Sevilla put stamp on Europa League dominance in final win over Dnipro
WARSAW, Poland -- Three observations from Sevilla's thrilling 3-2 victory Wednesday over Dnipro in the final of the Europa League.
1. Sevilla claim fourth crown
On the day that UEFA threw down a challenge to FIFA, UEFA's secondary competition staged a reminder of why, away from all that unseemly political intrigue, the world can still love football. An initially breathless encounter might have lost the incendiary qualities of a thrilling first half, but instead came the nerve-wrenching intrigue that only high stakes can bring.
As Carlos Bacca bowled through Dnipro's defence to score Sevilla's 73rd minute winner, the Ukrainians had finally bowed to the pressure of the occasion, after pinball defending had allowed Vitolo to release the Colombian striker for his second goal, taken as clinically as his first.
Sevilla take their place in next season's Champions League, the inaugural recipients of the extra prize that UEFA now award for winning the Europa League. Though perhaps they might instead fancy going for a fifth victory in the competition that makes them a second-level superpower. Spain's pre-eminence on the continent could again be reaffirmed, too, even if Sevilla were made to suffer for glory.
When Nikola Kalinic headed in Matheus' cross to score in the seventh minute, Dnipro's plan to play on the counter looked crystallised. And they also had a precious lead to protect. This, though, was a final in which such pretenses were launched out of the window. Dnipro never kept the game within the control they craved. Neither, though, did Sevilla, until the very late stages.
Kalinic, who played under Sam Allardyce at Blackburn Rovers, scored one of the breakaway strikes that had characterised Dnipro's path to the final, with Sevilla's high line proving costly. Dnipro began thundering into tackles of the type English referee Martin Atkinson might recognise from officiating an Allardyce outfit, but they could not hold onto their lead.
Goalkeeper Denys Boyko made a wonderful first-half save from Grzegorz Krychowiak, but the Pole playing on home soil still seized the homecoming moment. When the ball fell loose from a corner, he drilled beyond Boyko.
Bacca then finished well for Sevilla's second, after Jose Antonio Reyes' through ball caught out Dnipro's own uncharacteristically high line. Even if their defensive organisation was not as tight as coach Myron Markevych might prescribe, they still showed the quality collected in central Ukraine by owner Ihor Kolomoyskyi.
Yevhen Konoplyanka, employing his typical but often unstoppable trick move by cutting in from the left to fire with his right, forced a save from Sevilla goalkeeper Sergio Rico that was the equal of Boyko's earlier stop. But Rico had little answer to Ruslan Rotan's straight up and down free kick on the stroke of halftime. It proved Dnipro's golden moment. Sevilla's own fighting qualities would win the night.
2. Warsaw stages a classic
Make no mistake, these were high stakes. The full-bloodedness that pervaded until the final moments reminded of the evening's importance to two of Europe's less bankable clubs. Sevilla were desperate to take up their chance of winning the competition for a record fourth time. Dnipro, meanwhile were playing for the pride of a Ukrainian nation wracked by civil war. This may not have had the glamour of Berlin's Champions League showpiece, but the Europa League is a more level playing field than its sister competition, a reminder in itself that football is not only for the elite.
This was the grandest night in Dnipro's history, as shown by players reaching into their own pockets to pay for some fans to travel across the border to Poland. Their blue and yellow colours were the same as their country's flag, which many had worn over their shoulders while walking off their nerves in Poland's centre during the afternoon.
Poland's capital was the end of a long journey for both teams -- 17 matches for Sevilla, and 19 for Dnipro and both dug deep into their reserves of energy. Try telling either of the finalists that this competition is meaningless, as many do in English football, especially those who exit the competition prematurely. The pain writ on Dnipro faces and the joy within Sevilla's celebratory pile-up at full-time told much that needed to be known.
Sir Alex Ferguson, a manager whose Manchester United career in this competition extended to a mere eight matches, must have enjoyed himself from his luxury vantage point in the stands.
3. Reyes light shines on
Reyes was playing what might have been his last game for his hometown club, as his contract expires at the end of this season. Victory brought his third title in six years, having won the competition last year in Turin with Sevilla, and previously with Atletico Madrid.
Ahead of the game, Reyes had reminded of the youngster who failed to settle at Arsenal, who always yearned for his Andalusian home comforts. He is just 31, and retains that same shyness, though had remained smilingly relaxed during his prematch media duties. Playing from the right flank, his left foot remains a potent launcher of missiles, with Sevilla coach Unai Emery also granting him dead-ball duties.
Reyes no longer possesses the change of pace that made him such a star a decade ago, but there is greater guile, and definitely a greater ability to deal with the game's physical demands; Reyes was a player who exited English football having received one kick too many from opponents who targeted his small frame.
It was Reyes' ball that put Bacca through for a goal that seared into Dnipro hearts, as Sevilla's know-how prised the Ukrainian's tight lines apart in the first half, a point in which the game looked most within grasp of the holders.
At the beginning of the second half, as Dnipro retreated into their shells, it was Reyes continuing to lead Sevilla's surges, only for Emery to remove his captain on the hour. At first, there was a shaking head of disbelief, then acceptance as he applauded the Spanish contingent of fans, perhaps for the last time. He could only watch as he achieved another European crown.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.