Sevilla wins europa


Danny Makkelie had a look at his watch, firmly placed the whistle between his lips and as a high-pitched shrill reverberated across the RheinEnergieStadion, Inter Milan and Sevilla sank to their knees with choreographed unison

Joy and heartache – the story of every final. But there were so many more subplots to this enthralling Europa League story – a pandemic; no crowd; the return of Monchi; Ever Banega’s second farewell; Sevilla’s sixth European trophy; and Romelu Lukaku’s record-equalling performance. But none could surpass the incredible triumph of Julen Lopetegui.

A simple human story, with emotions so pure, outcomes so painful and a climax so heart-warmingly beautiful that a 53-year-old man wept like an inconsolable child. Moments after masterminding his side to continental glory, Lopetegui was trying his best to compose himself as he shook his opposite number Antonio Conite’s hand. But once the business of formality was over, Lopetegui could no longer hold himself back. His nose turned red, head turned down and when it came back up again, engulfed in tears, he was profusely trying but failing to wipe his face clean.

Not even two years had passed since Lopetegui was harshly dumped by football’s vicious food chain. Shunned first by his national federation one day before the 2018 World Cup and then by Real Madrid, the club that instigated the first blow, Lopetegui had dropped from potential World Cup winner to sacked and maligned by two of the biggest footballing institutions in his native land.

When asked to leave by Spain, Lopetegui had built the national team back up from the shame of 2014 to a 20-game streak that earned them favourites tag. Hence, it was extremely poetic that Sevilla’s victory to win the trophy was their 21st successive unbeaten game – zero defeats since February achieved with a distinctively watchable Spanish style of play approaching the final third. And achieved with players old and new, with very few in their pomp.

Lopetegui may have failed to wipe his tears clean but has been strikingly successful in wiping his ledger clean. A triumph of human endeavour, exorcising all ghosts and unmerited indignation.

As moving as the night was for Lopetegui, it ended with excruciating pain for a man who scripted his own record, Romelu Lukaku. Himself unjustly maligned at his previous workplace and deemed surplus to requirements following change in management, the buccaneering Belgian had started the night with a record equalling goal from the penalty spot.

Touching Brazilian phenomeno, Luis Ronaldo’s debut season record of 34 goals, Lukaku once again showed that goal scoring will never be among the many misconceptions the football world holds against him. In fact, the goal was typical of everything Lukaku can do in full flow. Dovetailing power, strength, and directness with subtlety of body movement, the Belgian had forced Diego Carlos into a mess and the Sevilla defender did what he has consistently done in Germany this August – concede a penalty.

Carlos and Lukaku were not done combining for the night as the duo were once again directly involved resulting in Lukaku finding the net. But it was not to claim sole ownership of any record, but to inadvertently score Sevilla’s winner while attempting to block a Carlos overhead kick that was heading wide.

Whether he was unaware of his position or simply reacted out of instinct, his movement was laboured and the leg he dangled, only managed to redirect a harmless attempt into his own net. That one unfortunate moment was a glaring reminder and summation of the days he was average at Manchester United – laboured.

The game sandwiched between the two Lukaku extremes was good television. In fact, it was perhaps more exciting than either manager would have wanted a final to be. The first half simply breezed by and, in score line, was akin to a friendly testimonial. In action, though, there was no vestige of any friendliness between the two teams – tackles, yellow cards, referee mobbing, manager booking, a penalty and four goals.

Scoring half of those first half goals was man of the match Luuk De Jong who had gone from understudy to serial matchwinner in an hour’s football. He himself seemed to be in disbelief as the camera panned to his face showcasing joyous bemusement moments after scoring the second goal

There was nothing bemusing about the finish though. The Dutch forward managed to elope Inter’s defenders to climb onto a perfectly floated Banega freekick and head Sevilla into the lead. It was the second time he punished Inter for affording him space inside the box. Earlier in the game, he had stolen a march on Diego Godin to power home Sevilla’s equaliser from a Jesus Navas cross.

Godin had managed to atone for his individual error when he scored the third consecutive headed goal of the final and equalised for Inter before half time. But that was the last time he and his team would celebrate on the night. The defeat was Godin’s third European final heartbreak in six years. Having come perilously close with Atletico Madrid on two occasions in the Champions League, he would feel he is carrying some sort of unshakable curse.

As for Sevilla, theirs is a feeling of reverence and perhaps a momentary philosophical musing of how it would be with fans around. But as they head home with their sixth trophy of the ilk, they would be quietly confident of their return to this stage soon. For them, it is like an addiction now. A happy addiction, one they have proudly found very hard to get rid of.

About the Writer:

Arinjay Ghosh: A critical thinker with technical background and commercial outlook, perpetually trying to create what sells.

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