Much of the attention ahead of the Capital One Cup Final was rightfully directed at Bradford City, the first team from the fourth tier of English football since 1962 to reach such a final. Yet, just a few minutes after kick-off, reality was restored and it was a similarly unfashionable club in Swansea that were the new League Cup champions.
Lying ninth in the English Premier League, Swansea are doing alright. Not bad at all. They have joined the likes of Stoke, West Brom and Fulham who once were nobodies but are now often considered certs to remain in the top flight come the end of the season. Not for Swansea, a team you’d recall that was only promoted from the Championship two seasons ago, is it to be caught up in the woes of fellow promoted teams QPR (bottom of the league) and Norwich (inconsistent). They’ve now received their reward for attractive, patient football; a major trophy and a place in the Europa League.
If you’d listen to fans before the game, you’d think that everybody wanted Bradford City to win the final. That would do an injustice to a popular Premier League time that were also there on merit. Whilst Bradford were making headlines by seeing off Wigan, Arsenal and then Aston Villa over two legs, Swansea were also making light work of Chelsea in a double-header. It was the match-up that the neutrals were hoping for – the plucky underdog versus the bright stars of the top tier.
It’s a shame, then, that the Wembley encounter didn’t live up to its billing. What can you expect from such a gulf in class? Bradford, on paper, shouldn’t have got anywhere near meeting Swansea, but sheer determination and the occasional bit of backs-to-the-wall defending (not to mention a perfect penalty shootout record) got them through. Something had to snap at some point and it was Swansea’s star players that broke them.
Michael Laudrup’s decision to rest almost his entire team for their Premier League match last weekend with Liverpool was heavily criticised. Their 5-0 walloping at the hands of Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez et al. was said to have shorn the Welsh team of their confidence heading into a major final. What they didn’t bank on was the likes of Michu, Nathan Dyer and Jonathan de Guzman not caring too much about that inconsequential league meeting. With one hand already on the trophy, they rose up and, although treating the Yorkshire club with the utmost respect, destroyed Bradford. The match had long been decided before Matt Duke, Bradford’s heroic goalkeeper, was sent off but Phil Parkinson can still be immensely proud of his charges. They’ve earned a heap of cash and reminded people of loftier times – Premier Division times.
Bradford will now return to League Two with a bump, hoping to divert all their attention to flagging promotion hopes. Swansea, on the other hand, can look forward to a place in the 2013/14 Europa League campaign. Few will doubt that Swansea’s slick, optimistic style will be a great fit for the continent’s way of playing and they have a decent chance of progressing into the group stages. Hopefully, they can keep their squad intact and continue to fare well in the league, in contrast with Newcastle during their maiden Europa League foray.