Sevilla live up to reputation as they edge out Inter in thrilling Europa League Final

A wonderful headed double from Luuk de Jong as well as an acrobatic effort from Diego Carlos (helped by a Lukaku deflection) led Sevilla to their sixth title, despite Lukaku and Godin’s goals as well as a flurry of second half chances for Inter.

Lukaku’s penalty, won after he was fouled by Diego Carlos, put Inter ahead early on, but within ten minutes Luuk de Jong had dived in front of De Vrij to head a Navas cross home.

A frantic and fiery first half ensued, with Danilo d’Ambrosio missing the best of the chances having been put through on goal by Ashley Young.

Just after the half-hour mark, De Jong scored his second – an astonishing header from a Banega free kick, only to see Godin equalise in a simpler manner from an eerily similar free kick minutes later.

The second half was more subdued, but saw Gagliardini and especially Lukaku, who missed a one-on-one, spurning chances. Reguilon at the other end shot from close range into the side netting after some fine work to beat Godin.

It was Diego Carlos, the author of the penalty on Lukaku, who would score the winner, striking a bicycle kick into the outstretched leg of the very same Lukaku – a moment that almost seemed scripted.

Inter’s desperation grew, but neither Sanchez, who had a shot saved on the line by Kounde, nor Candreva, who shot from close range at Bounou, could prevent Lopetegui from lifting his first title as manager.

Build up

Sevilla, as is well known, are no strangers to this competition. Under Unai Emery, they won the Europe League in three consecutive seasons, making them the most successful side that the competition has ever seen. Much has changed, though, from the Emery years. Only Ever Banega remains, while nine of the starting line-up for the final have been with Sevilla for less than a season.

Inter, meanwhile, have not won a trophy of any kind since a Coppa Italia win in 2011, but this year were able to finally challenge for Serie A after a long period in the footballing wilderness. For Inter, a win here would have been the clear symbolic mark of their comeback, one that has seen changes of ownership and, recently, plenty of investment.

It was a crucial match for both managers too. Lopetegui had this fixture (and tournament) pinned for his redemption arc after the debacle of 2018, in which he lost the Spain job weeks before the World Cup, leaving it for Real Madrid, a team which sacked him swiftly after. Conte entered this match under intense pressure – a pressure completely of his own making after an extraordinary outburst against the club a couple of weeks ago, but pressure nonetheless. Much, therefore, was riding on the match and all of its internal battles of tactics and personnel: Lopetegui’s possession against Conte’s intesnsity and circuits; Lukaku and Lautaro, such a prolific pairing this season, against the inexperienced Sevilla centre-backs; Navas and the highly sought after Reguilon against the Inter wingback, to mention just a few.

The match

After three minutes, at least one of those battles seemed to have been won already. Barella poked a ball through for Lukaku who eased past Diego Carlos – Carlos then resorted to fouling him over a period of several seconds, only properly succeeding to do so in the penalty area. It was the third penalty that he has given away in as many games. Inter players appealed for a red card – it cannot be said that Carlos made an attempt to get the ball – but had to be content only with an early lead.

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The protests were a sign of things to come, as they continued unabated for the first half hour in an attempt to unsettle the young referee Makkelie who, as the BT Sport commentators made sure viewers did not forget, had never refereed a European final before. It was without doubt a difficult night for him, as inconsistencies with regards to bookings (sometimes given for innocuous fouls and sometimes missed for seemingly obvious challenges) and fouls were noticeable throughout.

There was, however, no referee intervention for Sevilla’s equaliser, with Luuk de Jong capping off a neat move with a lovely header. Some minutes later there was an appeal for a penalty as a Barella flick on struck Carlos’ hand, adjudged to have been in a natural position – a decision which angered Antonio Conte, perhaps used to a more stringent application of the handball rule in Italy.

The following twenty minutes were pulsating, Sevilla attempting several shots and Lautaro Martinez at one point running at Navas for over 50m before the defender took the ball off him as he was on the verge of shooting. Luuk de Jong put Sevilla in front, but Godin replied soon after. A weakness, though, had been realised by the Sevilla side: free kicks. On the stroke of half time, Ocampos forced an excellent save from Handanovic after a free kick from a similar position to that from which De Jong scored his second. This weapon would later come back to haunt Inter.

There were no changes after the break, and within five minutes Gagliardini was presented with a chance to score, but shot it at Carlos – an omen for Inter fans who had seen him miss easy chances on a regular basis over the past two months. Diego Carlos again struggled in an aerial duel with Lukaku, giving the ball away and then not realising that Lukaku was onside, allowing the Belgian to run on goal alone – an excellent save from Bounou kept Sevilla level.

Inter began to dominate, and there was a feeling that the next goal that was scored would end it. That goal was Sevilla’s. After another poorly defended Sevilla free kick, Carlos jumped and struck a bicycle kick towards goal (just wide, to be exact). Lukaku, who had been tormenting him until this point, put a foot out and deviated it into the goal. A potentially controversial goal, depending on your view on Carlos’ foul in the opening minutes. It was, nonetheless, a footballing cliché, as the man who erred became the hero, and vice versa for Inter.

Conte threw on Eriksen, Sanchez and Moses in hope of an equaliser, and was almost rewarded as Sanchez benefitted from some messy, desperate defending, but his toe poke was saved on the line by Kounde. Kounde was impressive, keeping a disappointing Martinez out of the game. Sevilla used the last ten minutes to time waste in an astute, if unsporting, manner, as the referee once again struggled to control proceedings. In the 91st minute, substitute Candreva was presented with an excellent chance from close-range, but shot it at the Sevilla keeper. Bounou, like against Manchester United, had an excellent game.

As the final whistle came, it was Sevilla who went and lifted the trophy. While Inter were wasteful, it cannot be said that a team who came through Roma, Wolves, Manchester United and then this very difficult final did not deserve to win it. Lopetegui has found redemption, while Conte has potentially managed his last match for Inter.

MAN OF THE MATCH – LUUK DE JONG

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Headline Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons by UEFA Europa League . / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/1.0)

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