Sevilla proved to be the grandmasters of the Europa League once again after they edged out Italian outfit Inter Milan 3-2 to lift a sixth Europa League trophy.
It was a night of drama at Cologne that saw the Spanish side come out victorious as they extended their record as the team with the highest number of titles in the competition.
Inter raced into the lead after five minutes when former Manchester United man Romelu Lukaku was brought down in the 18-yard box and then stepped up to convert the resulting spot-kick. The goal ensured that the former Everton and Chelsea man scored in 11 consecutive matches in the Europe League, becoming the first player to do so in the history of the competition. The goal was also the earliest in a UEFA Cup/Europa League final since 2001 when Liverpool player Markus Babbel netted after only three minutes against Alaves.
The penalty was conceded by Diego Carlos and it was the third time in the competition the 27-year-old had conceded a penalty. He became the first player to concede three penalties in a single Europa League campaign since Cesar Azpilicueta in the 2012/2013 campaign.
Sevilla responded very well minutes later when former Manchester City man, Jesus Navas teed up Luuk de Jong with an inviting cross and the Dutch man dived to send the ball into the net.
In the 16th minute however, Diego Carlos appeared to have extended his hand to block a pass that was thrown into the Sevilla box but it was overlooked by the referee despite protests from on and off the field of play that saw Inter coach Antonio Conte red-carded.
De Jong completed his brace in the 33rd minute when veteran Éver Banega swung in a delightful freekick that was met with a fantastic header which put Sevilla in front for the first time in the game.
The lead lasted only two minutes as Inter were also awarded a freekick at the other end of the pitch and former Atlético Madrid man Diego Godín headed it in to make it 2-2. Godín became the sixth player to score in a European Cup/Champions League and UEFA Cup/Europa League final, after Steven Gerrard, Hernan Crespo, Dmitri Alenichev, Allan Simonsen and Pedro Rodriguez.
Both teams tried to balance things up at the start of the second half and the Italians had a chance to lead the game when another former United recruit Ashley Young’s curling shot in the 58th minute went over the crossbar. Seven minutes later, Lukaku also had a chance of his own. He got in behind the Inter defence and ran through on goal but Bono raced off his line as quickly as he could to deny Lukaku with a good save.
The second half was more intense although Sevilla dominated possession as the likes of Lukaku and Argentine forward Lautaro Martínez fizzled out. As the game wore on, Sevilla looked the more serious and ambitious to get the winner.
The profligacy of Conte’s men came back to haunt them as Sevilla’s drive paid off when in the 74th minute Diego Carlos directed an overhead kick towards the side of the post but Lukaku put in his right leg to divert the ball into the upper part of his own roof. An own goal! Sad for Lukaku after a promising start to the game. There and then, it was looking like mission over for a side that won the UEFA Cup (before it was changed to the Europa League) in 1991, 1994 and 1998.
Sevilla saw out the win on the historic night in Cologne sealing the record of having either progressed to the next round or won the Europa League in 21 of their last 22 Europa League knockout ties. The Spanish side ensured Inter Milan lost in a major European final for the first time since the 1997 UEFA Cup, when they lost on penalties to Schalke.
Julen Lopetegui became the fourth Spanish manager to win the Europa League in the past 10 years, following the footsteps of Unai Emey (3), Quique Sanchez Flores and Rafael Benitez. Sevilla has won all 6 finals that they appeared in. This is a record as its their sixth final and sixth win. It makes it more record breaking knowing they won their first Europa League trophy only in 2006. They further won in 2007, 2014, 2015, 2016 and now 2020
For Antonio Conte, it is case of narrowly missing on a major honour for the club. His team finished just one point adrift of Juventus in the Serie A season although the Old Lady had already secured the title when they won with seven points above Inter with few matches to go.
Even with the new additions to the squad and money spent during the last transfer window, it is a surprise about talks of the Italian being sacked. Being his first season with the club, he deserves credit for at least leading the Nerrazurri to the final of a major European competition for the first time in 10 years. We await the decision of the Italian club’s executive board on whether Conte will be shown the exit door and a new coach brought in or not. Whichever way it turns out, any manager on seat for next season should know the pressure to win a major title for the club is only getting bigger and bigger as the seasons roll by.
Both Sevilla and Inter have already secured qualification for next season’s Champions League. Inter finished second in Serie A while Sevilla ended La Liga in fourth spot. We definitely would like to see more of them in the Champions League next season. It was a good final match.