KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Europa League specialists Sevilla are within one match of a sixth success after bringing all their experience to bear in a 2-1 semi-final victory over Manchester United in Cologne.
Sevilla will face Internazionale or Shakhtar Donetsk when Friday’s final of ‘their’ competition wraps up the Final Eight format in Germany forced on UEFA by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
They are unbeaten in their last 20 games in all competitions, only the fourth club in Europe’s top five to enjoy such a run this term along with Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid.
Sevilla had already defeated English opposition, in the shape of Wolves in the quarter-finals, and their organisation, work rate, movement and neat touch also proved too much for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men.
They are the lone surviving Spanish flag-carriers in 2019-20 European competition after the eclipse of the Madrid duo and Barcelona in the Champions League.
United’s consolation is security of entry into the Champions League next season but to maintain their sponsorship allure they need the sparkle of silverware.
This season has seen them so near and now so far after semi-final failures in the FA Cup, League Cup and now Europa League.
Thus they became the first English team to fall at the semi-final stage of three different competitions in the same campaign.
All credit to Sevilla for inflicting that unwanted minor slice of history on United after going 1-0 down in the ninth-minute to a Bruno Fernandes penalty. United then created – and wasted – more openings to permit Sevilla a stake back in the game and an equaliser from former Liverpool forward Suso after 26 minutes.
United roared out of the blocks at the start of the second half, forcing Sevilla keeper Bono to a string of brave saves and his defensive colleagues into a catalogue of last-ditch tackles, clearances and interceptions.
That magnificent show of defiance was duly rewarded 12 minutes from time. United’s storm had blown itself out by the time veteran Jesus Navas skipped down the right wing and crossed for Luuk de Jong’s close-range winner.
The Dutch substitute was left all alone in front of goal with time and space by a misunderstanding between Victor Lindelof and Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
Sevilla duly held out to reach a sixth Europa final and, in doing so, rehabilitated the reputation of Julen Lopetegui whose coaching career reached a nadir in 2018 with sackings by both Spain and then Real Madrid inside four months.