champions League? Any final thoughts on the Copa del Rey final?
Share your comments below.