While plain-clothed officers and Swiss hipsters helped break the news that FIFA’s big-wigs were about to be taken down, the games still went on. As FIFA executives’ bribery and corruption charges took center stage, there was a big game in Europe still waiting to be played — the 2015 Europa League final.
Given the earth-shattering news to start the day, it would’ve been easy to see a “secondary” competition within UEFA as wholly unimportant. Instead, what transpired was a beautiful reminder that the game, not those who govern it, matters most.
With the news off the pitch dominating headlines, Sevilla (going for a second-straight Europa League title) and Dnipro (playing with the majority of Ukraine on their side) put on an absolute show. The two sides almost seemed to know that the soccer world needed a glorious game to remind everyone why they love the game in the first place.
For at least two hours, it was the action on the pitch that dominated the headlines and it was all because of the choices made by the two clubs. More often than not, cup finals or competition finals have a feel of tightness to them and the action is more about feeling out an opponent than just going for it.
Wednesday’s final was anything but that, with both teams attacking and being unafraid to let their defenses be stretched. Instead of two teams trading possession in the middle of the park, Sevilla and Dnipro made sure to find attacking options from the get-go.
The game didn’t take long to take a serious, yet joyful tone as Dnipro found a great spell of play and ended it with a 7th minute goal from Nikola Kalinic.
With the lead, Dnipro had a chance to seal one of the craziest stories in European football. Up 1-0 in the final, a win would’ve meant ultimate joy for a side forced to play over 300 miles from home thanks to unsafe circumstances within the Ukraine.
However, Sevilla has been to this moment plenty of times before and weren’t going quietly in to the night. After 20 minutes of both sides missing chance after chance, Sevilla opened up their account in the 28th minute on this goal by Grzegorz Krychowiak:
28 minutes in, two equally good goals — not a bad start.
Things only got better from there on the pitch, as both teams desperately defended chance after chance once again. But, it took just three more minutes for Sevilla to turn a 1-0 deficit in to a 2-1 lead.
Carlos Bacca made one spectacular run, while his teammate made one spectacular pass. Just one move past the goalkeeper and suddenly it was 2-1 Sevilla in the 31st minute.
Bacca would be the ultimate hero in this match, putting his side up 3-2 and securing a legendary final performance for himself.
He not only had the brace, but was credited with the assist on the opening goal for Sevilla. Stuff of legends at any level of competition for sure.
It also helped that English ref Martin Atkinson did a masterful job of controlling the game and still letting it flow naturally. His role can’t be understated, as he made no game-changing mistakes and allowed the players to decide the game with their actions and not his whistle.
Dnipro didn’t lie down either, taking multiple good chances down the final 20-plus minutes. However, the reigning champions were just not going to be denied glory on an otherwise dark day.
Off the pitch, this game also served as a reminder of why even a “secondary” competition matters. Most in the English setup and media have taken to belittling the Europa League, but this game served as a perfect example of the importance and drama that the competition can provide the further you get in to it.
Maybe it isn’t perfect, especially with the crazy parachuting-in of 3rd place teams from the Champions League group stages. But, those issues are for another day and time to discuss. Instead, today showcased not only a great soccer match, but just how much the game means to countries who aren’t exactly the biggest fish in the sea.
While English media may chose to slag-off the competition, it has an important place in the rest of the European soccer world. One that has actually delivered a final worth watching — something that has bene lacking from the Champions League for the better part of a decade now.
For Sevilla, the win means a chance they would likely be hard-pressed to have without the Europa League — a spot in the 2015-16 Champions League. With the three-headed monster of Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid in front of them.
Wednesday may have begun with black clouds over the game, but it sure ended with sunny moments and great memories. It was exactly what a troubled game needed at exactly the right time too.