Sevilla have won the Europa League on penalties after their final against Benfica at Juventus Stadium ended 0-0 after extra time.
Quite how it remained goalless is anyone’s guess in what was a gripping and end to end encounter in Turin, which in truth was edged by the Portuguese side on the overall balance of play.
Nevertheless, Unai Emery’s team will not care one bit and they have now won a third Europa League [or UEFA Cup], in the last nine seasons. The victory also sees them draw level with European heavyweights Inter, Juventus and Liverpool as three-time winners of the competition
The Spanish side looked the more threatening early on as they pressed the Portuguese champions high up the pitch and looked to force them into errors.
Colombian striker Carlos Bacca was denied an almost certain goal when Guilhereme Siqueira took the ball off his toes with a last ditch tackle, while the same man was also caught offside following some neat Rojiblancos interplay.
Jorge Jesus’ team worked their way into the match though and arguably should have had the lead themselves on 17 minutes. A free-kick into the Andalusians’ penalty area was poorly defended, but Ezequiel Garay could not take advantage.
The following ten minutes were relatively incident free, though Jesus was forced to make an early change after Miralem Sulejmani was unable to recover from a robust challenge by Alberto Moreno, which earned the Spaniard a yellow card. Andre Almeida came on in his place.
German referee Felix Brych was enduring a difficult evening and a series of niggling fouls meant play became increasingly fragmented. After Siqueira clattered into Stephane Mbia on the half hour mark, the whistle-blower produced what was already the third caution of the evening.
Unai Emery’s team continued to have slightly the better of proceedings and Moreno curled a left foot shot straight at Benfica keeper Jan Oblak.
Seven minutes before the break, Bacca also had half-hearted claims for a penalty following a goalmouth scramble but Brych was unmoved.
Sevilla were almost handed a sucker punch right on half time though as Benfica offered more of a threat in stoppage time than they had in the entire half up until that point. Maxi Pereira got on the end of a long ball into the Spanish side’s penalty area, but his volleyed finish was beaten away at point blank range by Beto.
Rodrigo then tried his luck after dancing his way into the penalty area but goalkeeper Beto was once again equal to the challenge.
Then, with the half time whistle imminent, the Portuguese champions thought they should have had a penalty after Federico Fazio appeared to bring down Nico Gaitan when through on goal. It looked a clear spot kick, and with it a red card for the defender, but once again Brych turned down the appeals.
The second half began where the first half left off and Jesus will wonder how his side did not take the lead two minutes after the restart.
Sevilla were at sixes and sevens during a goalmouth scramble, with Eagles pair Lima and Rodrigo both having shots that were blocked as the Spaniards' goal lived a charmed life.
The match became stretched, with Jose Reyes denied by some excellent defending by Luisao. Benfica then had another claim for a penalty waved away after Moreno dived in on Lima.
He made contact with the player with what was a slightly reckless challenge, but the fact the ball had got away from the striker probably saved the Andalusians from punishment.
Both sides continued to go hell for leather and had it not been for a number of last ditch interventions by both defences, either side could have taken the lead.
Benfica fashioned another opportunity with 20 minutes remaining. Maxi Pereira’s sublime touch took him away from Ivan Rakitic and he pulled the ball back across the edge of the Sevilla box, but Lima slipped at the vital moment as he looked to apply the finish.
Less than 10 minutes from time, the Brazilian Lima then fired in a shot from 25 yards that was well tipped over by Beto, before Garay was unable to climb high enough to head home Rodrigo’s in-swinging cross that took the goalkeeper out of the game.
It was increasingly looking like there was only going to be one winner in the closing stages of normal time. The Portuguese side continued to crank up the pressure and just as injury time began Lima should have done better when he skied a shot over.
Benfica continued to have the better of things after the start of extra time. Bacca however wasted a golden chance to give Sevilla the lead against the run of play.
With the Eagles piling forward, the Rojiblancos looked to counter and Rakitic’s magnificent first-time through ball completely took out the Portuguese defence and put the Colombian through on goal.
The 27-year-old went for power over precision though and he smashed the ball wide with only Oblak to beat.
As far as clear cut chances went, that was about it as both sides showed signs of tiredness for the remainder of extra time. Players began to go down with cramp and efforts from distance became increasingly desperate and wild.
In the end, a whole season’s work was decided by the lottery of a penalty shootout and it was Sevilla who emerged victorious.
Bacca, Mibia, Coke and substitute Kevin Gameiro all held their nerve superbly to score from the spot, while Oscar Cardozo and Rodrigo missed for Benfica.
For the Portuguese side, who also lost in last season’s final, their hoodoo in European finals goes on and they have now lost their last eight since winning the 1962 European Cup.
For Sevilla and Emery meanwhile, a season which started so uncertainly has now delivered a trophy. A European campaign that began against Montenegrin side Mladost in early August has brought them the ultimate reward.
Sevilla 0 – 0 Benfica (Sevilla win 4-2 on penalties)
Sevilla: Beto; Coke, Pareja, Fazio, Alberto Moreno; Carriço, Mbia; Reyes (Marin 78) (Gameiro 104), Rakitic, Vitolo (Figueiras 110); Bacca
Benfica: Oblak; Maxi Pereira, Luisao, Garay, Siqueira (Cardozo 99); André Gomes, Amorim; Gaitán (Cavaleiro 119), Sulejmani (Almeida 25), Lima; Rodrigo