Sevilla’s empire just will not fall, not even to the Romans. After three long, exhausting hours, the match that seemed to never end, just like their extraordinary dominance of this competition, came down to a single kick. Or so it seemed: instead, at midnight in Budapest it came down to two of them. Gonzalo Montiel, the man who scored the penalty that won his country the World Cup was entrusted with taking the penalty that would win his club their seventh, yes seventh, Europa League. This time he did not score, his shot saved by Roma’s Rui Patrício.
But Anthony Taylor, the referee who had given and taken away a penalty for Sevilla during the actual game, which had lasted 147 minutes, was advised by the VAR of an encroachment. And so he gave Montiel another chance, and this time the Argentinian found the net, supporters stream down the stands and onto the pitch. At long last, it was all over. At times it had felt like this would never, ever end. But it did, and with history made once more.
Maybe it was always going to go this way when the invincible meet; certainly once this went into extra time, Paulo Dybala’s opener was levelled by a Gianluca Mancini own goal, it felt like there was no way penalties could be avoided.
If this competition is Sevilla’s, they had not yet come up against José Mourinho. Here they did, and it was a hell of a fight. Sevilla had played six Europa League finals and won them all; Mourinho had been in five European finals and done the same. Eleven occasions like this, without falling and by the end of this somehow they were still standing. Until that one, last astonishing roar, the final breath.
The first time this place erupted happened fast. Ivan Rakitic was nudged off the ball by Bryan Cristante, leaning head down into him, and as Sevilla paused, the Croatian waiting for the foul, Mancini stepped forward and played the pass first time towards Dybala. Suddenly in space to the left of the Sevilla centre-backs, he took one touch to control and then steered the shot past Yassine Bono and into the net, then headed to the corner, throwing himself to the turf.
From the touchline they came, a stampede of subs and staff heading past Mourinho and onto the pitch. He turned the other way, through the crowd pushing past, a hint of disgust on his face a calm down gesture on his hands, looking like an old man who had left his house and accidentally stumbled into a carnival on his street and now just wanted to get back inside again. Yet if he looked unimpressed, this was perfect.
It was also vindication for his decision to start Dybala. Or maybe, if he was always going to, and many suspected he was, to hide that fact from his opponents. The day before Mourinho had said that the Argentinian, returning from injury, could play 20 or 30 little minutes. He had already been out there four more than that and his impact had been decisive. Nor was this an isolated moment.
This had been presumed to be a clash of styles, José Luis Mendilibar saying: “They don’t worry too much about getting to your goal that often; in that sense, they’re not like us.” Dybala’s inclusion suggested that Roma would take a step forward a little sooner, making the most of him for as long as he could last.
Wonderful footwork from him had led to the first really clear chance after just nine minutes, Leonardo Spinazzola given a clear sight of goal only to under-hit his shot. And an even better run almost gave them the opportunity for a second 10 minutes after the goal.
Roma had also thought they might have had a penalty when Nemanja Gudelj lifted his foot high to hook away from Tammy Abraham. In a game of little fluidity and many fouls, Sevilla meanwhile had done little until then, although the seven minutes added to the first half because of a series of head clashes, saw them start to threaten at last. With Bryan Gil up and running now, Rakitic’s side footed shot hit the post, somehow avoiding the diving Patrício’s back on the way out again.
If Roma had just avoided a fatal deflection that time, it was different when Jesus Navas’s cross sought out Youssef En-Nesyri and Lucas Ocampos. Mancini got ahead of them but could only turn the ball into his own net.
The team that got two astonishing own goals at Old Trafford had another here, the momentum seemingly theirs now: they had only been back out there eight minutes but there had already been an Ocampos attempt at an overhead kick and an opportunity for Alex Telles, who blasted over.
As time went on, tension took over. An extraordinary scramble almost saw Roma take the lead again, Roger Ibañez, Mancini and Abraham all bundling in on a deep free-kick, the Englishman stretching to turn a shot goalwards only for Bono to save. With bodies everywhere, breath held around this arena, the ball came back to Ibanez who scuffed wide.
They would be left hearts in mouths again only at the other end when Ocampos wriggled free in the area and went down challenged by Ibañez. Taylor pointed to the spot only to be called to the VAR screen where, with Mourinho wagging a finger behind him, he watched the tackle again. Seemingly part ball, part shin, it could have gone either way; it went Roma’s. A moment later, a big shout for a hand ball from Fernando in the opposite area did not.
A clever clipped free kick from Lorenzo Pellegrini then gave Andrea Belotti a wonderful opportunity, sliding in to volley, only for him to slice wide.
For Sevilla En-Nesyri headed over and Suso’s shot was saved, before Fernando shot wide, sending these exhausted but still undefeated men, back into battle for 30 minutes more. Many of them had nothing left, and the fear now could be felt, Roma’s players down everywhere.
Still nothing would entirely break them, still no one would crumble completely. With the clock on 130.40, the very last minute, Chris Smalling’s header came back off the bar but this was their fate, they knew. And so when at last it ended, history made, it was from the spot and even that needed a little extra time and one last twist added to an astonishing tale.
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