There’s fewer games in world football that have more on the line than the Championship playoff final.
Sure, the glamour and prestige of playing in a second tier final doesn’t hold a candle to competing in an FA Cup final – or a European equivalent – but from a financial standpoint, this is the richest game in football.
It’s dubbed the “£170m game” each and every time two teams take to the hallowed Wembley turf, owing to the incredible bundles of cash generated by television revenue and sponsorship deals.
So if it’s such a big fixture, us football fans – you know, the hardcore ones – can surely reel off the ins and outs of the finals contested in the last decade without breaking a sweat? No? Not so sure? Well, let’s find out how good that memory is – by taking 90min‘s quickfire quiz of the 2010s Championship playoff finals.
This week sees the return of the Champions League after a lengthy hiatus. Barcelona restart their campaign with a visit from a Napoli team who, despite winning their first trophy in six years in June, have struggled to find any real consistency this season.
Barcelona endured a difficult league campaign themselves this year. Despite leading La Liga before the break, they capitulated upon a return to football and were unable to secure a third successive title, as they finished five points behind rivals Real Madrid.
They will seek redemption for their league failings by lifting their fifth UEFA Champions League trophy.
Unsurprisingly a team that features Lionel Messi scores a lot of goals.
While in recent years Napoli have maintained a solid defensive record, spearheaded by Kalidou Koulibaly, cracks have shown this year as they have conceded their most amount of goals in a Serie A season for five years. With Barca claiming an away goal in Naples, Napoli will have to be weary of the ever-present goal threat that Messi and Luis Suarez give La Blaugrana.
Barca have been shaky at the back this year conceding 38 times in the league – that’s more eighth-placed Getafe conceded. This isn’t the terrifying Barca team of old, and plenty of teams have enjoyed success against them this season.
They were recently beaten at home by mid-table Osasuna and have lost a total of six times in La Liga this season. Despite being 35 games unbeaten in Europe at the Nou Camp, with the attacking options Napoli are blessed with, Gennaro Gattuso’s men will be confident of causing an upset.
Barcelona’s form post lockdown will certainly be a concern for Quique Setién. They were firm favourites to wrap up another title for a significant portion of the season but struggled upon the restart and handed the league to their rivals. With growing concerns about the future of the club and the players, it might be the perfect time for this Napoli side to visit the Nou Camp.
Lionel Messi – who else?
While his goal tally has dropped slightly this season, he has still been a creative behemoth breaking the 20 mark in both goals and assists in La Liga.
It’s concerning to think where this side would be without Messi and with rumours continuing to circulate about the Argentine’s future, Barca fans will be worried this may be his last season for the club.
This game may genuinely be defined by Lionel Messi. With such reliance on his creativity for goals in this Barca team, Napoli’s first task will be to stifle his threat. If they can successfully manage that then they may stand a chance in the tie.
Stopping the brilliance of Lionel Messi is of course no mean feat, many teams have tried and many teams have failed. With Napoli’s defence being far from impenetrable, coupled with the need for them to score an away goal, it may be too difficult for them to prevent the Lionel Messi show continuing.
While Barca should progress into the quarter finals, tougher tasks wait ahead – notably Bayern Munich, who have won 25 of their last 26 games.
Far from their best and over-reliant on Messi, don’t expect them to lift the trophy this season.
West London rivals Brentford and Fulham meet at Wembley in the Championship play-off final on Tuesday, with a place in the Premier League at stake.
After a hectic encounter at home to Cardiff City, Fulham gave themselves the chance to return to the top flight at the first time of asking with a 3-2 aggregate victory.
As for the Bees, they will be looking for their first taste of Premier League football, having not been in the top tier since 1947.
Brentford also won their tie 3-2 on aggregate, seeing off Swansea City in their last ever game at Griffin Park after a 1-0 defeat in the first leg.
When Is Kick Off? Tuesday 4 August What Time Is Kick Off? 19:45 (BST) Where Is it Being Played? Wembley Stadium TV Channel/Live Stream? Sky Sports (UK)
Championship Golden Boot winner Aleksandar Mitrovic could be set to return for the Whites, having missed both legs of the semi-final against Cardiff with a hamstring injury. Portuguese winger Ivan Cavaleiro may also be available following a thigh problem.
Neeskens Kebano, who has bagged five goals in his last four games, may miss out after going off at half time against Cardiff, while Bournemouth loanee Harry Arter is expected to be sidelined.
The Bees have no new absentees since the victory against Swansea. Nikos Karelis remains out of contention as he recovers from a serious knee injury sustained in October.
An astonishing run of eight wins in a row was brought to an abrupt halt for Thomas Frank’s Brentford when they succumbed to defeats against Stoke and Barnsley, denying them automatic promotion, and then Swansea in the first leg of the play-off semi final.
The pressure appeared to be getting to the Bees, but they swept this all aside with a dazzling display in the second leg, emerging victorious thanks to goals by Ollie Watkins, Emiliano Marcondes, and Bryan Mbeumo.
As for Scott Parker’s side, their defeat to Cardiff in the home leg was their first in nine games, having won six and drawn two of the previous eight.
A concern for Parker may be Fulham’s record against Tuesday’s opponents. The Whites have only beaten Brentford once in the last ten meeting between the sides, losing six times.
Here is how each side has fared in their previous five outings.
He’s one of the greatest and most decorated goalkeepers of all-time, but Iker Casillas has decided to call time on his legendary 20-year professional career.
An icon for Real Madrid, Spain, and latterly Porto, Casillas cat-like reflexes helped him win it all – quite literally.
In celebration of ‘Saint Iker’, then, we’ve thrown together a few of his greatest hits.
Real Madrid suffered a pretty major blow ahead of the 2000 Champions League final, when first choice keeper Cesar Sanchez was ruled out through injury.
Little did they know, however, they were on the verge of something great. In came 19-year-old Casillas, who batted away Valencia at every turn, helping his side to a famous 3-0 victory.
To this day, he holds the record for youngest ever keeper to start a UCL final.
Casillas continued to battle with Sanchez over the next two seasons, but as you’d probably guessed, he eventually won.
The 2002 Champions League was the final nail in Sanchez’s coffin. Casillas started the final, and delivered a string of world class saves to keep a fearsome Bayer Leverkusen team at bay at Hampden Park.
That volley from Zinedine Zidane eventually won Real the game.
He would continue to develop throughout the 2000s, and by 2008, he was on top of the world. His imperious presence helped Real win La Liga for the 31st time in 2007/08, as he conceded just 32 goals to win the Zamora Trophy – which goes to the keeper with the lowest goals to games ratio.
He and Raúl earned ‘lifetime’ contracts as a result of a phenomenal season. Casillas’ ran for nine years, with the option of a tenth.
A couple of years later, he pulled off one of the best stops Spanish football has ever seen.
Sevilla’s Diego Perotti looked dead set to score as the ball was squared to him, but Casillas’ famous lightning-quick reactions allowed him to adjust his feet, sprint across goal and launch himself downwards in the blink of an eye.
The 2010 World Cup was one of the lowest scoring in modern history. That’s because Iker Casillas was there, and at his very best.
Now established as the best in the world, he captained Spain to a famous victory, keeping one of five clean sheets – the most any keeper has managed in the tournament’s history.
Casillas also played a major part in Spain winning both Euro 2008 and Euro 2012, the latter rounding off a remarkable four-year spell of international dominance.
The 2017/18 season was a significant one for a number of reasons. Now established with Porto – having left Real behind – Casillas equalled Ryan Giggs’ record of playing in 19 straight Champions League seasons, and helped Porto to their first league title since 2013.
He also played his 1,000th professional game against Belenenses – quite the legacy to leave behind.
Spain and Real Madrid legend Iker Casillas has announced his retirement from football after 22 years in the game.
Casillas made 725 appearances in total for Real Madrid, a club he joined at the age of nine. The Spaniard managed to win 19 trophies during his time with the club – including five La Liga titles – before departing for Porto in the summer of 2015. But he hadn’t played for the club since a sudden health scare in 2019.
Casillas has now taken to his official Twitter to announce his retirement from the game, bringing to an end his illustrious playing career. Real Madrid have shown their appreciation for their former star man, a player they have described as one of the most important figures in the club’s history.
“Given the announcement by Iker Casillas about his retirement from football as a professional player, Real Madrid CF wants to show its appreciation, admiration and love for one of the greatest legends of our club and world football,” a statement read on the club’s official website.
“The best goalkeeper in the history of Real Madrid and Spanish football came to our house when he was 9 years old. Here our shirt was formed and defended for 25 years, being forever one of our most iconic captains. Iker Casillas has earned the love of Real Madrid and is a benchmark of the values ??that represent Real Madrid.
“Today, one of the most important footballers in our 118-year history, a player whom we love and admire, a goalkeeper who has enlarged the legend of Real Madrid with his work and with exemplary behaviour both inside and outside, says goodbye as a professional player.
“Iker Casillas belongs to the heart of Real Madrid and will be so forever. Real Madrid wants to convey to him and his family the affection of our club, which is the club of his life.”
An icon on the international stage as well, Casillas captained Spain to World Cup glory in 2010, while he also won the European Championships in 2008 and 2012. The 39-year-old held the record of his country’s most-capped player, before Sergio Ramos overtook him after making his 168th appearance.