Unai Emery couldn’t hide his delight after Sevilla won the UEFA Europa League, and has dedicated the success to the club’s supporters.
The Spaniards began their European campaign way back on the first day in August, when they beat Montenegro outfit Mladost Podgorica 3-0 on the way to a 9-1 aggregate triumph in the third qualifying round. They then eased past Polish side Slask by an identical scoreline over two legs, to reach the group stage of the tournament.
Estoril, Freiburg, and Liberec provided the opposition for Emery’s men, and they made light work of finishing top of the standings having won three of their fixtures and drawing the other three. Maribor were despatched 4-3 on aggregate in the knockout round of 32, then compatriots Real Betis were defeated on penalties after a 2-2 two-legged score.
A 1-0 first leg defeat in Portugal left Sevilla with a tall order to edge past Porto in the quarter-finals, but goals from Ivan Rakitic, Victor Vitolo and Carlos Bacca put them into a 3-0 lead within 30 minutes and Kevin Gameiro grabbed a second half fourth before the visitors replied with a stoppage time consolation. After beating Valencia 2-0 in the semi-finals they trailed Los Che 3-0 in the Mestalla and looked to be heading out of the tournament, until a 94th minute goal from Stephane Mbia sent Emery and his side through on away goals.
Benfica, who have won the Portugal title by seven points, provided the opposition in the final. Neither side could break the deadlock in 90 minutes nor the 30 which followed in extra-time, so the trophy would be decided by a penalty shootout. With Beto saving from Oscar Cardozo and Rodrigo, Bacca, Mbia and Coke all converted for the Spaniards, allowing Gameiro to step up and stroke home the deciding spot-kick.
This means Sevilla have now won the Europa trophy three times in the past nine years, and will give them a boost ahead of the final weekend of the season as they look to cement their fifth place La Liga finish. After the match in Turin, Emery dedicated the success to the supporters, who have been with them throughout their 19-game programme.
“It’s a night for everyone associated with Sevilla,” Emery told reporters on an emotional night in Italy. “The Sevilla fans feel a certain identity and they support us as a way of being happy. We have given them our dedication because we have a responsibility to them. There were players in discomfort at the end and it was difficult to endure it.
“We needed to prepare for the penalties but in the end it went well. The fact that Sevilla were coming off the back of two years without Europe gave us the responsibility to do something this time. It was a necessity, and also a desire. At the first match of the campaign against Podgorica there were a lot of people there and it excited us.
“We knew the journey would be tough and that we would need to use our enthusiasm. We needed to be able to be competitive. This joy is the end of a climb that has given the opportunity of a final game around and we won. The players, the President and the directors really want to be with the fans and with those who are feeling great joy.”
Whilst this was a night to remember for Los Rojiblancos, it was another heartbreak for Benfica as their curse in Europe continues. After winning the European Cup for a second time in 1962, manager Bela Guttman was denied a pay rise and responded by claiming the club would not win another trophy on the continent for 100 years. They have now reached the 52-year mark after their defeat in Turin, which was their eighth successive loss in a major European final since that 5-3 win over Real Madrid in Amsterdam.