Spanish side Sevilla produced a rousing comeback to beat Liverpool by 3-1 in the final of the Europa League in Basel. It was Sevilla’s third consecutive triumph in this competition.
There was fighting in the stands.
That emotion didn’t transcend to the pitch after Liverpool was swept away by a Sevilla side which has now won UEFA’s minor European Cup competition five times in the past 11 years.
Organisers blamed a lack of segregation for the pre-match skirmishes in the terraces. On the pitch, it was a different story. One team knew how to win it; the other got lost along the way.
Jurgen Klopp had lost his previous four european finals. He was confident of ending that run.
“They are no better than us.” He told one rag.
Sevilla’s seventh place position in La Liga would seem to prove Klopp right. Then you glance at the Premier League and see Liverpool sitting rather sheepishly in eighth. The German was right, though. Sevilla may have beaten Real Madrid and Barcelona this year, but they still ended up in this competition after finishing third to Juventus and Man City in the Champions League.
And Sevilla love this competition.
Klopp may be right. On their day Liverpool is a match for anyone as they proved with their spirited comeback against Borussia Dortmund in the quarterfinals. But this is the Europa League. Sevilla’s competition. They were looking to win it for a third successive time, and a record fifth time in the tournament’s history.
The stadium was bubbling in the red cauldron of Liverpool support. Outside the ground, Englishmen outnumbered supporters of the oldest club in Spain. The numbers mattered. The cacophony of support rained down onto the pitch and ignited something in the Liverpool players.
They closed down Sevilla players like men possessed. They didn’t give them an inch. Sevilla could do nothing except lob the ball forward like a Sunday league side, and Liverpool dominated the first half.
The trophy could have been in Jordan Henderson’s hands by the time the team’s left the pitch for some half-time oranges. Klopp has blamed the referee for the fact that they didn’t. Blame doesn’t change anything. They should have had an early penalty when Daniel Carrico handled the ball to prevent Roberto Firmino wriggling past him in the box. Sturridge had a few chances included an attempt cleared off the line. At the other end, the vibrant Kevin Rameiro saw his overhead kick blaze inches past the post.
And then came a moment befitting any cup final. Daniel Sturridge picked the ball up outside of the left-hand side of the penalty area. Most player’s cut in and try and curl the ball into the top corner with the inside of their right foot – not Sturridge. He looked up and bent the ball into the far corner with the outside of his left boot to score one of the goals of the season.
It should have been two soon after. James Milner delivered a sublime corner from the right and Dejan Lovren headed the ball into the back of the net only to see his celebrations cut short after Sturridge had failed to get back into an onside position.
Then just before Liverpool went down the tunnel with a clear vision of overturning a European record that has seen them reach eight semi-finals in the past decade only to lift one of them, they had another penalty appeal waved away by Jonas Eriksson after another Sevilla handball.
The Sevilla coach, Unai Emery, has never lost a Europa League tie in his managerial career. Now, that’s some record, and his team talk must have rammed home the point that he wanted to extend it. Sevilla came out of the traps like an Elon Musk rocket. Less than 20-seconds after the restart they were all square. A defensive blunder from Alberto Moreno allowing Mariano Ferreira to breeze past him like the wind before crossing to Gameiro to tap the ball into the net.
And then it happened.
There was no spirited comeback of the likes we saw against Dortmund. Instead, they looked shell-shocked, running around the pitch in a daze, as Sevilla players waltzed around them like posh people at a ball.
Two more goals from Sevilla’s Coke putting Liverpool out of their misery, the second of which was ruled out for offside before Eriksson correctly overruled his linesman to allow the goal to stand.
Sevilla’s 3-1 triumph means they have now won a major european trophy for the third time in succession, a feat that has been unheralded since Bayern Munich in the 1970s. And there is no rest for the wicked. Sevilla will face the mighty Barcelona in the Copa del Rey on Sunday hoping to make it two titles in a week.