The beautiful game of soccer has long been a staple of European culture, and the continent’s five biggest footballing nations have some of the most prestigious and popular cup competitions in the world.
The prominence of cup competitions came to the fore once again last weekend, with England serving up the third round of the 2022/23 FA Cup.
And the ‘magic of the cup’ was on display for all to see, serving up plenty of giant killings.
Newcastle United were unbeaten in 15 games as they traveled to Hillsborough to face League One high-flyers, Sheffield Wednesday. But in form Owls striker Josh Windass bagged himself a brace and sent the Magpies packing.
There was another shock delivered to us by Ryan Reynolds’ Wrexham.
The Welsh club’s stock has skyrocketed since they were taken over by the Hollywood superstar.
Wrexham plies their trade in English football’s fifth tier and delivered their owner the greatest result of his short tenure.
They defeated Championship side Coventry City by four goals to three at the Coventry Building Society Arena. Interestingly, about 4,000 traveling fans cheered them to success.
The shock of the round was delivered to us at Villa Park. Aston Villa hosted fourth-tier Stevenage on Sunday evening, and all seemed to be going according to plan when french midfielder Morgan Sanson gave the hosts a first-half lead.
But two goals in the last five minutes from the League Two side ensured that they headed back to Hertfordshire with the victory and a spot in the fourth round.
Another eye-catching result came at the Etihad Stadium. Manchester City thumped Premier League rivals, Chelsea.
A brace from Riyad Mahrez, who is one of the best-ever African Wingers, as well as strikes from Julian Alvarez and Phil Foden secured a 4-0 victory.
[By the way, this may be a good time to check out Guardiola vs Klopp detailed stats]
But it isn’t just in England where cup competitions continue to thrive. Here are the five most popular tournaments in Europe.
1. England – The FA Cup
The FA Cup is the oldest and most prestigious cup competition in the world, having been founded in 1871.
The tournament brings together teams from all levels of English football for a thrilling knockout tournament.
Arsenal are the most successful team in the competition, having won it 14 times. Manchester United are right next behind Arsenal with 12. (See other interesting Arsenal stats.)
The reigning champions are Liverpool. They defeated Chelsea on penalties at Wembley last May to secure the crown for the eighth time in their history.
2. Spain – Copa del Rey
The Copa del Rey is the oldest football tournament in Spain, having been founded in 1903. It’s a knockout tournament, unlike a League format, that includes teams from all levels of Spanish football.
Barcelona have been the most successful team in the Copa del Rey. They have won it 31 times, with the most recent win in 2021.
The reigning champions however are Real Betis. They defeated Valencia on penalties last season to pick up their first piece of silverware since they lifted the same trophy back in 2005.
3. Germany – DFB-Pokal
The DFB-Pokal is the national cup competition in Germany, and it’s been running since 1935.
You won’t be surprised to hear that Bayern Munich are the most successful team in the competition. They have won it 20 times, with the most recent win in 2020.
Last season’s DFB Pokal final was a momentous one for a number of reasons, however.
The match took place inside Berlin’s Olympiastadion and was contested by Freiburg and RB Leipzig, both of whom were looking to pick up their first pieces of silverware in either club’s history.
Freiburg led the match for a long spell, and it looked as though the trophy would be heading to the Black Forest, especially when Leipzig defender Marcel Halstenberg was given his marching orders on the hour mark.
But the side from Eastern Germany battled back with ten men and found a late equalizer, before winning the contest via a penalty shootout.
4. Italy – Coppa Italia
The Coppa Italia is the national cup competition in Italy, and it’s been running since 1922. It’s a knockout tournament that includes teams from all levels of Italian football, from Serie A all the way down to the regional leagues.
Juventus have been the most successful team in the competition, having won it 14 times.
The Bianconeri were humbled in last season’s final, however.
They were beaten by rivals Inter Milan, with two goals in extra time from Ivan Perišić securing a 4-2 victory for the Nerazzurri.
Before leaving the Italian Cup, you may want to find out why players in Italian League wear weird Jersey numbers.
5. France – Coupe de France
The Coupe de France is the national cup competition in France, and it’s been running since 1917.
Like England, France used to have a second cup competition, namely the Coupe de la Ligue, however, the tournament was scrapped in 2020.
When it comes to the Coupe de France, Paris Saint-Germain have achieved the most success, having won the title 14 times.
Last season however the Parisians were stunned at the last 16 stage when they lost to Nice on penalties.
Nice would make it all the way to the final however, their campaign would end in heartbreak.
They went on to lose to Nantes in the Stade de France, with Ludovic Blas scoring the only goal of the game from the penalty spot.