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INJUSTICE

Well done UEFA – for reducing one of football’s biggest occasions to a pre-season friendly

Chelsea and Arsenal played in front of virtually nobody

In the end it was even more diabolical than the build up had predicted.

The second biggest club prize in European football, reduced to a near behind-closed-doors friendly in a far away land.

The Europa League is derided by fans of Champions League clubs but its value in modern football is increasing with every season.

Prestigious

EPA
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Prestigious

For Arsenal, blockaded from the top four this campaign, it was worth its weight in gold.

But instead of the glitz and glamour the competition’s showpiece deserved, the event became a farce.

Much of the build up was dominated by the shambolic handling of the Henrikh Mkhitaryan situation, the Armenian Arsenal midfielder left at home over fears for his security in Azerbaijan.

Nowhere to be seen

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Nowhere to be seen

Gunners fans showed solidarity for their missing star by wearing Mkhitaryan shirts and were duly met by resistance from local police.

There were also reports of zero mobile phone data and five minute taxi journeys amassing £35 fees.

Then there’s the travel debacle.

The crowd goes ‘wild’

Getty - Contributor
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The crowd goes ‘wild’

UEFA, of course, couldn’t anticipate the final would not only be an all Premier League affair, but a London derby too.

Yet Baku is closer to India than England’s capital and is Europe’s answer to the Bermuda triangle in terms of travel access.

Some fans set off four days in advance, undeterred by their mission ahead. Most, unsurprisingly and unashamedly, opted to stay at home.

The immediate build up saw UEFA’s worst fears become a sobering reality.

Yikes

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Yikes

Of the 70,000 capacity, just 10% of fans came from the two clubs competing.

The atmosphere was dire with swathes of empty seats as even sponsors said thanks, but no thanks to their swanky corporate offerings.

Within minutes of kick off the smattering of Chelsea fans who did make the trip began a rousing ‘F*** off UEFA’ chant.

They were vindicated – it was a f***ing disgrace.

The contest was undeniably affected initially. Eden Hazard then sparked into life and the players deserve credit simply for making it watchable in the second half.

The pick of the bunch again

AFP or licensors
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The pick of the bunch again

But for a London derby with so much at stake it felt more like a pre-season clash by the shores of the Caspian Sea.

Those supporters who embarked on their 2,800-mile pilgrimage were rewarded with a seated view miles from the pitch.

We felt closer to the action watching it unfold on television. It was also past midnight local time when the second half kicked off.

A sad end to a magnificent career

PA:Press Association
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A sad end to a magnificent career

The cold, honest truth is Baku should never have even been a possibility. If there were initial shortlists for the actual shortlist it shouldn’t have even made those.

The fact Atletico Madrid and Man United are the last two winners emphasise how far the competition has come.

It is now a gateway to the Champions League and given two of the Premier League’s ‘big six’ will take part every season it’s guaranteed stellar participants.

Amidst feeble sanctions for racism and alarmingly genuine discussions regarding a European Super League, just what shambles will UEFA conjure up next?