Seville/Rome, Aug 20 (efe-epa).- Sevilla and Inter Milan are braced to tussle it out for the first time in European competition, a surprising statistic given their respective wealthy histories on the continental stage.
The Spanish and the Italian sides will come face to face in Cologne, Germany, on Friday in a battle for the Europa League trophy and cap of a season scarred by the pandemic.
The onset of Covid-19 forced Uefa to put the competition on hold in March and rejig the final stages, swapping out two-legged quarter- and semi-final rounds for a knockout-style fast tracked competition behind closed doors.
Both Sevilla and Inter finished well in their domestic leagues. The Spanish side came fourth behind Atlético de Madrid in LaLiga, while Inter placed second behind Juventus.
The undisputed ‘kings’ of the Europa League are no doubt Sevilla, who have won the competition on five previous occasions (2006, ‘07, ‘14, ‘15, ‘16) and have won every final they played in.
But Inter, too, is one of the most successful clubs in Europe, having won the Uefa Cup and the Champions League on several occasions.
It has been a successful debut season at Sevilla for head coach Julen Lopetegui, whose team is guaranteed a place in the Champions League next year.
This year, Sevilla have knocked out Roma, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Manchester United, each time with the same starting line up.
It is therefore likely that Lopetegui will again turn to the same players for Friday night’s final, including winger Lucas Ocampos, who will not want to miss out despite carrying a knee injury.
A surprising move that Lopetegui has managed to pull off was swapping out habitual first-choice goalkeeper Tomas Vaclík with Moroccan Yassine Bono, who proved his worth by making a dozen saves against Manchester United.
Jesús Navas, Sevilla’s veteran on the right flank, and playmaker Éver Banega, who has one foot out of the changing room door with a move to Saudi Arabia beckoning, have also been key to Lopetegui success this season.
But the final will test the team’s mettle.
Inter come into the game in top form, with Belgian marksman Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martínez hoping to end the team’s 10 year trophy drought.
Antonio Conte’s team has claimed victory against Getafe, Bayer Leverkusen and, in the semis, Shakhtar Donetsk with a 5-0 statement of intent.
Inter’s current lineup blends experience, with the likes of Diego Godín, Ashley Young and Christian Eriksen, with youthful energy in the form of Nicolò Barella and Martínez.
The latter and Lukaku comprise the most threatening element for Sevilla. Together they have bagged a total of 54 goals this season.
Lukaku’s own tally stands at 33, just one short of equalling the number set by former Brazilian star striker Ronaldo Nazario during his debut season for the Italian side. The Belgian has scored in his last 10 consecutive Europa League appearances (including those with Everton). EFE-EPA