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Following a summer when they made sweeping squad changes, reaching the UEFA Europa League final may not have looked likely for Sevilla FC.
But on Wednesday they will step out against SL Benfica in Turin after a superb run which has included comebacks to eliminate city rivals Real Betis Balompié, FC Porto and then – in added time of their semi-final – Valencia CF. Captain Ivan Rakitić, a relative Sevilla veteran in his fourth season, spoke to UEFA.com about their achievement and their hopes of emulating the victories of 2006 and 2007.
UEFA.com: Sevilla have had some great performances in this UEFA Europa League campaign, especially the second leg against Betis and at home to Porto – has it come as any surprise to you?
Ivan Rakitić: I wouldn't say I'm surprised. But before the season started we didn't think we would be in this situation because of the big changes that were made. But after everything that happened, I think the team deserves it.
It wasn't easy to come back against Betis and then again against Porto, and then once again against Valencia in the last minute. That shows the spirit we have and that we always give our all. We also know that we have to learn and improve some things, but I think the whole team has done an impressive job in general. I think we deserve to be in this final.
UEFA.com: Unai Emery came in January 2013 and there were something like 14 squad changes last summer … what does that say about the job he has done to get you here?
Rakitić: It's all very impressive because I've never seen so many changes. I don't know how many players have arrived and how many have left. Amid all this, I think there were four or five players who knew each other well, but that shows how much the club works, our coach, our sporting director Monchi. I think the credit goes to them because they work very hard and they work well with us and of course we can see the good results.
Everything has turned out well. If you look at the situation at Betis, they played very well last term and then made similar changes to us and now they don't have the same rhythm they had last year. We, on the other hand, have improved. Although we lost some very important players, our level hasn't dropped and that's what matters. Now we want to improve even more.
UEFA.com: When Valencia took the lead in the semi-final, as captain – apart from playing and motivating the others to keep going – did you also have the role of psychologist?
Rakitić: To be honest, it was not an easy moment for me because I thought: "It can't happen, it can't happen that they scored their third." But you always have to keep your head up, think of the good things, because we know we can do damage too – from set pieces like a corner, free-kick or throw-in, like at the end of the game. We stayed strong until the very end, then the right moment came and everything turned out perfectly. When Stéphane Mbia scored, I think he headed it harder than some players would have shot. It's impressive how everything turned out and it makes it even more special.
It was an unforgettable moment, also the celebrations. You are almost suffering for 90 minutes and then comes this moment and you want to hug everyone.
You want to grab everyone, you want to grab the referee and kiss him. It was an unforgettable moment and I want to thank the strength of the team and the fans who are always with us. Apart from being an unforgettable moment, it shows the strength the team has and it just makes us stronger.
UEFA.com: Can Sevilla beat Benfica in Turin?
Rakitić: We have a lot of confidence, which I think we should do. If a team like this gets to the final, it's obvious that we want to win. We have been working for more than nine months just to be here but of course Benfica are a team with a lot of experience, they have played a lot of finals. Last year they were in the same situation and we respect 100% the strength and quality they have, but we have to think about ourselves and think of everything we have to do.
UEFA.com: What is the best thing about being in the final?
Rakitić: You have to play a final and win it – that's what makes the difference because, at the end of the day, I don't know if many people are going to remember the games against Porto or Betis, well maybe in this case they will, but those kind of games are forgotten with time and you don't remember much from them but you do remember the final. The final will be remembered so you have to do your best and give this club another trophy and make history – that's the best thing there is.
UEFA.com: And of course Sevilla won the finals in 2006 and 2007 …
Rakitić: I can guarantee you that everyone knows every single detail of what happened there. It's important that people know – they have to know the significance of this competition. With all our trophies and the way we won them: Antonio Puerta's goal in the last minute here against Schalke [in 2006], and then the following year Andrés Palop's goal in Donetsk against Shakhtar, and now Mbia's goal. I think those things mean something special and hopefully this final will end like the ones in 2006 and 2007. I just have to say that everyone knows and understands perfectly what this means to the club and the fans – and of course us players, because ultimately this is what we play, train and fight for.
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