KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING — Sevilla edged a breathlessly intense Europa League Final 3-2 against Internazionale in a closed-doors drama in Cologne.
The contest provided a spectacle to match the high profile provided by the pandemic-enforced daily drama of squeezing the Europa League and Champions League play-offs into a summer fortnight of excitement.
Inter took an early lead, conceded two headed goals, struck back shortly before the interval then lost, heart-rendingly, to an own goal from top scorer Romelu Lukaku.
All winners need a little luck and Sevilla thus benefited. In the opening minutes defender Diego Carlos had been shown only a yellow card and not red after conceding the penalty which provided Lukaku with the game’s first goal.
Then, in the closing minutes, it was an off-target effort from the same Diego Carlos which Lukaku diverted into his own net for what proved Sevilla’s winning goal.
Sevilla’s triumph provided remarkable rehabilitation for coach Julen Lopetegui.
Two years ago the former national youth coach endured the humiliation of being sacked within four months, either side of the World Cup finals in Russia, by both Spain and then Real Madrid.
He had never won a major trophy as a coach yet deflected congratulations into a dedication of victory to the memory of two Sevilla club favourites who had both died young.
Lopetegui said: “This is for Antonio Reyes, Antonio Puerta, and all of those who are no longer with us. For all of us, for me, for the fans, it is very special. We conceded three penalties in the last three matches in the first five minutes but our team never surrender.”
Inter had started as narrow favourites under Antonio Conte whose passion earned one of the game’s six yellow cards from Dutch referee Danny Makkelie in a feisty contest.
The opening saw Makkelie wave away Sevilla claims that Danilo D’Ambrosio should have been sent off for baulking Luis Ocampos.
Inter capitalised immediately when Lukaku was pulled down on the break by Diego Carlos and rose to his feet to convert the fifth-minute penalty which put them ahead.
Sevilla’s record of 20 games unbeaten since February was not in danger for long. In the 12th minute veteran wingback Jesus Navas flighted a cross to the hear post where Luuk de Jong dive-headed home.
The Dutchman had been a goal-scoring substitute in Sevilla’s semi-final defeat of Manchester United and fully justified Lopetegui’s decision to start him this time.
Play ebbed and flowed in both directions before Sevilla took the lead in the 33rd minute. De Jong was the scorer again with another header, this time converting a free kick from one-time Inter playmaker Ever Banega.
Two more minutes and it was Inter’s turn to equalise. Sevilla switched off at the back as veteran Uruguayan centre-back Diego Godin headed home a free kick from Marcelo Brozovic.
The second half saw fatigue from the pressures of an extraordinary 13-month season take their toll as the final turned on a dramatic attacking exchange.
In the 65th minute Lukaku broke clear only for Sevilla keeper Bono to block his shot. The significance of that save was enhanced nine minutes later. Inter failed to clear a free kick and Diego Carlos’s overhead bicycle kick was diverted by Lukaku into Inter’s own net.
Inter introduced Victor Moses, Alexis Sanchez and Christian Eriksen to try to rescue the game and the attacking tactic appear to pay off as Sanchez stabbed the ball goalwards . . . until centre-back Jules Kounde stretched out a long leg to hack off the line.
That clearance extended Sevilla’s record of not conceding a second-half goal in 13 games and duly delivered the Europa League Cup for a record sixth time.
Sevilla: Bono – Navas, Kounde, Diego Carlos (Gudelj 86), Reguilon – Jordan, Fernando, Banega – Suso (Vazquez 78), De Jong (En-Nesyri 85), Ocampos (El Haddadi 71). Coach: Lopetegui.
Inter: Handanovic – Godin (Candreva 90), De Vrij, Bastoni – D’Ambrosio (Moses 78), Barella, Brozovic, Gagliardini (Eriksen 78), Young – Martinez (Sanchez 78), Lukaku. Coach: Conte.
HT: 2-2. Att: — (closed doors). Ref: Makkelie (Net).