Fans were treated to one of the most entertaining matches of the football season on Wednesday night when Spanish side Sevilla defeated Portuguese giants Benfica in penalties to win the Europa League in Turin, Italy. Though the match was a fascinating affair, it more than just a simple football game.
Benfica entered the contest looking to overturn the curse that has plagued them for so long.
Ever since the departure of Bela Guttmann in 1962, the Benfiguistas have not won a single European title despite appearing in seven finals, via Goal.com. The Europa League meeting against Sevilla marked the eighth final since the curse began, and their fans were hungry for silverware.
As the match got underway it was clear that Benfica had come to play.
Forwards Rodrigo and Lima forced Sevilla to foul several times in the opening minutes of the game, while the likes of Nicolas Gaitan pulled the strings in the middle of the pitch.
Sevilla looked to press high and break on the counter, but were forced to defend for large stretches of the game.
As the minutes passed, it looked more and more like Benfica would break the curse in Turin. They were enjoying more possession, were relatively unchallenged at the back and created several chances.
Yet, Sevilla held strong and refused to let Benfica open up the scoring.
Chances continued to come for the Portuguese side, but the ball would never ripple the back of the net. Sevilla keeper Beto made several brilliant saves and the defense executed four last-man tackles, via WhoScored.com. What seemed like a club destined to break a curse quickly turned into a club hampered by bad luck yet again.
Even after 30 minutes of extra time, the match remained scoreless. Penalties would be then be taken, and the rest is history. Beto made two incredible saves during the shootout, Sevilla slotted home every shot they took and the Spaniards lifted the Europa League title for the third time in club history.
The scenes after the match ended were hard to watch. Tears dropped from the faces of fans that have lived to see every disappointing finals loss since 1962, while others just stood in disbelief.
All the while, Sevilla fans celebrated winning the final of a tournament that honestly they never should have qualified for. While talk of bad luck will dominate the Benfica headlines, Sevilla’s road to the title has been paved with charmed luck.
Turn back the pages to last season. Sevilla finished ninth in the La Liga table, two places away from European qualification. The Andalusians would have to accept that they would not be playing in Europe the next year—or so they thought.
Then the bans were announced for Spanish clubs Malaga and Rayo Vallecano.
Malaga, who had finished sixth in the table, would be handed a European ban for unpaid wages, via ESPN.com. It was a tough ruling to swallow, but their place in the Europa League would then fall to eighth-place Rayo Vallecano.
But Rayo would not get to taste European play either. The Madrid-based club was banned as well after seeing their appeal for a European license rejected because their financial conditions were found unsatisfactory, via Football-Espana.net.
With the two clubs stripped of the chance to feature in the Europa League, the last La Liga spot in Europe fell to Sevilla, a ninth-place team that was forced to sell nearly every star player last summer due to club debt.
Regardless of having to buy roughly a whole new squad, Sevilla would shock everyone with an incredible season under Unai Emery.
Los Rojiblancos made their way through the Europa League competition and soon met up with neighboring rivals Real Betis in the third round. Betis was struggling in the league and looked like an easy opponent for Sevilla, but it would be the complete opposite.
Betis put together an incredible performance to win the first meeting, 2-0. Sevilla would storm back in the second leg to win 2-0. The match then went to penalties to determine who would advance, with Sevilla winning the shootout.
It seemed like luck had been on Sevilla’s side, but they would need it a few more times as the tournament continued.
After losing 1-0 to Porto in the first leg of the quarterfinals, the Spaniards would dominate the second meeting, winning 4-1 to advance yet again.
In the semis, Sevilla met another Spanish opponent in Valencia. After easily winning the first game 2-0, Sevilla looked destined for the final.
But Valencia refused to go quietly. They took a commanding 3-0 lead in the second leg, but luck would again grace Sevilla when Stephane Mbia scored in stoppage time to send Los Rojiblancos through to the final in Turin.
The stage was now set. Benfica arrived in Italy for the final looking to overturn the curse that has haunted them for so long. But Sevilla would also arrive with a dream.
Emery was all too familiar with European tournaments. It was his leadership that had brought the best out of Sevilla and gotten them to the final, and now they were looking to finish off a golden season with a silver trophy.
Despite having found incredible form this season, Sevilla were still seen as the underdogs going into the final. Benfica would be in control for nearly the entire game and, on paper, deserved to win. But it wouldn't work out that way.
Sevilla held strong and did just enough to keep Benfica at bay as the game eventually went into penalties. Beto made two great saves, Sevilla netted every shot and the rest is history.
Sevilla, the club that wasn't even supposed to be in the Europa League, had won the title. Emery, Beto and Rakitic were all extremely emotional after the match had ended, and it was clear that Sevilla’s road to glory was no fluke.
This club had undergone a radical rebuilding process in the summer and eventually came together as a team as the year progressed. After the midway point in the season, Sevilla was one of the most in-form teams in Europe and the world was taking notice.
Though luck definitely had a role to play in their title-winning campaign, this Sevilla side was destined for greatness and charmed with a winning mentality. True winners know how to get a result when they don’t deserve it, and that perfectly describes Sevilla.
After the game, Emery was quoted by InsideSpanishFootball.com as saying the following:
There were times when the the match was very even, we were expecting some chances, like the one for Bacca, but we had to be prepared for anything. but in the end they made the last push. You could see the tiredness and discomfort of the players, but this team has learned how to suffer, has learned to stay big and was prepared for this. They deserve this for all their work and dedication. The team has stayed united through difficult times.
Stripped of many stars from last year and rebuilt with several players from all over, Sevilla joined together as a real team and showed the world that sometimes the will to win and the willingness to fight is more important than anything else.
Many will say that Benfica should have won the game, but the truth is that Sevilla stood face-to-face and won. Statistics and chances aside, this Sevilla side did what they do best and it won them a European trophy.
Sevilla wasn't supposed to be here. They qualified as a ninth-place team, advanced through penalties and comeback wins, and eventually won the entire tournament in a shootout. Luck was on Sevilla's side, but the real reason they won was because they refused to give up even in the most difficult moments of the year.
What do you think, was this a title that Sevilla was destined to win? How much did luck play a factor in their road to the title? Leave your thoughts and comments below!