Middlesbrough boss Aitor Karanka and Norwich City manager Alex Neil will both experience their first taste of a Sky Bet Football League Play-Off Final on Monday.The two sides meet at Wembley Stadium for a 3pm kick-off in the Sky Bet Championship showpiece, and both men can draw on previous experiences of finals.
Karanka’s first taste of a major final was in the 1996 Under-21 European Championship, when Spain’s youngsters lost to Italy on penalties.
But the former defender’s finest achievement as a player was, arguably, lifting the Champions League trophy with Real Madrid in the 1999/2000 season, when he played the full 90 minutes of a 3-0 final win over Valencia at the Stade de France.
That led to another final appearance in the 2000 Intercontinental Cup when again Karanka played the full match, in a 2-1 defeat to Boca Juniors.
After that Champions League success in Paris, there was more joy for Real in 2002 with Karanka part of the squad that made it to the final at Glasgow’s Hampden Park, where they beat Bayer Leverkusen.
Returning to the Bernabeu as an assistant manager in 2010, where he worked under now Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho, Karanka helped Madrid to the 2011 Copa del Rey and 2012 Spanish Super Cup in a three-year spell.
And having swapped central Spain for North East England in November 2013, the 41-year-old has a shot at success in his first full season in English football.
Standing in his and Boro’s way is a Norwich team led by Alex Neil, a former midfielder.
The ex-Airdrieonians, Barnsley, Mansfield and Hamilton Academical man may not have played in the star-studded matches to rival Karanka, but he can draw upon big-game experience for Monday’s clash.
Neil was twice denied at the final hurdle as a player with Hamilton, losing the 2006 and 2012 Scottish Challenge Cup Finals.
In 2006, the 33-year-old scored in the second round to secure a narrow 1-0 win at Ross County, but Accies were beaten 2-1 by St Mirren in the Final.
Six years later, the trophy beckoned again for Neil and his team-mates, but making his only appearance in the competition that season he was once again on the losing side, this time after a 1-0 defeat by Falkirk.
But it was third time lucky for Neil in Scottish finals, when Hamilton beat Hibernian 4-3 on penalties in their 2013/14 Championship Play-Off Final, securing promotion to Scotland’s top flight.
After joining Norwich in January 2015, he’s now looking to lead another team into the top flight via the Play-Offs.
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