Benfica's European cup final heartache continued as they lost the UEFA Europa League final on penalties against Sevilla on Wednesday night.
After a 0-0 draw in 90 minutes, and extra time, the Spanish side triumphed from spot-kicks to lift their third UEFA Cup/Europa League in the space of nine seasons.
That's the eighth final Benfica lose. So much for those who say there is no such thing as Bela's curse.— Gabriele Marcotti (@Marcotti) May 14, 2014
In 1962 after being denied a pay rise Bela Guttmann: "Not in 100 years from now will Benfica win a European Cup" Lost 8 finals since #Curse— BetVictor (@BetVictor) May 15, 2014
Despite the goalless scoreline there were plenty of promising attacks, good movement and final-third play in a match which saw more than 30 shot attempts, as per WhoScored.com, but it was the defences who ultimately triumphed over that creativity and took the final the entire distance.
The final 30 minutes of the game added plenty more tension to what was already an intriguing occasion. Tactically it was a battle of two similar, but not identical styles: Sevilla's 4-2-3-1 and Benfica's 4-4-2. The Spanish side also opted for two in attack near the end of the first half of the added period.
A cagey approach from both side ensued in midfield, asking the front two on either side to try and create chances, with both central pairings sitting rather deeper and playing conservatively.
Defend at all costs?
Naturally, so close to the end of the game, neither side wanted to make a preventable mistake to concede a goal. Sevilla defended the set-piece threat of Benfica by bringing everybody back at every occasion, of which there were several as tiredness perhaps contributed to committing more fouls than usual.
While Sevilla were happy to draw everybody back, Benfica therefore sent a number of players forward to make the most of their attacking possibilities. As a result, Sevilla continued to look for quicker, more direct passes to release Carlos Bacca on the counter-attack, and later Kevin Gameiro.
The Spanish side worked extremely hard in midfield to close out the channels and prevent any link passes being played into the front men, forcing a couple of shots from long range from Benfica and a lot of frustrating recycling play deep in the Sevilla half.
Better Hold-up Play
At the other end, Sevilla became very slow in getting support to the front two.
Diagonal passes into the channels for the forwards to chase were often repeated, yet rarely followed up with a breaking runner from the second line to offer link-up play.
Benfica mainly defended these situations comfortably, even if only one holding midfielder came back into position in front of the back line. The one occasion a bouncing ball almost let the front two in, Luisao recovered well to clear on the halfway line.
With both sides well-drilled, organised and determined in defence, and with so much at stake, it was perhaps no great surprise that the game remained scoreless and needed penalties to decide—where Sevilla triumphed, and Benfica's depressing run continued.