Sevilla’s love affair with the Europa League lived on after they beat Antonio Conte’s Inter Milan 3-2 in a thrilling final behind closed doors on Friday in Cologne, Germany to win the trophy for a record-extending sixth time.
Defender Diego Carlos, wearing a bandage on his leg, struck the decisive goal in the 74th minute with an overhead kick which took a huge deflection off Inter forward Romelu Lukaku.
There was added intrigue as Diego Carlos looked to have denied Lukaku a clear scoring chance when he fouled the Belgian in the fourth minute, with Lukaku dusting himself off to fire Inter into the lead while scoring his 34th goal of the season.
Sevilla soon equalised with a header through Luuk de Jong then the Dutchman struck again with a header to give his side the lead in the 33rd minute, only for Inter defender Diego Godin to also score a header moments later to make it 2-2. The match was played without any fans in attendance due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This meant Inter’s nine-year wait for a trophy will now stretch into a decade, but it also meant redemption for Julen Loeptegui. Back in 2018, he walked away from the Spain national team on the eve of the World Cup for Real Madrid, only to be sacked after only months in the role. A similar fate seemed likely earlier this year though his persistence has been rewarded with his first silverware as a coach.
Antonio Conte’s mood did not improve when Luuk De Jong put Sevilla ahead with a simple yet devastating set-piece routine. The Newcastle outcast again slipped by unnoticed, running behind Inter’s line of defence, as Ever Banega swung a free-kick to the far post. Roberto Gagliardini eventually spotted De Jong’s run but too late to prevent another fine header, this one across a helpless Handanovic and into the far corner.
And yet, in-keeping with this breathless start, that lead lasted no more than three minutes. If De Jong’s far-post arrival was all studied and considered, the product of practice on the training ground, Diego Godin’s connection with Marcelo Brozovic’s free-kick was borne of brute force. Set-pieces do not always have to be smart. Sometimes it is enough to just out-jump your marker and direct the ball well. It was enough to draw Inter level.
The second half had a cagey beginning. When Nicolò Barella was hauled back by Joan Jordan near the centre circle, instead of firing the free-kick into Sevilla’s area the ball went sideways.
Surely, though, this was calm before the tempest started up again. So it was that, suddenly, Carlos was flinging himself at Robert Gagliardini’s shot, and, at the other end, De Jong had to be crowded out.
Then, Reguilón skated past Godín and hit the side-netting. More space opened up. Young, Inter’s left wing-back, hit a 30-yard shot that was high, a sign of how his team hogged possession at this juncture. Lukaku missed after racing clear: Conte, on the sideline, was bereft.
Young’s radar was better when pinging in a free-kick towards Godín that Bounou punched clear. Now, disaster struck for Lukaku as he scored – inadvertently – at both ends.
Banega’s free-kick went to Carlos and his bicycle volley was going wide before the Belgian stuck out a leg and beat Handanovic. From here Sevilla dug in.
By Linda Amiani