2023 UEFA Europa League Final
24 May 2023
2000hrs, VELTINS Arena, Gelsenkirchen
RKC Waalwijk 1-2 Manchester City
A balmy night in Germany awaited us in the biggest game in the club's history. We'd scrapped and fought our way past RSC Anderlecht (3-1 on aggregate) in the First Knockout Round, then beat Fenerbaçhe A.S on away goals after finishing 1-1 on aggregate. A Quarter Final saw us up against one of our parent clubs FC Porto. And we showed our appreciation by knocking them out 2-1 on aggregate. This put us into the Semi Finals against 2014/15 Premier League champions Leicester City. A 1-1 draw in the first leg was followed up by a magnificent 2-1 win in England to see us into this historic first European final.
Squad-wise, we'd lost main striker Ezra Walian to a neck injury, just days before the match, so Cesarinho started up front with Filip Juric. Other than that, we lined up as so
The game kicked off and immediately some good work in the midfield, brought a snapshot from Cesarinho, which the City goalie managed to save with ease. Then we were under the cosh. City were flooding forward, but their first 3 shots were all blocked by our massed defence. We were doing excellently, defending like lions against a strike force that was valued at over £120m..
Sadly, the wall was breached on 15 minutes in the most flukey of circumstances. The £44m striker got in behind the defence and met a teasing cross with a bullet header. Paas saved magnificently from point-blank range, but as Floranus tried to clear, his clearance ricocheted off the striker and into the net. 0-1.
Then, on 31 minutes, Antonio Candela was harshly adjudged to have brought down the £44m striker on the edge of the box. I was incandescent with rage! No way was that a penalty!! The English international defender stepped up for City. AND MISSED! Paas making an excellent save from a poor penalty! We kept them at bay for the rest of the half. I kicked every ball from the touchline with the team, yelling passionate encouragement whenever I could.
Half time came in and I told them I was so proud of them and that I had faith they could turn it around. Good energy flowed in the dressing room and we ran back out for the second half.
On 60 minutes, a cross from their full back was blocked by Dupont. The ball bounced out to the City midfielder, whose ball over the top caught the defence pinching and the £44m striker had that vital second of time to control and put the ball in at the near post. 0-2. The agonised look of Maarten Paas who knew he could have done better with it was a sight to see.
We started to come back into the game. A lot of shots were being put just wide and I would have given my career earnings (£2m) for Ezra Walian to be on the pitch. However, a glimmer of hope appeared on 76 minutes, as a long, raking ball from left back saw Cesarinho pick the ball up in the left-hand channel. He beat the defender for pace, got into the box and cut the ball back from the byline for an onrushing Filip Juric to nip in front of the stationary defender and poke the ball home. 1-2. We continued to attack City and a hopeful shot from Juric deflected off a defender and just drifted wide, with the keeper wrong-footed..
However, the final whistle blew and we'd lost the Europa League Final. I was proud of my boys and we'd done well to keep pace with the giants of European football.