Sevilla clinched a sixth Europa League title with a roller-coaster 3-2 win over Inter Milan after an overhead kick by defender Diego Carlos deflected by the Italian side’s top scorer Romelu Lukaku settled a thrilling contest on Friday.
In the first European final ever staged behind closed doors, it was an astonishing anti-climax for Lukaku after he had earlier set the longest scoring run by a player in UEFA Cup/Europa League history by netting in the 11th successive game.
In contrast, it ended as a dream final for Sevilla’s Diego Carlos, who could easily have been sent off after he fouled Lukaku to give away the early penalty which the towering Belgian striker converted.
Lukaku also equalled former Brazil striker Ronaldo’s club record of 34 goals for Inter in a season in all competitions, but it was scant consolation as gritty Sevilla claimed a record-extending sixth Europa League crown in just 14 years.
As his team mates made up for the lack of noise in the Cologne Stadium — free of fans because of the COVID-19 pandemic — with ecstatic celebrations, tearful Sevilla captain Jesus Navas declared: “This squad deserves it.”
“We fought all year, experienced the difficult situation, like everyone, tried to get through day by day. The fans deserve it, those who love football like we do and we have to enjoy it,” he added on Sky Sports.
The final got off to a rip-roaring start as Inter nearly fell behind moments before they took the lead when Fernando saw his goal-bound shot blocked by Roberto Gagliardini.
Inter’s lightning counter ended with Carlos tripping the irrepressible Lukaku before the striker steered his spot-kick past goalkeeper Yassine Bono.
Dutchman Luuk de Jong, who came off the bench to score Sevilla’s winner in a 2-1 semi-final win over Manchester United, then showed his predatory instincts again with a pair of superb headers which turned the tide.
The former Newcastle United striker levelled in the 12th minute after a delightful cross from the right by Navas and then beat Inter keeper Samir Handanovic in the 33rd with a looping header after Ever Banega floated in a free kick.
However, Sevilla’s joy was short-lived as they were also undone by a fine set piece three minutes later, with Croatia midfielder Marcelo Brozovic swinging in a free kick for Diego Godin to head home from close range.
A rip-roaring first half ended with Lucas Ocampos shaving the bar with a header as both sides surged forward in relentless end-to-end action.
The pace dropped after the break before Lukaku spurned a gilt-edged chance in the 65th minute, as he could only muster a tame shot at Bono after racing clear of Diego Carlos again from the halfway line.
Lukaku compounded his second half nightmare in the 74th minute as Carlos unleashed a speculative overheaded kick after Inter failed to clear yet another set piece. Slideshow (3 Images)
The ball seemed to be going wide of Handanovic’s left-hand post but Lukaku instinctively stuck his foot out and it ended up in the roof of the net.
Inter missed their best chance of forcing extra time when Jules Kounde cleared the ball of his line after a goalmouth scramble and Sevilla held on in the dying minutes under intense Inter pressure.
It was a joyful end of the season for their coach Julen Lopetegui, who won his first trophy as coach at senior level after a torrid period which saw him sacked by Spain and Real Madrid.
Yet Inter’s Handanovic could only rue their failure to win a first trophy since 2011.
“We are very disappointed but we have to move on,” Slovenian Handanovic told UEFA’s official website.”We just hope to play many other important games like this in the future. The foundations are there.”