Swansea beats Bradford to win first major trophy

After accumulating titles with Europe’s biggest clubs as a
player, Michael Laudrup reached unexpected heights in his first
year as Swansea manager on Sunday by guiding the Welsh club to its
first major trophy in its centenary season.

In the heaviest victory League Cup final victory, Swansea
overwhelmed Bradford 5-0 in front of 82,597 fans at Wembley Stadium
to end the northern English club’s hopes of becoming the first
fourth-tier side to win a major title in Europe.

Beating Bradford provided a reminder of the depths Swansea has
recovered from since coming close to financial meltdown and within
90 minutes of dropping out of the fourth division a decade ago.

Now ninth in its second season of the Premier League, the team’s
much-admired brand of eye-catching attacking football has been
rewarded with a trophy.

Laudrup, the former Denmark playmaker who filled the void left
by Brendan Rodgers’ move to Liverpool in June, never expected
success to come so soon.

”It’s one thing to win a cup with Barcelona, Madrid or
Juventus, but to win it with a smaller team like Swansea is
absolutely fantastic,” Laudrup said. ”It’s a first major trophy
ever (for Swansea) and, especially in this season, it’s up there
with the best things.”

Midfielder Leon Britton knows just what the trophy means to
Swansea, having been with the club when it was on the bottom rung
in professional football. The team will now play in the Europa
League next season.

”We nearly dropped out of the Football League and now here we
are in the Premier League, winning our first major honor and
qualifying for Europe,” Britton said.

Bradford knocked out Premier League sides Arsenal, Aston Villa
and Wigan to become the first fourth-tier team to reach a major
English final since 1962.

But Swansea did not face a moment of danger, with goalkeeper
Gerhard Tremmel’s first save only coming in the 87th following Gary
Jones’ tame shot.

The toughest fight the south Wales club faced was over who
should take a penalty that led to the fourth goal after Bradford
was reduced to 10 men with goalkeeper Matt Duke dismissed.

Nathan Dyer had already scored twice, either side of Michu’s
strike, but was denied a hat trick when Jonathan de Guzman insisted
on taking the spot kick on the hour.

De Guzman went on to complete the thrashing in stoppage time
with his second goal.

Just reaching the final was an accomplishment for Bradford,
whose slide has mirrored Swansea’s ascent. The unheralded side
nicknamed ”The Bantams” had been in free-fall since dropping out
of the Premier League in 2001 and twice entered bankruptcy
protection.

”This final this year will remain in the history a small part
because of us and a large part because of Bradford,” Laudrup
said.

Swansea will experience few matches as easy as this, which was
never a contest as the gulf in class was clear from the start.

”I would have loved to make more of a game of it but it was a
tough afternoon,” Bradford manager Phil Parkinson said. ”One of
the Swansea players’ wages probably covers our budget for the whole
season. That is the gulf we were dealing with.”

Bradford’s team cost just 7,500 pounds ($11,430), and its
players struggled to break up Swansea’s slick football. And when
they did try to venture forward, they left themselves exposed at
the back.

Swansea capitalized to full effect and went in front in the 16th
minute.

Wayne Routledge gained possession inside his own half, strolled
through the Bradford defense unchallenged and sent the ball out to
Michu on the left flank. Duke parried Michu’s initial shot, but
Dyer pounced on the loose ball and scored from close range.

Bradford managed to repel Swansea’s attacking threat until Michu
scored in the 40th for his 19th goal since joining in July from
Spanish club Rayo Vallecano for 2 million pounds (then $3 million).
The Spaniard raced onto Pablo Hernandez’s through-ball and curled
it beyond Duke.

Bradford fell further behind two minutes after the break. Dyer
charged forward from the halfway line and played a one-two with
Routledge before sending it past Duke.

Duke was sent off in the 56th for bringing down De Guzman in the
penalty area, prompting the only low point too for Swansea.

Dyer was animated as he remonstrated with De Guzman about taking
the penalty to try and complete a hat trick.

But De Guzman held onto the ball before sending it past
substitute goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin. He was on target again in
stoppage time, bundling Angel Rangel’s cross into the net from
close range.

Rob Harris can be reached at http://twitter.com/RobHarris