Sevilla FC elevated themselves to a position among European football's aristocracy as their marathon 19-game, 1,770-minute campaign, spanning ten months and plenty of late drama, culminated in a tense triumph.
Unai Emery's men went into the Turin final almost under the radar as SL Benfica and talk of Béla Gutmann's curse dominated pre-match thoughts. "Not in a hundred years from now will Benfica ever be European champions," the Hungarian coach had warned as he stormed out of the club in 1962 after his request for a pay rise was turned down. The following 52 years had borne out his portent: the Eagles had reached seven UEFA finals and lost them all – in Turin it became eight as Sevilla overtook them with a third European trophy in nine seasons.
That it went to penalties, where Portuguese goalkeeper Beto was Sevilla's hero against so many of his compatriots, was fitting for a season always fashionably late – one in seven games featured added-time goals. There were new frontiers, too, with record numbers of member associations represented, and teams from Bulgaria (PFC Ludogorets Razgrad) and Slovenia (NK Maribor) gracing the UEFA Europa League knockout stages for the first time. FC Shakhter Karagandy, vast accumulators of air miles, became Kazakhstan's first representatives in UEFA group stage football.
And there were comebacks. FC Porto trailed 2-0 and 3-2 in the second leg of their round of 32 tie against Eintracht Frankfurt, but still advanced. Sevilla recovered a 2-0 home-leg deficit against Real Betis Balompié in the last 16, getting some early penalty shoot-out practice in the process. Yet it was another Spanish team that earned the title of comeback kings. Valencia CF looked down and out after losing 3-0 at FC Basel 1893 but a Paco Alcácer hat-trick inspired a famous quarter-final triumph.
They almost repeated the feat in the last four, overturning a 2-0 defeat by Sevilla inside 26 minutes and taking the lead on a memorable night at Mestalla. There was a sting in the tail, though, as Stéphane Mbia's 94th-minute header snatched a final place from their grasp. In the other semi, Benfica denied Juventus the home final they so coveted in a meeting between two of the eight sides that transferred from the UEFA Champions League after the group stage.
The Eagles, runners-up to Chelsea FC 12 months earlier, looked set to soar against the backdrop of snow-capped Alpine ridges, to at last shake off Gutmann's curse – Sevilla, though, had other ideas.
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