BY: Grant Fisken
In the hours leading up to kick-off, Ulica Francuska turned from quiet city street to Warsaw’s very own little corner of Andalusia. The few thousand red-shirted fans who had gathered in the shadows of Poland’s National Stadium were in no doubt they would be going home as Europa League champions again. Their only anxiety was the prospect of having to endure the nerve-shredding tension of a penalty shoot-out, like their victories in the finals in Glasgow (2007) and Turin (2014).
Going all the way to spot-kicks may have seemed like a far more appealing option to the Spanish fans with only seven minutes on the clock, when Dnipro took the lead in their first attack. The Ukrainian side’s approach was direct but clinical. Nikola Kalinic flicked on a long ball to Matheus, and darted into the box to meet the Brazilian’s return cross with a perfectly-placed downward header.
The scarf-waving sea of red in the Sevilla end were silenced for the first time in the night, as the Dnipro fans bounced in unison among the crash of firecrackers and orange glow of flares. The Ukrainian flags, shirts and scarves outnumbering the blue and white team replica shirts suggested this was a final for the whole nation, not just those from Dnipropetrovsk.
Sevilla manager Unai Emery was wearing the paint off the edge of his technical area as he encouraged his players to settle into the match and up the tempo. The local fans in the 45,000 crowd did not seem to have a favoured team, but they certainly had a favoured player. Grzegorz Krychowiak, the only Polish player in the final, had already had one header brilliantly saved by Denys Boyko when he steered a Carlos Bacca knock-down into the far corner to make it 1-1 and delight the locals as much as the Sevilla contingent.
Within minutes, Bacca had Sevilla ahead, but Dnipro responded and Ruslan Rotan’s free-kick made it 2-2 at the break. No fireworks this time from the Ukrainian end. Having not scored more than one goal in any of their previous six European ties, the Dnipro fans could be forgiven for using all their pyrotechnics after the opener.
It would always be difficult for the second half to live up to the opening 45 minutes. Both teams had tightened up their shape but it was Sevilla doing most of the pressing, and when their chance came Bacca drilled home his second from Vitolo’s flick to net what proved to be the winning goal. The striker able to find space in the box as easily as he managed to emerge from his goal celebration draped in a Colombian flag.
They were pushed all the way, but Sevilla became the first team to win the Europa League (including UEFA Cup) four times, and the first side to retain the trophy on more than one occasion. Ironically, Emery’s men won’t want to make it three in a row in Basel next year, as they become the first beneficiaries of the Champions League qualifying place on offer to the Europa League winners.