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Jorge Jesus believes his SL Benfica side are ready to break their European final curse in Wednesday's UEFA Europa League final when they take on a Sevilla FC team seeking a record-equalling third triumph.
Since back-to-back European Cup successes at the start of the 1960s Benfica have lost all seven of their major UEFA showpieces – the Eagles landed, but have not quite managed to take off again since. Yet there is a sense that this could be their year. Twelve months ago, Benfica went into the final against Chelsea FC with their season already unravelling with the finish line in sight. Dreams of a treble evaporated over the space of 15 days. They ended up with nothing.
This time, they arrive in Turin with two trophies already under their belts, the championship and Portuguese League Cup – the fruits of a "five-year project". Jesus said: "Over the past year we've tried going down a similar route to last season, at least in getting to the final. Now, our know-how comes in. We've been here before and are stronger for the experience, we know what to expect.
In the past we've gone match by match but over the past year it's been taking things final by final."
Indeed, with Sunday's Portuguese Cup decider in Oeiras to come, Benfica could end the campaign with a unique quadruple and unforgettable scenes at the Praça Marquês de Pombal, the traditional focus of club celebrations. The spectre of 12 months ago looms large, however, and Jesus is taking nothing for granted. He avoids the favourites' tag which Benfica's form, experience and last-four victory over Juventus has earned them like a poisoned chalice: "Sevilla have history in this competition."
Opposite number Unai Emery is only too aware of it, and though he was still making his way as a coach at UD Almería when the Spanish side won back-to-back titles under Juande Ramos in 2005/06 and 2006/07, he admits it fuelled a hunger. "I remember watching and wondering what it would be like to be in that situation one day," said the 42-year-old, gearing up for his first final. "And now I am here and eager to make the most of it.
Opportunities appear when you're there, and we're here."
It has been some journey for the Andalusians, a 19-game campaign that began on 1 August in the third qualifying round. Sevilla's season was listing three months ago, threatening to sink without a trace, before a run of 13 wins in 16 outings breathed new life into their campaign. "The path to this final has been very long, but wonderful too," added Emery. "We have grown already and tomorrow we will grow more whatever happens. It would be wonderful to finish it with a trophy."
The Sevilla boss admits that suspensions to Benfica trio Enzo Pérez, Eduardo Salvio and Lazar Marković make this an even contest, although he will similarly be without Jairo Samperio while Kevin Gameiro and Vitolo are injury doubts. It is 50-50 all the way: apart, of course, from that 52-year wait for Benfica. "It's up to us to break the curse; the opportunity to lay that ghost to rest gives us greater strength," said Jesus. "It's going to be broken one day. Why not here in Turin?"
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