For the first time ever, this year’s Europa League final will not only have a trophy on the line, but the hugely lucrative reward of a place in the Champions League group stage. For the two opponents in Warsaw on Wednesday, Sevilla and Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, that is an especially alluring prize.
Sevilla go into the final on the back of agonizingly missing out on a place in the Champions League through the Spanish Primera Division. Despite just one defeat from their final 14 league fixtures and beating Malaga 3-2 on Saturday, Sevilla were edged out for the final Champions League spot by Valencia after a dramatic final day in La Liga. Sevilla have only ever made it into Europe’s premier competition on three occasions, but they have enjoyed incredible success in its secondary event in recent years. Indeed, were Sevilla to win on Wednesday it would be their fourth triumph in the last 10 seasons. Coach Unai Emery, who led Sevilla to the trophy a year ago, had little hesitation in stating that the chance to compete in the Champions League is a major incentive.
“To get a trophy, to write history, is an opportunity, a responsibility,” he said in his pre-match press conference, according to UEFA’s official website. “The Champions League is an added motivation that really improves the Europa League. The Europa League continues to grow but the Champions League is an extra step that we want to take.”
Failure to defend the trophy also be a major disappointment after what has been a season of such promise. With the commanding presence of Poland international Grzegorz Krychowiak holding firm in midfield, the creativity of Argentinean Ever Banega and the goals of Colombian striker Carlos Bacca, Sevilla have produced some scintillating displays. The team saved one of their best performances for their Europa League semifinal when beating Fiorentina 3-0 in the first leg before going to Italy and triumphing 2-0 in the return to cruise through. And Sevilla have been given a further boost ahead of the final by call-ups to the Spain squad for goalkeeper Sergio Rico and attacking midfield pair Aleix Vidal and Vitolo.
Dnipro, though, are also enjoying a fine season and have plenty of motivation to come out on top in the Polish capital. Dnipro also won 3-2 at the weekend, but their triumph over Shakhtar Donetsk still leaves them trailing Shakhtar by two points in the battle for the second and final Champions League spot going into the final round of fixtures in the Ukrainian Premier League. With Shakhtar having what is on paper a straightforward home game to close out the season, Dnipro’s attempts to make it into the Champions League incarnation of the European Cup for the first time are likely to rest on taking home the trophy on Wednesday.
But, having been knocked out in the first knockout round of the Europa League in the past two seasons and never having previously reached the final of a European competition, their achievements are already substantial.
“It's true we weren't planning on playing in the final this season, but you get more appetite once you start eating,” Dnipro coach Myron Markevych said. “Once we beat Olympiakos [in the round of 32] I started believing that we could go to the semi-finals at least.
“Of course [the prospect of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League] adds incentive. I think it is very good that UEFA gives the winner this chance. It's an additional incentive for both us and Sevilla.”
Dnipro won the Soviet League twice in the 1980s but have never been crowned champions of Ukraine, having lived in the shadow of giants Dynamo Kiev and Shakhtar Donetsk. But under experienced former Ukraine coach Markevych and with a squad that shows the benefits of having put a strong focus on their academy, they have proved a real force. Undoubtedly their current star product is winger Yevhen Konoplyanka, a 25-year-old Ukraine international who has been linked with top clubs in England and who turned down a transfer to Roma in January. In the Europa League semifinal against Napoli, though, it was Evgen Seleznyov who was the hero, scoring a late equalizer in a 1-1 draw in Italy before getting the only goal back in Ukraine.
Kickoff time: 2:45 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox Sports 1