SEVILLE, Spain — In 2012, Kevin Trapp was sent off after 19 minutes of his Eintracht Frankfurt debut. On Wednesday, the goalkeeper, now 31, etched his name in club lore for the right reasons, emerging as a hero on a night when the German club once again became a European champion. Trapp made a startling kick save in the final minutes of extra time to take the UEFA Europa League final vs. Scottish power Rangers to penalties after a 1–1 draw. Trapp, inevitably, made the decisive save in the shootout, blocking Aaron Ramsey’s weak effort with his legs as Frankfurt lifted the second European trophy in its history and first in 42 years at the Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán.
Trapp had spent four years at Paris Saint-Germain, and when he returned to Frankfurt, it seemed as though he was taking a step backwards. Perhaps he was in terms of club stature, but it is he who has won a European trophy while those still in Paris have not. And that, perhaps, was fitting. This was a curious night, a throwback, a reminder of football when European finals were all about glory. Often the Europa League has felt like a consolation, a trophy to mitigate an otherwise disappointing season. Not here: this was a clash of two sides desperate for unfamiliar success—two clubs threatened by the movement to tilt the balance of the sport even more to the entrenched elite.
Eintracht Frankfurt has been among the most outspoken of the so-called “middle class,” imploring UEFA to reconsider some of the forthcoming changes to the Champions League that would make it more of a closed shop. UEFA has, and now, by virtue of its Europa League title, Frankfurt has played its way to the more glamorous Champions League stage, where it will face those “upper class” clubs—potentially Trapp’s former employer—head-on.
Wednesday’s affair had, in truth, been a game characterized less by great quality than by tension. And perhaps that was the way it was always going to be. After all, these are two clubs that had each won a European competition only once before, and neither in the past four decades. For their fans, this was perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime trip. The local authorities, perhaps remembering the chaos when 80,000 Celtic fans descended on Seville for the UEFA Cup final in 2003, had anticipated as many as 100,000 Rangers fans and 50,000 from Frankfurt arriving, but perhaps half those numbers seemed more realistic. Certainly the basic infrastructure did not collapse as it had 19 years ago, when the phone network failed and the squares around the Alcazar were carpeted with green-and-white bodies.
But the numbers were still huge and the atmosphere they created still remarkable. Very few games can ever have featured such a high proportion of fans wearing team colors: one end of the stadium all white, the other blue with a sprinkling of orange. And in the stadium, despite the reputation of both sets of fans, the mood was cordial enough for all the ferocity of the chanting.
In the city, it was a different matter. Although fans mingled in the bars around the center, there were clashes at the west end of the bridge where Calle Enramadilla crosses Avenida San Francisco Javier. They were seemingly prompted by a group of around 200 Frankfurt fans attacking Rangers fans sitting drinking in the roadside bars and being met by a barrage of patio furniture. Five Frankfurt supporters had been arrested on Tuesday night after Rangers fans were attacked with flares.
As for the match itself, in the first half, the atmosphere was rather better than the game, which was all too obviously a clash of the second-best team in Scotland and the 11th-best in Germany. But the game was ignited 12 minutes into the second half by a goal of startling ordinariness. Rangers had probably been the less threatening, but when Connor Goldson cleared Trapp’s clearance back into the Frankfurt half, Djibril Sow stretched and touched the ball on inadvertently. Tuta was wrong-footed and slipped and suddenly Joe Aribo was clean through. The Nigeria international had not scored in 18 previous European games this season but finished calmly and, suddenly, Rangers had a hand on their first European trophy in half a century.
But the sense was that the Frankfurt pressure could not be long resisted. Filip Kostić had already but in 15 crosses when he drove another ball across the box from his left wingback position. Goldson mysteriously left it, and Rafael Borré darted in front of Calvin Bassey to poke in the equalizer.
Goldson will be haunted by the error. The thought will always be there. What if he had just put it out? Frankfurt was on top and perhaps its pressure would have told anyway. As it was, having leveled, Frankfurt retreated and in extra-time Rangers looked the fresher side. The final five minutes were played almost entirely in the Frankfurt box.
But Trapp was always there, always in the way. And so, in this battle of two sides that have spent a lifetime harking back to European glories of old, two sides that brought vast armies of fans, it was Frankfurt that prevailed. But both sides on their way to Seville created a store of memories to tide them through whatever winters may lie ahead—memories whose rarity will mean they are cherished in a way that is impossible for their superclub counterparts.
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