Benfica’s heartache in European finals continues, with Sevilla winning the final of the Europa League 4-2 on penalties after 120 minutes failed to produce a goal in Turin. And the way the final, especially the shootout, panned out, even the biggest skeptic might begin to wonder if the curse of Bela Guttmann is genuine.
Benfica had the better chances in normal time and were denied two strong claims for penalties. The officials then failed to punish Sevilla goalkeeper Beto twice coming off his line to make the crucial saves in the shootout form Oscar Cardozo and Rodrigo. Instead, Kevin Gameiro struck home the winning penalty as Sevilla, who were only in the competition after Malaga and Rayo Vallecano were denied entry, were faultless from the spot to claim their third victory in the competition in the last nine seasons.
That record contrasts sharply with that of Benfica. The Lisbon giants have now incredibly lost eight successive European finals since winning back-to-back European Cups in 1961 and 1962. It was after that second triumph that their coach Bela Guttmann proclaimed that the club would not triumph in Europe again for another 100 years. Having lost last year’s final to Chelsea’s injury-time winner and now the dramatic and hugely controversial way in which they have lost in 2014, one has to wonder when it will be lifted.
Benfica had come into the final, having already claimed the Portuguese Liga title and the League Cup and seemingly confident of adding to their haul and finally ending their European drought. They looked the side more intent on trying to make the early inroads.
Still, it was a first half of little meaningful action and few chances, although Benfica’s Nico Gaitan and Sevilla’s Ivan Rakitic were living up to their billing as their side’s most creative outlets. Gaitan’s in-swinging free-kick was pushed away by Beto in the Sevilla goal but only as far as defender Ezequiel Garay whose follow-up effort was blocked by a defender. At the other end, Sevilla left-back Alberto Moreno found himself in an unfamiliar position in the inside right channel and curled an effort with his favored left foot that was too close to Jan Oblak in the Benfica goal.
The match began to liven up toward the end of the period, with Benfica going close to going in front. Maxi Pereira had been pushed forward to the right wing after Miralem Suljemani was forced off with an early injury and he proved a major attacking weapon. He might have done better after being found over the top, but his volley was clawed away by one hand of Beto. And there was still time before the interval for Benfica to be denied a strong claim for a penalty when Gaitan was brought down by Federico Fazio.
The increased impetus form the end of the first half was continued and then some in the second as the match became a thrilling end-to-end spectacle for long periods. Fazio was again heavily involved, this time far more impressively, denying first Pereira after his shot had beaten Beto and then Rodrigo on the follow up.
Sevilla were threatening more, too, with Jose Antonio Reyes at the fore. First the former Arsenal man was unable get a shot on target from the edge of the box after good work from Rakitic and then shot too close to Oblak following Coke’s pull-back.
It was Benfica who continued to have the better chances and continued to be denied opportunities by the referee. The Lisbon giants should have certainly had a penalty for Moreno’s clumsy challenge on Lima, while they may have also been given a spot-kick for a handball. Meanwhile, Lima was denied what looked a certain goal by another fine piece of defending from Fazio. When Garay put an acrobatic volley over the top in injury time, the match was headed to an extra 30 minutes.
And the first period began with Sevilla’s best chance of the contest. Rakitic’s brilliance put Carlos Bacca through but with the outside of his right foot the Colombian sent his shot wide of the far post. The man sent onto support Bacca, Gameiro spurned a chance, too, when in the second period of extra time he fired into the side netting.
There was to be no breakthrough before the final was sent to penalties, with Benfica surely fearing that their drought would continue in the most crushing way possible. While Lima scored first before Bacca equalized, it was soon to all go wrong for Jorge Jesus’s men. Cardozo stuttered his run-up, but it was excuse for Beto being several yards off his line when he made a low save. After Stepane Mbia put Sevilla in front, there was a repeat from Beto when the Sevilla goalkeeper again came forward from his line before stopping Rodrigo’s effort. Just how both the referee and the official behind the goal, standing a matter of yards away, failed to intervene is hard to fathom.
There was to be no reprieve for Benfica and, despite Luisao converting, Coke and Gameiro kept Sevilla perfect from the spot to give Unai Emery a trophy in his first season in charge.