Sevilla vs. Benfica: 6 Things We Learned
Sevilla became only the fourth team in history, as per UEFA.com, to win the UEFA Cup / Europa League on three occasions by defeating Benfica 4-2 on penalties in the final of the Europa League in Turin on Wednesday.
The match itself was an end-to-end affair. Neither side really took control of the ball, and good defending limited the number of clear-cut chances created by either side.
Save for one excellent opportunity spurned by Sevilla’s Carlos Bacca, extra time followed a similar pattern. Penalties were therefore required to decide which team would lift the trophy.
It was Sevilla who emerged victorious, scoring all four of their spot kicks, while Benfica saw those of Oscar Cardozo and Rodrigo saved by Beto. It capped off a strong season for Unai Emery’s men and brought the first trophy of Jose Castro’s stewardship as Sevilla president.
Here are six things we learned from Sevilla vs. Benfica.
The Curse of Bela Guttmann Continues
Benfica’s run of consecutive European final defeats was extended to eight by their penalty shootout loss on Wednesday.
As per CNN, it is a run many ascribe to a curse put on the club by Bela Guttmann, coach of the European Cup-winning sides of 1961 and 1962. Upon exiting the club due to a pay dispute following the second of those triumphs, he promised that they would not win another European trophy for 100 years.
Benfica were not quite as unfortunate on Wednesday as they were in last year’s final defeat to Chelsea, although they did have a legitimate claim for a penalty turned down when Alberto Moreno upended Lima during the second half. Yet even the least superstitious followers of the club must be beginning to wonder if the curse is real.
Benfica Really Miss Enzo Perez
Benfica coach Jorge Jesus was robbed of the services of Enzo Perez, Lazar Markovic and Eduardo Salvio through suspension, and although his side flickered on occasion, they failed to regularly trouble the Sevilla goal.
Perez was the biggest miss. The Argentinian’s energy and endeavour were vital to Benfica’s Portuguese League success this season and those attributes were badly missed on Wednesday. For all his ability, Perez’s replacement, Andre Gomes, failed to impose himself on the match.
As per TalkSport, both Manchester United and Juventus are interested in signing the £16 million-rated Perez.
Wednesday’s match may have acted as an indication of how Benfica are likely to fair next season should he indeed seek new pastures this summer. On this evidence, they will need to dip into the transfer market to sign a direct replacement for the former Estudiantes man.
Both Benfica and Sevilla Have Excellent Centre-Backs
There were few clear cut chances in normal time due to the strong performances of the centre-backs of both sides. Ezequiel Garay and Luisao of Benfica, and Federico Fazio and Nico Pareja of Sevilla were strong and solid throughout, and the forwards of both teams struggled to make much of an impression.
Luisao stuck close to Sevilla’s Carlos Bacca and was very physical with him on occasion. The experienced and wily Brazilian was ably assisted by Garay, who was both alert to danger and sturdy in his one-on-one defending.
It is no wonder that Benfica conceded just 18 goals over the course of the Portuguese league season, as per Soccerway.
In the Sevilla defence, Fazio and Pareja were both proactive in stepping forward to intercept and also made a number of powerful headed clearances and blocks throughout the match. Pareja’s clearance off the line from Lima and brave block in the penalty area shortly thereafter, emphasized the committed nature of their defending.
On the back of such a performance, it is incredible that neither Fazio nor Pareja were included in Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella’s preliminary World Cup squad.
This was a match in which both defences came out on top.
Beto Is Sevilla’s Shootout Hero Once Again
Beto is a decent goalkeeper, though a little erratic. However, put him in front of a penalty taker in a shootout, and he has an uncanny ability to come out on top.
The Portuguese goalkeeper made the saves that took Sevilla to a penalty shootout victory over city rivals Real Betis in the round of 16 and was again the difference maker on Wednesday.
His first save, from Oscar Cardozo, should really have been called back for a retake as he was some distance off his line, but he also saved the subsequent penalty from Rodrigo. Combined with the accuracy of his team's own penalties, those saves were enough to take Sevilla to victory.
Beto, a product of the academy of Benfica’s Lisbon rivals Sporting, as per Wikipedia, will have taken great pleasure in getting one over on old his foes.
“I’ve been blessed with this moment,” he said after the match, as per Portuguese football journalist Tom Kundert. “We did something historic for the club and I’m happy to be part of this team.”
Ivan Rakitic Is One of Europe’s Best Central Midfielders
Ivan Rakitic is one of Europe’s best central midfielders. It takes more than one match to come to such a conclusion, but his performance on Wednesday displayed all of the qualities he has demonstrated consistently over the course of the season.
The pace of Sevilla’s attacks accelerated whenever he received the ball. Whether it was a with a turn and dribble, an astute through ball or an accurate long ball, Rakitic was Sevilla’s most potent creative force throughout. He was unlucky not to see his good work crystallised in a goal.
His deft touch and pass led to an effort just wide from Jose Antonio Reyes early in the second half. Later, a superbly weighted through ball put Carlos Bacca through for Sevilla’s best chance of the match, only for the usually deadly Colombian to fire wide.
Rakitic had been due to take Sevilla’s fifth and final penalty, but his intervention was not required as the shootout was won on the fourth kick.
Rakitic has accumulated 13 goals and 12 assists in league and Europa League action this season, as per WhoScored. His midfield partnership with Real Madrid’s Luka Modric will form the backbone of Croatia’s World Cup campaign, and when the tournament is over, there is sure to be a host of top clubs queuing for his signature.
Sevilla Have Returned to European Prominence
Sevilla’s first European triumph, in the UEFA Cup final of 2006, heralded the start of an unprecedented period of success that saw them accumulate a further four trophies over the next 15 months, as per Marca, including a second UEFA Cup.
That period of regular honours has seemed but a distant memory in recent years, as a series of disappointing league finishes and the imprisonment of Jose Maria del Nido, the president who oversaw their previous success, suggested the club were trapped in a downward spiral.
But that has all changed this season.
Following the sales of Alvaro Negredo, Gary Medel and Jesus Navas, among others, sporting director Ramon Monchi worked some of his old transfer market magic. Armed with a good budget, he brought in 14 new players, including some who have been among Sevilla’s best performers.
Carlos Bacca and Kevin Gameiro signed for a combined €14.5 million, as per Soccerway, and have scored 40 goals in all competitions. Nico Pareja has been excellent in defence, while Daniel Carrico and Stephane M’Bia have provided a solid shield in front of the back four. There is still more to come from talented youngsters Jairo Samperio and Sebastian Cristoforo, as well.
Moulded into a swift, counter-attacking unit by Unai Emery, Sevilla finished fifth in La Liga and have now added a Europa League triumph to an excellent campaign.
The question is simple. Can they maintain their high level into next season and the ones that follow?