Ireland Shines On European Stage
The Last Word by Brendan White
(first published in the May 2011 Monaghan United match programme)
Dublin played host to the UEFA Europa League final between Porto and Braga just over a week ago in The Aviva Stadium. With the city hosting its first major European final in the revamped Lansdowne Road, some fans may have preferred to see higher-profile teams in action.
But the carnival atmosphere created by the fans that had travelled from Portugal certainly made it a special night. The chaotic scenes in the capital of the previous day were nowhere to be seen and the city centre was packed with colour and an atmosphere befitting a European Cup final.
The attendance of just less than 46,000 witnessed one of the best atmospheres seen in the revamped stadium since its re-opening. The mixture of Portuguese, Irish and fans from around Europe made for an entertaining night.
Even before the game, on the bus to the venue, the atmosphere was one not seen in the capital for some time and even local people were enquiring as to whether they could get tickets around the ground before the game.
While it may not have been a hugely fascinating contest on the pitch, the pre-match entertainment was first to get fans excited about the game. Before the teams entered, fans were treated to a surprise team selection as young players from local sides entered the playing positions while the teams were being called, an excellent idea to entertain the awaiting crowd.
We then had all teams represented on the field with individual banners as a well-practiced routine was performed on the field before our players emerged to start the last game of this season’s Europa League.
What followed may not have been the game we all hoped for but it didn’t fail to keep the attention of supporters. End to end football throughout, one goal scored but many chances missed, moments of individual errors but also moments of individual magic from some skilful maestros.
In the end there was just one goal that settled the game. Falcao’s header just before the end of the first half was enough to give them the coveted victory over their near rivals. Porto manager Andre Villas-Boas wrote his name into the history books as he became the youngest coach to win a UEFA competition.
Braga for their part put up a good fight during the second half but ultimately couldn’t find a way past Helton just after the break and although the game didn’t turn out to be a cracker, almost 46,000 people witnessed two teams fight for every ball and battle until the end as they fought for national pride.
Nothing sums up Porto’s season as well as this – 140 goals in 52 matches, having failed to score in just two games and winning 45 of them before they graced the Aviva Stadium turf. Although the Porto fans outnumbered the Braga fans by two to one, both sets of supporters made tremendous noise throughout the game as they tried to help their team to European silverware.
But the real winner on the night is Ireland and Irish football. The FAI made the event happen, although UEFA-organised, and it made for a very enjoyable evening. The pitch was perfect, the stadium was ready for the game and looking superb, and credit where credit’s due, the night went off without a hitch. Hopefully we’ll see more European finals grace the country and take advantage of the incredible stadium we have at our disposal.