Sometimes, a perfect script lays in anticipation, waiting to be narrated to the world. One which has all the usual elements thatwould enrapture its audience. The highs, the lows, the struggleand eventually, the triumph. Some stories never get old, no matter how many times they are repeated.
The romance between Sevilla and the Europa League isn’t a recent occurrence. Before Thursday’s final against Roma, it had already won the title six times, with its first coming in 2006. But the record-extending seventh title will go down as a special win in the annals of Europa League history because of the fight the team showed.
Leading up tothe 2022-23 Europa League title clash, a record was meant to bebroken one way or the other. In one corner was Sevilla, which had never lost in the final. On the other, was Roma, managed by Jose Mourinho, who had never lost a European final in his illustrious managerial career. It was the perfect buildup.
It was a long duel, but in the end, Sevilla landed the knockout blow.
WithRoma’s Paulo Dybala scoring in the first half and Gianluca Mancini putting the ball inside his own net in the second, the scores were level at 1-1 after 120 minutes of football. The match went to penalties.
In the shootout, Roma succumbed to the pressure first. The night turned from bad to worse for Mancini, who saw his spot-kick saved by Yassine Bounou’s outstretched leg. With Rakitic scoring the next penalty, the pressure was on Roger Ibanezto keep his team alive. Unfortunately for him, the post stood as a hindrance.
That there’s a certain aura associated between Sevilla and the Europa League, was proven by how the Andalusians won the title. All eyes were on Gonzalo Montiel as he lined up totake the deciding penalty — the same guy who immortalised Lionel Messi’s Argentina by scoring the winning spot-kick against France in the Qatar World Cup final.
Montiel hit the post, and it seemed like his moment was gone, but he was given a lifeline as Roma keeper Rui Patricio had come off his line. His second attempt was met by a roar from the fans donning white in the stands. Sevilla was champion again, beating Roma 4-1 on penalties.
When Jose Luis Mendilibar took over the reins at Sevilla from Jorge Sampaoli in March, the club was 14th in the LaLiga standings, just two points above 18th-placed Valencia.
Following a third-place finish in its Champions League group, that led to Sevilla being demoted to its most successful competition, trophies weren’t on Mendilibar’s list of priorities — damage limitation and survival in Spain’s top flight were. At that point, only apollyannaish would pin hopes on Sevilla winning a title in the season. But this very reason makes its title run all the more special.
In its first six title wins (between 2006 to 2020), it had momentum on its side throughout the entire season. Apart from 2016, the other five times it finished among the top five in theleague. This season, with survival in LaLiga a matter of concern, winning a major European title is a phenomenal feat.
To put things into context, Sevilla is 11th in the league table, with one more match left to play. If not for this Europa win, Mendilibar’s men would not be in any European competition next season. But now, they will again battle with Europe’s best in the Champions League next season.
Sevilla’s road to the final wasn’t elementary by any means. After a Round of 32-win against PSV, it set up a clash with Turkish club Fenerbahce. A 2-0 win athome proved crucial, as it lost 1-0 in its away fixture. That set up a quarterfinal tie against 2017 champion Manchester United.
Half-time into the first-leg against United, and everyone wasready to bid Sevilla goodbye. The rampant Red Devils, aided by a Marcel Sabitzer brace, led 2-0 at the break. But it is just something about this competition that makes Sevilla strive till the final whistle. Two late goals in the second-half of the first-leg and then a blistering 3-0 win at home led to a 5-2 aggregatewin and a semifinal date with Juventus.
Going the distance
Thesemifinal clash took Mendilibar’s men the distance. Youssef En-Nesyri scored first at Juventus’ home, and Sevilla would have come away with a 1-0 win if not for Federico Gatti’s equaliserin the 97th minute. The second-leg was laden with drama as well. Dusan Vlahovic scored first for an away lead, but Suso was quick to equalise six minutes later. In extra-time, Erik Lamela sent the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium into frenzy with a winner in the95th minute.
A football match has so many layers. While focusing on the main story, it is easy to forget the many footnotes that are no less special. Thursday’s final was no different.
It was beautiful when Jesus Navas celebrated his seventh Europa titleat the age of 37, having been with Sevilla when it first won in2006. It was inspiring when Dybala braved injury to start for his team and score. It was heartwarming when Jose Mourinho giftedhis runner-up medal to a young fan. And, when Sevilla gave a ‘Guard of Honour’ to the Roma players as they went up to collect their medals, it symbolised the very essence of why football is known as the ‘beautiful game.’