Any football final always brings with it a substantial amount of intrigue and anticipation; this further being the case if there is a considerable rivalry between the two competing clubs. All this combined with the intense, pressure-cooker environment and emotions getting the best of players on the occasion, it can often result in significant disciplinary issues.
In light of the 2023 Europa League final achieving the landmark of the most amount of yellow cards awarded in a European Cup final in recent years, we have looked at other momentous major club finals over the last couple of decades across various competitions that have resulted in numerous cards being awarded. Though, let’s start with a recap of the most recent!
2023 Europa League Final – 13 Yellow
You just know that any final that features a team marshalled by Jose Mourinho will be tempestuous at the very least; especially based on the Portuguese manager’s serial winning mentality and the way that he sets his teams up to play.
Leading AS Roma into the Europa League final, he was though, up against a different animal. A club which has proven over the last decade or so to be one of the most effective in this competition; Sevilla.
As a result, 13 yellow cards were awarded in total (including Mourinho himself), with six apiece to players on each team, including, most notably, former Premier League player and a Mourinho favourite, Nemanja Matic for Roma . After finishing 1-1 after extra time, it went to penalties, following a match packed with tactical fouls, with Sevilla prevailing to win 4-1 against the Italian side.
2014 Champions League Final – 12 Yellow
One of the biggest rivalries in derby terms, Real Madrid took on city counterparts Atletico Madrid in Lisbon; a feisty affair if ever there was one.
While Los Blancos, with their star-studded team won the game 4-1 after extra time, this wasn’t without incidents. In total, 12 yellow cards were awarded; five to Real Madrid and seven to their opponents. Most notably Cristiano Ronaldo received his on 120 (+1) minutes, literally in the dying seconds of the encounter.
2017 Champions League Final – 8 Yellow, 1 Red
Once again, Real Madrid triumphed in the climax of Europe’s elite club competition, emphatically beating Italian giants Juventus 4-1 in normal time, inspired with a brace from Ronaldo.
As might be expected, this edition of the final was certainly eventful, with eight yellow cards (plus a second resulting in a red for Juve substitute Juan Cuadrado who lasted just 12 minutes) being handed out.
In addition to Cuadrado, Juve were issued three further yellow cards during the match, with four being awarded to Real, including controversial captain Sergio Ramos.
2008 Champions League Final – 8 Yellow, 1 Red
A nervy all-English final between major rivals (at the time), Manchester United and Chelsea was nothing if not intense. With the game level at 1-1 after extra time and both goals coming in 90 minutes, courtesy of Ronaldo and then Frank Lampard on the stroke of half-time, the match went all the way to penalties, with United winning 6-5 and Blues captain John Terry famously slipping and cannoning his off the post.
Indeed, the match was not without drama. A total of eight yellow cards (four to each side) were awarded, in addition to a straight dismissal for lethal Chelsea centre forward, Didier Drogba in the 118th minute.
2012 Champions League Final – 5 Yellow
Arguably one of the most entertaining finals in terms of drama and what it meant, against all odds, Chelsea triumphed as they encountered German heavyweights Bayern Munich in their own backyard.
A dramatic bullet header from Drogba in the 88th minute took the game to extra time, after Thomas Muller thought he had won it for the German side, just five minutes earlier. A cagey 30 minutes then led to penalties, where the Blues held their nerve to 4-3, with Drogba fittingly scoring the decider.
Perhaps a game not littered with bookings, five were awarded with Chelsea receiving four of these including Drogba and Fernando Torres in the 120th minute, while Bastian Schweinsteiger got the game’s first (and only for the German side), in the second minute.
2006 Champions League Final – 4 Yellow 1 Red
Again, a game not known for a lot of cards – in fact, four yellows, there was major early drama in this between Barcelona and Arsenal, when Gunners goalkeeper Jens Lehmen was dismissed on the 18th minute, denying a blatant goalscoring opportunity.
Arsenal bounced back from this to lead, thanks to a Sol Campbell goal before half-time, however, two strikes from Barcelona in the final 15 minutes handed the trophy to the Spanish side. This cagey affair saw two yellow cards awarded apiece to both sides.
2005 FA Cup Final – 6 Yellow 1 Red
The oldest domestic cup competition in world football, saw a highly charged encounter between two fierce rivals (at the time), between Manchester United and Arsenal.
With the game ending goalless after extra time, Arsenal triumphed 5-4 on spot-kicks, with captain Patrick Vieira calmly slotting home to essentially raise the roof on Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
It will be remembered more though, for the heated atmosphere on the pitch, with six yellow cards, plus a second yellow for Arsenal’s Jose Antonio Reyes issued, which resulted in a dismissal. Aside from the Spaniard, three more Gunners’ players were awarded yellow cards, including Vieira, plus two for United – interestingly, not Roy Keane.
2016 Coppa Italia Final – 9 Yellow
When both AC Milan and Juventus meet, it is always generally a match packed with incidents. It was no different in the 2006 edition of the Coppa Italia final, which saw the side from Turin edge their Milanese counterparts in a 1-0 victory, with striker Alvaro Morata scoring in the 116th minute.
The game itself could not have been any more scrappy. Nine yellow cards were handed out, with five going to Juve, including Morata.
2013 Copa Del Rey Final – 14 Yellow, 1 Red
Certainly one for the Spanish record books. What proved to be a precursor to a Champions League final meeting which would follow (above), Real Madrid met rivals Atletico Madrid, with the latter famously triumphing 2-1 after extra time.
However, the game made headlines due to 14 yellow cards being shown. Of these, there was a second yellow for Atleti captain Gabi in the 119th minute, while Ronaldo, who had already received one, was then awarded a straight red card in the 115th minute.
In addition to the aforementioned offences, five more yellow cards were shown to Atleti players and six to Los Blancos players, including – you guessed it, Ramos.
2011 Copa Del Rey Final – 8 Yellow, 1 Red
Another final featuring Real Madrid saw them face off against ‘El Clasico’ counterparts Barcelona in what was very much a blood and thunder affair. A game that eventually saw Los Blancos triumph after extra time with a Ronaldo goal, the referee was arguably the busiest individual on the pitch.
As a result, six yellow cards were issued, plus two others that resulted in a dismissal for Angel Di Maria (so eight in total). In addition to Di Maria, Real players received three more, with Barcelona also being issued three, including to talisman Lionel Messi.
Table Of Bookings At Major Finals
|Final||Number of Cards Awarded|
|2013 Copa del Rey Final||14 yellow cards, 1 red card|
|2023 Europa League Final||13 yellow cards|
|2014 Champions League Final||12 yellow cards|
|2016 Coppa Italia Final||9 yellow cards|
|2017 Champions League Final||8 yellow cards, 1 red card|
|2008 Champions League Final||8 yellow cards, 1 red card|
|2011 Copa del Rey Final||8 yellow cards, 1 red card|
|2005 FA Cup Final||6 yellow cards, 1 red card|
|2012 Champions League Final||5 yellow cards|
|2006 Champions League Final||4 yellow cards, 1 red card|
Are Referees Too Strict In Finals?
Based on some of the above matches, there could well be evidence to suggest that some referees, perhaps might be too quick to hand out a yellow card, while others may be more understanding and take into account the nature of the occasion.
Sometimes, in big games, due to things like the atmosphere and what the particular game means, especially if it is between two fierce rivals, tensions can overflow and things can often get heated.
The best referees are those who are able to use their judgement wisely, about what to do in certain instances. If a referee can affect the behaviour of players in a positive way with a warning, so that deliberate fouls especially are eradicated, then the chances of many cards being awarded are slim.
However, there are times, when a referee literally has no choice than to discipline a player, particularly if there has been dangerous play. Also, in rivalries especially, there are likely to be ongoing feuds between certain players. For years, Barcelona and Real Madrid had individuals on both sides who had history between them and this would often reveal itself; case in point being the 2013 Copa del Rey final.
Referees sometimes simply cannot help handing out a lot of cards, if that is what is called for, however, there are usually extenuating circumstances and could be the only way that they have to keep control of the game and make it safer for the rest of the players.
A final though, is always likely to carry the risk of being feisty in a way that could well lead to many bookings and usually it takes a strong referee to officiate and make the right calls.