Four was the magic number for Sevilla FC in 2014/15 as they became the first club to go beyond a hat-trick of UEFA Cup/UEFA Europa League triumphs. In so doing, they elevated themselves above the esteemed company of FC Internazionale Milano, Juventus and Liverpool FC. Even more impressively, the fourth came less than a decade after the first.
The holders retaining the trophy tells only half the story, however. FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk may have been vanquished in the Warsaw final, but Myron Markevych and his team had captured the hearts of many during a 19-game European odyssey in which even their home matches were played some 400km away in Kyiv.
Though the Ukrainian capital soon warmed to Dnipro, it was for usual NSK Olimpiyskyi stadium inhabitants, FC Dynamo Kyiv, that a competition-record 67,553 crowd turned out for the round of 16 second-leg success over Everton FC. Indeed six of the all-time top ten UEFA Europa League attendances were set this season.
Not one of them can have seen a goal scored like the one at White Hart Lane on matchday three, however. Picking up a loose ball on the edge of the box, Tottenham Hotspur FC's Erik Lamela brought his left foot behind his right to power in an outrageous 'rabona' finish – opponents Asteras Tripolis FC, those in the crowd and even team-mates could only stand and admire. "Erik's goal was the best I have seen live or on television, without a doubt, 100%," said Spurs defender Jan Vertonghen.
There was no shortage of alacrity as well as quality. FC Steaua Bucureşti's Claudiu Keşerü set a competition record with the fastest-ever hat-trick (11 minutes) against Aalborg BK on matchday one, while Sevilla midfielder Vitolo struck the quickest UEFA Europa League goal in history, opening the scoring 13.21 seconds into the round of 16 first-leg victory over Villarreal CF.
It was not all plain sailing for Unai Emery's men, who had needed to avoid defeat on matchday six to make it into the new year. They edged a 1-0 win but certainly did not head into the knockout phase as the form team – that honour went to FC Dinamo Moskva, just the sixth side ever to navigate the group stage with a 100% record.
Dinamo got to the round of 16 but were undone by SSC Napoli, one of five Serie A participants to progress that far – another first to add to the list. One record that Italy no longer hold on their own is that of the country with most UEFA Cup/UEFA Europa League successes, Spain drawing level with them on nine thanks to Sevilla's feat.
Though the Liga club entered the decider as overwhelming favourites, it was Dnipro who went in front through Nikola Kalinić after seven minutes. Sevilla were ahead themselves soon enough, Poland midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak equalising back in his homeland before Carlos Bacca added a second, but Ruslan Rotan's free-kick drew a defiant Dnipro level.
Bacca was to have the last word, though, striking the killer blow 17 minutes from time. So close, yet so far for Dnipro, who missed out not only on silverware but also on the new bonus prize of a place in the 2015/16 UEFA Champions League.
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