Closest Title Races in European Football

In recent seasons, several top-flight title races across Europe have been lackluster, with champions being declared well before the end of the campaign. This has been particularly evident in England, Germany, France, and Italy, where the competition by the end of the season has been far from intense. Despite this, there have been a couple of seasons in which the title race has lasted to the final matchday, with the top spot being determined by the total number of goals scored. On certain occasions, it wasn’t uncommon for three teams to engage in a fierce competition to gain a single point advantage over one another in the last game of the season. Often, even one individual mistake can cross the chances of a given team and determine the fate of the title race.

In this article, we will highlight some of the most exciting title races in the European Football history – in a chronological order.

Bundesliga 2000/01 – “Champion of Hearts”

The fight for the 2000-01 season championship went down to the final seconds. Bayern Munich lead Schalke 04 by three points heading into the last round, but had a worse goal difference. Schalke won their last game and where waiting for Bayern’s result. Bayern conceded a last-minute goal, losing 1-2 against Hamburg. Schalke supporters have already started the title celebration together with players (first time since 1958) as the Bayern match was coming to an end.

In the last seconds of injury time in Hamburg, the Hamburg’s goalkeeper stopped a back pass by his teammate Tomáš Ujfaluši with his hands. So, just eight meters from the Hamburg goal, the referee gave Bayern an indirect free kick. Patrik Andersson managed to score an equalizer goal that proved to be the game-winner. It was his first and only goal as a Bayern player.

At Gelsenkirchen, the fans and players were shocked and couldn’t believe what had just happened.  Their celebrations turned into bitter tears and Bayern rejoiced at the title of champion. Because of their amazing effort in that season, Schalke 04 team was dubbed “Champion of Hearts” by the German media.

Serie A 2001/2002 – Inter’s dramatic failure

The 2001/02 Serie A season is unquestionably one of the most entertaining title campaigns in Serie A history. It was the most competitive football season in Italian history. The last matchday was to determine which of the three iconic teams – Inter, Juventus, or Roma – would win the Scudetto. Italian football fans will never forget the dramatic last matchday of the 2001/02 season, May 5th, when Inter dropped from first position to third and Juventus won the championship. AS Roma came in at second place. Inter had 69 points going into the last game, while Juventus had 68 points and Roma 67.

All three teams remained in the hunt for the championship. Juve sealed their win away at Udinese with two goals in the first nine minutes, while Roma defeated Torino 1-0.

At the Stadio Olimpico, Inter took the early lead against Lazio. Christian Vieri gave Inter the lead after 12 minutes and the team continued putting pressure on Lazio to secure the crucial win. However, a brief moment of inattention and carelessness cost Inter two goals from Karel Poborsky and Luigi Di Biagio. With goals from Diego Simeone and Poborsky in the second half, Lazio surprisingly won the match 4-2 and Inter’s worst nightmare came true.

Juventus snatched the Scudetto from the hands of Inter and enjoyed their 26th title as Italian champion. Ronaldo and his Inter-teammates couldn’t believe what had just happened. They stumbled right at the finish line, after a brilliant season.

As you can see, even the finest footballers may experience such unexpected and devastating failures.

Premier League 2011/12 – Aguero – The hero of Manchester City

The Premier League 2011/12 has experienced arguably the most dramatic title race ever in the history of football – at least up to this day. As the final whistle blew, Manchester United was at the top of the Premier League as they won 2-0 against Sunderland. After the game, all eyes turned to the match of the second team in the standings – Manchester City which was playing at home against QPR. It was the result of this match that would determine who would become the champion of England.

The title race had shifted dramatically back and forth between the Manchester clubs in the preceding weeks, but United’s stunning loss to Wigan and collapse against Everton gave City a razor-thin goal difference advantage as the final games began

Yet City, guided by Roberto Mancini, appeared to squander their opportunity when they allowed QPR to take a 2-1 advantage, which remained until Edin Dzeko equalized in the 92nd minute. The referee added 5 minutes of extra time so City had only 3 minutes left to score a goal and win the trophy.

United had already defeated Sunderland and were waiting for the final result of their eternal rivals. Suddenly the unthinkable happened. With virtually the last touch of the season, Sergio Aguero scored the game-winning goal in the 94th minute, cementing his place in football history. City moved up the table to United as they had a better goal difference.

What a real rollercoaster of emotions!

La Liga 2013/14

Without a question, this was one of the most fascinating La Liga campaigns ever. The table’s top and bottom spots were up for grabs until the last day, and for the first time in a decade, a team other than Barcelona or Real Madrid was crowned champion.  After a long break, Atlético Madrid has returned to the pinnacle of Spanish football by claiming their first La Liga in 18 years. With the finest defensive record in the league (just 26 goals conceded), Atleti’s championship season was built from the defensive line.

Atlético Madrid led Barcelona by three points heading into the last matchday of the 2013/14 season. However, with the two teams facing off, Barcelona could claim the title with a win. Atletico desperately needed a tie to celebrate their improbable La Liga championship. However, Diego Simeone’s squad had a horrible start to the game.

Barcelona took a one goal advantage into halftime thanks to a stunning strike by Alexis Sanchez from a tight angle after some excellent teamwork. Furthermore, Atletico’s best player Diego Costa was forced to leave the field with an injury in the first half. There was clear fear on the faces of the Madrid players and fans. However, Atletico came out strong in the second half, and after holding a slight edge, they scored the equalizing goal. Godin scored a header from a superb cross from his teammate. That goal ended the scoring for the day.

Atlético finally won the championship after a tough battle at Camp Nou. The team’s coach, Diego Simeone, worked miracles. At the start of the season, his club was considered an underdog, but he transformed them into an unbeatable machine with flawless defense and lethal offense.

Eredivisie 2022/23

It wasn’t Ajax, it wasn’t PSV nor AZ. Feyenoord surprised everybody and remained the clear leader over the whole season after disappointing campaigns from their rivals. The Rotterdam team has won its 16th Eredivisie title. The last time they accomplished it was 6 years ago, so victory will taste sweet. Ajax was a significant disappointment, as they performed poorly throughout the season, especially in the spring round. They lost Der Klassiker against Feyenoord 2-3 at home and were defeated by 3-0 in Eindhoven against PSV, and they won’t play Champions League football next season. A thrilling final Eredivisie matchday awaits us, which could eventually decide the top spots and who qualifies to the European competitions. In the final day of this season, AZ will face PSV and Twente will play Ajax. Emotions are at an all-time high.

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