Sports Desk, Aug 21 (efe-epa).- Sevilla extended their record haul of Europa League titles to six with a hard-fought 3-2 victory over Inter Milan in Friday’s final, a match that featured an electrifying first half and a game-clinching own-goal after a bicycle kick.
Little separated the two clubs in this behind-closed-doors contest at RheinEnergieStadion in Cologne, Germany, that was decided by an unlucky bounce off the foot of Inter Milan’s Romelu Lukaku, who inadvertently steered Diego Carlos’s overhead kick into his own goal.
The decision to insert Luuk De Jong into Sevilla’s starting line-up also proved to be critical, as the Dutch striker scored twice on headers in the first half.
The match started inauspiciously for the LaLiga club, however, when Diego Carlos committed a penalty for the third consecutive game of the Europa League’s knockout stage.
Lukaku, who drew the foul, also converted from the penalty spot moments later to give Inter a quick 1-0 lead in the fifth minute.
Sevilla were barely fazed by the early setback though, equalizing just seven minutes later when De Jong scored on a diving header off a cross from the right from Jesus Navas.
Both sides then continued to seek out chances, with Diego Carlos coming close to being called for a fourth penalty in three games before being let off the hook by VAR in the 17th minute.
Sevilla, meanwhile, looked to leverage their possession edge in the latter part of the half and managed to do so in the 33rd minute on another header by De Jong, who this time received a pass from Ever Banega on a set play and lofted a header across the face of the goal past Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic to give his team its first lead of the contest.
Not to be outdone, Inter Milan showed their ability in the air just two minutes later when Diego Godin received a free kick off the foot of Marcelo Brozovic and equalized on a header while surrounded by a group of four Sevilla defenders.
That proved to be the last goal of the first half, although Lucas Ocampos came close to notching Sevilla’s third on yet another header that Handanovic managed to save.
The end-to-end action continued after the break, with Diego Carlos doing well to block an attempt from the edge of the area by Inter Milan’s Roberto Gagliardini in the 51st minute and Sevilla’s Sergio Reguilon slamming a shot at the side netting in minute 57.
Then Sevilla goalkeeper Bono, who had been the hero for the Andalusian side in the semifinals against Manchester United, made his presence felt in the 65th minute by making a leg save to deny Lukaku in a one-on-one opportunity.
With so many chances being created, it seemed unlikely the score would remain knotted at 2-2 until the end of regulation; as it turned out just a little bit of luck was needed for one final goal, which came in the 74th minute.
On that play, an Inter Milan defender sent the ball high up in the air in his attempt to clear a free kick out of his area.
Waiting underneath was Diego Costa, who attempted a bicycle kick that looked as though it would travel just wide of the far post but instead ricocheted off Lukaku’s foot and into the back of the net.
Inter Milan still had more than 20 minutes to score the equalizer, including injury time, but their best chance came and went when a shot by substitute Alexis Sanchez was cleared off the line by Jules Kounde in the 82nd minute.
With their sixth title in Europe’s secondary club competition, Sevilla now have three more than any other team and remain undefeated in the championship match.
Inter Milan, who are among a group of four teams with three titles, finished runner-up for the second time in the Europa League (1997).
Julen Lopetegui, who was fired as manager of Spain’s national team on the eve of the last World Cup after agreeing to take the helm of Real Madrid, where he fared poorly in a brief stint as the Blancos’ skipper in 2018, relished his first title as head coach.
Afterward, a teary-eyed Lopetegui dedicated the title to the team’s fans; Antonio Puerta, a Sevilla midfielder who died in 2007 three days after suffering cardiac arrest during a game; and Jose Antonio Reyes, a former Sevilla winger who died in a car crash last year at age 35.