BUDAPEST: Sevilla found their Europa League magic formula on Wednesday, beating Roma 4-1 on penalties in Budapest to make it a perfect seven out of seven in finals in the competition. The game finished 1-1 following extra-time after Paulo Dybala’s opener was earlier cancelled out by an own goal from Roma defender Gianluca Mancini. A bad-tempered but gripping match went to a shootout at a raucous Puskas Arena, with Sevilla goalkeeper Yassine Bounou proving the hero with two saves.
Gonzalo Montiel, who scored the winning penalty in the 2022 World Cup final, netted the decisive spot-kick after Mancini and Roger Ibanez had failed to convert for Roma. The win is a remarkable achievement for 62-year-old Jose Luis Mendilibar, who only took over at Sevilla in March and is now celebrating his first major trophy. “We are going to enjoy this because it has cost a lot and right now I don’t know if I will renew or not and I don’t care,” said the Spaniard, who is not certain to be at the club next season.
The veteran coach was brought in to save the club from relegation and has led them to safety as well as European glory. “When I arrived I told the players that they were very good but that they were not mentally in the right place and that was my job,” he said. “They have shown me in the end that they are very good.” Defeat spells heartbreak for Roma boss Jose Mourinho, who has lost a European final for the first time after five successes. The fans created a crackling atmosphere before kick-off but the early stages of the game did not match the color in the stands. Dybala strike Dybala repaid Mourinho’s gamble on his fitness in the 35th minute when he latched onto Mancini’s through ball from the centre circle, coolly slotting his shot past Bounou.
Sevilla, finally finding some fluency, came agonizingly close to levelling deep into the seven minutes of added-on time when Ivan Rakitic drilled a fierce left-footed strike from distance that cannoned back off an upright. Mendilibar brought on forwards Suso and Erik Lamela for Oliver Torres and Bryan Gil at the break and the Spanish side began the second period on the front foot. They were level after 10 minutes when Mancini bundled a Jesus Navas cross from the right into his own net from close range. Roma seemed certain to re-take the lead against the run of play midway through the second half but the Sevilla defenders somehow scrambled the ball away after several stabs at goal from close range.
Dybala, starting a match for the first time since mid-April, was withdrawn, with midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum coming on to replace him. Sevilla thought they had a penalty with 15 minutes to go after referee Anthony Taylor ruled that Ibanez had brought down Lucas Ocampos but the decision was overturned by VAR. Roma squandered a glorious chance to go back in front when substitute Andrea Belotti failed to keep his shot on target with only the goalkeeper to beat. Extra-time was largely uneventful as tempers flared between the two benches but Roma defender Chris Smalling almost snatched the win when he hit the woodwork with a looping header from a corner in the dying seconds.
There were 13 yellow cards awarded, the most ever in a UEFA Europa League game. The first three spot-kicks were converted but when man-of-the-match Bounou saved penalties from Mancini and pushed Ibanez’s effort onto the post, the Spanish side had a 3-1 lead and appeared certain winners. But there was more drama to come. Montiel’s effort was saved by Rui Patricio but the kick was ordered re-taken after an encroachment by the goalkeeper and this time the Argentine made no mistake.
Sevilla, 11th in La Liga with one match to play will play in the Champions League next season. But Roma’s campaign could end with a whimper after the highs of winning the inaugural Europa Conference League last year. The Italian team are sixth in Serie A with one game remaining and there are major doubts over whether Mourinho, 60, will still be manager next season. “We felt pressure against a team that has more talent than us,” said the Portuguese. “We lost a game but not dignity. I’ve never gone home prouder than today, even when I won.” – AFP