TURIN - Spanish side Sevilla sensationally claimed a third Europa League title after a dramatic penalty shoot-out in which Benfica pair Oscar Cardozo and Rodrigo missed from the spot to extend the Portuguese giants' European final hoodoo in Turin on Wednesday.
Benfica, recently crowned league and League Cup champions, came to Turin confident of ending a 52-year jinx that had seen them lose a total of seven European finals since winning the second of two consecutive European Cups in 1962.Benfica had stumbled at the last hurdle five times in the European Cup, once in the UEFA Cup (1983) and once in its successor, the Europa League, in 2013 when they lost 2-1 to Chelsea in Amsterdam.
Yet despite creating the lion's share of chances in an open, flowing encounter, the 'Benfica Curse' -- as their unenvied streak has come to be known -- was maintained as Jorge Jesus's men ultimately failed to hit the net at Juventus Stadium. Jesus said the "best team did not win the Europa League", and added: "Sevilla started off better, but as match progressed we improved and we were the better team. "We showed our power and created chances to score but couldn't. And then in extra time the team that believed more in the penalties was Sevilla."
Benfica's fans, celebrating in Turin only weeks ago having knocked Juventus out of the competition during a scoreless second leg draw in their semi-final, had plenty of reason to feel aggrieved. The Portuguese were solid throughout and although Sevilla, steered admirably by the surging runs and intelligent play of Croatian captain Ivan Rakitic, created chances of their own, Benfica should have had scored before the break.
Sevilla's Portuguese 'keeper Beto produced two crucial saves in succession, first denying Maxi Pereria from point-blank range as he ran on to volley and then diving low to block Rodrigo's angled drive. Benfica had claims for a penalty waved away when Nicolas Gaitan tumbled under a challenge from Federico Fazio and Sevilla's defence was tested again at the start of a busy second half when Nicolas Pareja cleared Lima's goal-bound shot off the line and then two chances by Rodrigo were blocked by an astute Spanish defence.
Lima was then only denied by a superbly-timed challenge from Coke as he waited to pull the trigger on Pereira's cross.Rodrigo's first-time shot was then blocked by Fazio, and from virtually out of nowhere on 84 minutes Lima fired a curling drive which forced Beto to tip to safety. The match remained scoreless after two 15-minute periods of extra time and when it came to penalties Sevilla -- who claimed the second of their two titles from the Europa League's predecessor, the UEFA Cup in 2007 -- stepped up to the plate. Sevilla coach Unai Emery admitted it had been "delicate" keeping his troops focused.
"All you can do is tell them to be calm, sure of themselves and not to have any doubts. It's a delicate situation," he said. Sevilla were allowed to dream when Beto dived low to save Cardozo's shot, and after he then stopped Rodrigo's equally tame effort, Frenchman Kevin Gamerio sealed the win with his spot-kick to make Sevilla the first team to win the Europa League on penalties.
Rakitic was quick to pay tribute: "We all have to say thanks to Beto for stopping those penalties." Their triumph this year is all the more impressive as Emery's revamped side, who only finished ninth in last season's Spanish championship, were given entry because two other clubs failed to meet the financial benchmark set by UEFA. Emery admitted the competition is close to the club's heart and suggested a massive turnout for their first qualifier had fed their ambition for a third title.
"At our first match we had 30,000 people in the stadium in a period in which most people are on holiday," added the 42-year-old. "That's when we started to get excited about the competition. We hadn't played in Europe the past two years, and so we wanted to do something special."