Potential Cup Champions from Europe’s big five football nations
Among the oldest and most prestigious competitions in any country is its domestic Cup. It takes on various nomenclature in different climes. In England, it’s dubbed the FA Cup. In Spain, it’s the Copa del Rey or the King’s Cup. In Italy, it’s known as the Coppa Italia. They call it the Coupe de France in France. Germans say it’s the DFB-Pokal. All refer to the same thing, an honourable competition that gives outsiders a chance.
Fans all over the world keenly follow cup competitions in Europe's top five football nations. With numerous David-vs-Goliath encounters across each country, there’s always a chance for a big upset which can send fans into a frenzy.
As the Cup progresses, however, the pretenders are quickly rooted out as the more established teams begin to stake their claims to the title. Except, of course, in France. But we've reached that time again. All around Europe, Cup competitions are gradually drawing to a close. Potential Champions are beginning to show bold faces.
In England, the FA Cup is at the quarterfinal stage. In Italy, the final is upon us. Same in Spain. In Germany, the Cup is down to the semis. In France, the quarterfinals have concluded.
Here's my list of most likely Champions from Europe's football bigwigs. Bet on the picks at your peril.
The FA Cup challenge is as difficult as it gets in England. This season, eight teams remain in the fight to reach the May 19 Wembley final. Wigan, the 2013 winners, are the only team from outside the Premier League still in the competition. Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, and Manchester United are the top dogs. None will want to give up this bone.
Verdict: Antonio Conte’s Chelsea has struggled mightily this season. The FA Cup provides the lame-duck champions their best chance at silverware. With Manchester City and Arsenal out of the competition, it’ll be challenging to stop Chelsea from winning their eighth title. First, the Premier League Champions must overcome Leicester in the quarters.
Sevilla has shown flashes of brilliance this season. Those flashes have been a ray of bright light in the Copa del Rey. Their impressive 5-2 aggregate defeat of Atletico Madrid in the Cup quarterfinal depicted the level of work Vincenzo Montella has put into his side. They strolled past Leganes in the semifinal. Laganes, by the way, had knocked out Real Madrid in the previous round. Their biggest test will be in the final.
Verdict: For all Montella has done, it's impossible to see a way past Barcelona even in a one-off match. The Blaugrana are the most successful Spanish team in the competition this season and historically. No European top team has won their domestic Cup as often as Barca's 29 triumphs. it will be entertaining but this will be Ernesto Valverde's first trophy for his new club.
The Cup has no less history in France where it has been played since the early 1900s. Four teams are left in the competition this year. Paris Saint-Germain, Caen, FC Chambly, and Les Herbiers make up the quartet.
There have been major upsets in the Coupe this season. Les Herbiers and 29-year-old FC Chambly, both competing in the French third division find themselves in uncharacteristic territory. Against the odds, Caen dumped Lyon out in the quarterfinal.
Verdict: The three minnows all have to deal with the Great White in the pool. PSG’s aura looms larger than life even with Neymar on the shelf. Record holders and defending Champions of the French Cup, they’re almost certain to walk (sorry, GNev) away with their 12th title this season.
Catenaccio makes the Coppa Italia a tough competition for Italian clubs. This is evident in the fact Juventus have won 33 Serie A titles but only 12 Coppas. They are the only club in double digits. You simply can't grind out results in a knockout tournament.
The Old Lady has a chance to make it a lucky 13 on May 9th. It won't be easy. They’ll face Gennaro Gattuso’s revived AC Milan.
Verdict: It’s a rare chance for Milan to win some silverware, and one they just can’t pass up. Expect an upset.
The DFB Pokal is an interesting tournament. Contested by only 64 teams, it is more like a league cup. Nonetheless, the competition is seen as the "mother of all cup sensations" in Germany, due to the number of upsets it has produced over the years.
Later in April, Bayer Leverkusen will face Bayern Munich in one semifinal while Schalke 04 will battle Eintracht Frankfurt for the other spot in the May 19th final.
Verdict: Dortmund's Cup defence was ended in the Round of 16 by their usual nemesis, Bayern Munich. The Bavarians hold at least three times more Pokal titles than any Bundesliga team. Only the Bundesliga Shield rivals Bayern's penchant for winning the Cup. Who can stop them from winning the double? A fiver says no one.