UEFA’s second-biggest club football trophy is up for grabs this week. Both Eintracht Frankfurt and Rangers have defied all odds to reach this stage and are set to face off in the final at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium in Seville on Wednesday.
Eintracht Frankfurt became one of the front-runners for the cup when they knocked out Barcelona in the Quarter-finals. A game that everyone thought would be an easy fixture for the Catalan giants turned out to be the other way round as the team from Germany outplayed them by drawing 1-1 at home and shocking everyone with a 3-2 victory at the Camp Nou, showing their courage and hunger to clinch their first European trophy since 1980.
Frankfurt were placed in Group D in the UEL Group Stage, alongside Olympiacos Fenerbahçe and Royal Antwerp. They earned a direct entry into the Round of 16 courtesy of a first-place finish in the Group Stage with 12 points, winning three games and drawing the other three. They faced another Spanish outfit in Real Betis in the Round of 16 and won their away fixture 2-1, which was crucial in taking them through to the Quarter-finals after they drew 1-1 at home against them. They grabbed the limelight when they knocked out Barça 4-3 on aggregate. David Moyes’ West Ham United awaited them in the Semi-finals and Frankfurt came up with yet another victory, defeating them 2-1 courtesy of goals from Ansgar Knauff and Daichi Kamada. They sealed their place in the final with a 1-0 victory at home courtesy of a 26th minute finish from Rafael Santos Borré.
Rangers, on the other hand, have had a rollercoaster of a ride this season. The 2020-21 Scottish champions failed to make it to the Champions League as they lost to Malmö FF 4-2 on aggregate in the qualifying rounds, ending up in the UEL Group Stage. They were placed alongside Lyon, Sparta Prague and Brøndby IF.
Rangers finished second in their group by winning two, drawing two and losing two games. They knocked out German giants Borussia Dortmund by winning their UEL Knockouts Playoff tie 4-2 in Germany and drawing 2-2 at home. They then defeated Crvena Zvezda in the Round of 16 by winning 3-0 at home. Though they lost 2-0 in the second leg, it was enough for them to reach the Quarter-finals.
Their Quarter-finals first leg didn’t go as planned as they lost 1-0 to Braga in Portugal in the first leg. However, the Scottish side quickly turned things around and defeated them 3-1 in the second leg, ensuring themselves a place in the Semi-finals. They had to overcome another big German team in RB Leipzig for a place in the final. They fell to a narrow 1-0 defeat in the first leg away from home but managed to win the second leg 3-1.
Frankfurt have had an average league campaign this season, having recently ended the season with a mid-table finish in eleventh place with 42 points, 27 less than last year, when they ended fifth. They ended their Bundesliga campaign with a 2-2 draw against Mainz away from home. As things stand, Oliver Glasner’s men will fail to make it to Europe next season should they lose the UEL Final.
However, if one takes their domestic form away, Frankfurt have proven themselves to be a dominant force in Europe, having remained undefeated throughout the competition with seven wins and five draws. Daichi Kamada has been the top scorer for them in the Europa League with five goals. He will also be hoping to finish as the competition’s top scorer as he is only two goals behind his Rangers opponent James Tavernier, who leads the charts with seven goals.
Frankfurt’s attack has been led by Rafael Santos Borré, who has eight goals and four assists to his name in the Bundesliga this season. The team have enjoyed the majority of possession in most of their fixtures courtesy of their midfielders Djibril Sow and the ever-consistent Sebastian Rode. Their defence is backed by Evan N’Dicka, Tuta and Almamy Touré, with the ever-reliable Kevin Trapp in goal. Overall, they are a tough side to defeat, and with the formidable record they hold in the UEL this season, they will surely be eying the trophy for a place in the Champions league next season.
Rangers, too, have had a disappointing domestic run this season, having conceded the Scottish Premiership to rivals Celtic. They are coming into this game off the back of a 3-1 victory against Hearts, though, and will be looking to carry this momentum into the final.
Like Frankfurt, Rangers have looked an impeccable force in Europe this season. Their captain James Tavernier has guided them home on several occasions and is the top scorer of the tournament with seven goals so far. Joe Aribo, the currently-injured Alfred Morelos, Scott Wright and Ryan Kent have been a pivotal part of the Rangers attack this season. Ryan Jack and Glen Kamara have been consistent in the midfield, which has been important in setting up the goals and assists for Rangers this season. John Lundstram, Connor Goldson and Calvin Bassey have been rock solid at the back as well. And last but not the least, credit must be given to their veteran goalkeeper Allan McGregor, who might be looking to end his career on a high note. Overall, Rangers are filled with depth and are undefeated in their previous five games, which clearly demonstrates their chances of clinching the Europa League trophy this season.
As far as Injuries are concerned, Eintracht Frankfurt will be without their crucial defender Martin Hinteregger, who suffered a hamstring injury during their Semi-final home fixture against West Ham. Frankfurt will also be without Danny da Costa, Evan N’Dicka and Jesper Lindstrøm. Rangers, meanwhile, will be without their star striker Alfredo Morelos, who suffered a severe thigh injury and is ruled out for the rest of the season. They will also be without Filip Helander, Ianis Hagi and Kemar Roofe.
Slavko Vinčić (Slovenia) will referee the 2022 UEL Final. He will be joined by his compatriots Tomaž Klančnik and Andraž Kovačič. The fourth official shall be Srdjan Jocanović from Serbia.
Both the teams have had roller-coaster rides on their way to the final. Remember: Frankfurt have to win to secure a Champions League place next season, whereas Rangers have secured a place already in the qualifying rounds of the Champions league courtesy of their second-place finish in the Scottish Premiership. Both the teams are formidable outfits filled with intent and hunger for triumph. The entire footballing world eagerly awaits the 2022 Europa League Final for a thrilling fight between the two teams.
2021-22 Europa League Final Date: Thursday, 19 May, 12:30 am IST
Where to watch: SONY TEN 1 & 2 (English), SONY TEN 3 (Hindi), SONY TEN 4 (Tamil & Telugu), SonyLIV and JioTV (online streaming)