In the world of football, the popping of champagne corks means it must be May and time to hand out the trophies. In England, Italy, France and Germany, and in Portugal, Scotland and the Netherlands, a raft of clubs harvested the fruits of a long season’s labour. Amid the continent-wide celebrations, two Scottish coaching legends stood head and shoulders above the rest. FIFA.com reviews the weekend action around Europe.
England: Ferguson’s dream comes true
Manchester United have achieved their ultimate goal: a 1-1 draw away to Blackburn Rovers sealed a 19th domestic league crown for the Red Devils on Saturday, even before Chelsea dropped critical points in a 2-2 stalemate at home to Newcastle United. Wayne Rooney converted a penalty to secure the point Sir Alex Ferguson and his men needed. The Scottish coaching legend has thus fulfilled his oft-stated dream of displacing Liverpool as the English league’s all-time most successful club.
Elsewhere, Arsenal’s patchy end-of-term form continued with a 2-1 home defeat to resurgent Aston Villa. The initiative in the race for third spot and a guaranteed berth in the UEFA Champions League group stages now passes to Manchester City, who can leapfrog Arsenal into third if they win their game in hand at home to Stoke City on Tuesday. In the face-off for fifth, Tottenham Hotspur won 2-0 away to Liverpool, while at the bottom of the table, West Ham United are down after losing 3-2 to fellow strugglers Wigan Athletic.
Top three: Manchester United (77 points), Chelsea (71), Arsenal (67)
Bottom three: Blackpool, Wigan Athletic (both 39), West Ham United (33)
Leading scorers: Dimitar Berbatov (21 goals), Carlos Tevez (19), Darren Bent, Robin van Persie (both 17)
Weekend stat: Ferguson has now guided United to an astonishing 36 trophies in his 25-year reign at the club. That could yet be 37 by the end of the campaign, as the Red Devils face Barcelona in the Champions League final at the end of the month.
Spain: Ronaldo roars clear
With the title already in the bag, Barcelona took it easy in a goalless home draw with Deportivo La Coruna, allowing Real Madrid to make the headlines this weekend. The league runners-up won 3-1 away to Villarreal, with a starring role once again assigned to Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portugal superstar scored two stunning free-kick goals, edging his total for the season to ever-more stratospheric heights.
On the penultimate day of the La Liga season, Valencia drew 0-0 with Levante to seal an automatic Champions League spot, leaving Villarreal the task of surviving a play-off for the continent’s elite competition. With one game to play, six teams are still uncertain of their top flight status. Despite a 1-0 victory over Espanyol, Real Zaragoza remain in the greatest danger of the drop alongside Hercules and Almeria.
Top three: Barcelona (93), Real Madrid (89), Valencia (68)
Bottom three: Real Zaragoza (42), Hercules (34), Almeria (30)
Leading scorers: Cristiano Ronaldo (38), Lionel Messi (31), Alvaro Negredo, Giuseppe Rossi, David Villa (all 18)
Weekend stat: Cristiano Ronaldo is now up to 38 goals for the season, equalling the Spanish record jointly held by Telmo Zarra (1950/51) and Hugo Sánchez (1989/90).
Italy: Moonwalk in Milan
AC Milan’s Serie A title triumph was already secure ahead of the last two games, but I Rossoneri still laid on a gala in their final home fixture, sweeping aside luckless Cagliari 4-1 before receiving the Scudetto. The highlight of the afternoon was the sight of Ghana international Kevin-Prince Boateng appearing in front of the Milan tifosi as a Michael Jackson impersonator, thrilling the crowd and his team-mates with a perfect moonwalk.
Elsewhere, Lazio ended a run of three defeats by beating Genoa 4-2, but fourth-placed Udinese overcame Chievo 2-0 to fend off their challenge. Roma and Juventus lost 2-1 to Catania and 1-0 to Parma respectively, extinguishing their slender hopes of the Champions League once and for all, but Napoli’s 1-1 away draw with Inter means I Partenopei are back in the elite competition. In the drop zone, Sampdoria lost 2-1 to Palermo and are relegated along with Brescia and Bari.
Top three: AC Milan (81), Inter Milan (73), Napoli (69)
Bottom three: Sampdoria (36), Brescia (31), Bari (21)
Leading scorers: Antonio di Natale (28), Edinson Cavani (26), Samuel Eto’o (21)
Weekend stat: Napoli are back in Europe's top competition for the first time in 20 years.
France: Half the league still unsure of safety
On a black afternoon for Lens, the 1998 champions joined Arles-Avignon in the second division following a 1-1 draw with Monaco. Third from bottom, the side from the Principality are in dire straits themselves, but by no means doomed yet, as the relegation struggle is extraordinarily close this season. The weekend results served to bunch the field even more tightly: Toulouse contrived to lose 1-0 to Avignon, Caen beat Montpellier 2-0, Nancy overcame Nice 3-0, and Valenciennes picked up a point in a 1-1 draw with Auxerre.
Leaders Lille were in cup final action, but their league ambitions were boosted anyway as Marseille stumbled badly. The champions were held to a 2-2 draw by Lorient, and were lucky even to take a point, as Andre-Pierre Gignac’s equaliser was a last-ditch affair.
Top three: Lille (69), Marseille (66), Lyon (59)
Bottom three: Monaco (41), Lens (35), Arles-Avignon (17)
Leading scorers: Moussa Sow (21), Kévin Gameiro (20), Youssef El Arabi (17)
Weekend stat: With just two games to go, fully ten clubs are not yet certain of safety. Montpellier, Auxerre and Bordeaux in ninth, tenth and 11th could still theoretically go down.
Germany: Outpouring of joy in Dortmund
Borussia Dortmund’s 3-1 win over Eintracht Frankfurt generated the full range of emotions. It was pure joy for BVB as the men in yellow and black hoisted the championship shield, but gloom and despair for Eintracht, who lay seventh at the halfway mark in the campaign but were relegated on Saturday afternoon. St. Pauli will join Frankfurt in the second division, with third-from-bottom Borussia Monchengladbach securing a play-off with Bochum, who finished third in the second tier. Hertha Berlin and Augsburg are promoted from the second flight.
On the last day of the Bundesliga season, Bayer Leverkusen won 1-0 away to Freiburg to claim the runners-up spot and automatic qualification for the Champions League. Bayern Munich beat Stuttgart 2-1 but came third and will have to qualify for Europe’s top competition. Surprise packages Hannover and Mainz claimed the Europa League places. Bayern can point to one consolation prize in a season without silverware, as Mario Gomez finished top scorer on 28 goals.
Top three: Borussia Dortmund (75), Bayer Leverkusen (68), Bayern Munich (65)
Bottom three: Borussia Monchengladbach (36), Eintracht Frankfurt (34), St. Pauli (29)
Leading scorers: Mario Gomez (28), Papiss Cissé (22), Milivoje Novakovic (17)
Weekend stat: In its 48th season, the Bundesliga posted a new record total attendance of 13,057,899 paying customers.
In Portugal, champions Porto succeeded in going the whole season undefeated. The Europa League finalists won 2-0 away to Maritimo in Funchal, thus emulating the feat performed by Lisbon arch-rivals Benfica, whose Eusebio-inspired side also won the league undefeated in 1973.
In Scotland, Glasgow giants Rangers beat Kilmarnock 5-1 to seal a 54th national championship, handing coaching legend Walter Smith a hugely appropriate and worthy retirement present, his tenth league title.
The denouement in the Netherlands could hardly have been more dramatic, as the title race came down to a decider in Amsterdam between second-placed Ajax and leaders Twente Enschede. Ajax were left celebrating at the end, leapfrogging their rivals with a 3-1 win and claiming the honours for the first time since 2004.
Historic cup triumphs
Manchester City and Lille are the freshly-crowned cup winners in England and France. Yaya Toure scored the only goal of the game as the Citizens beat Stoke City in the FA Cup final at Wembley, earning the Blues a first trophy of any description for 35 long years. For their part, French champions-elect Lille sealed half the domestic double with a 1-0 victory over Paris St. Germain. Ludovic Obraniak struck the late winner as Les Dogues won the French cup for the first time since 1955.