Europa League thoroughbreds Sevilla reached yet another final as substitute Luuk de Jong struck in the 78th minute to earn them a gritty 2-1 victory over Manchester United on Sunday. United, already beaten in two domestic semi-finals this season, looked on course to make it third time lucky when Bruno Fernandes scored from the penalty spot in the ninth minute.
But former Liverpool player Suso levelled in the 26th minute, and the Spaniards showed all their European know-how to weather a United storm on a humid night in Cologne.
Inspired goalkeeper Yassine Bono came to Sevilla’s rescue on several occasions, and when United’s energy levels dipped, De Jong stole in to snatch victory.
Sevilla will meet either Inter Milan or Shakhtar Donetsk in the final in Cologne on Friday, when they will be going for their sixth title in the competition since 2006.
“I feel like I’ve been hugged by joy. We know what this side has been through, today included, and we’ve got such a resilience against such intensity,” said Sevilla coach Julen Lopetegui, whose side are now unbeaten in 20 games in all competitions.
While Sevilla have a chance to restore Spanish pride after Barcelona’s horror show in the Champions League quarter-finals on Friday, United’s defeat underlined a poor European season for English clubs, who provided all four finalists in last season’s Europa and Champions League competitions.
United were the only English club to reach a continental semi-final this season after Manchester City were dumped out of the Champions League by Lyon on Saturday.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side may ask themselves how they allowed this one to slip through their fingers though.
“The keeper’s had a fantastic game. Of course it’s disappointing that we don’t score. We know we have players who have the quality to score, but that’s the game,” Solskjaer said.
“You could see how tired they were towards the end. Tired legs, tired minds.”
United made a dream start when Diego Carlos brought down Marcus Rashford in the area just after the striker fired across goal. The referee belatedly pointed to the spot, handing United their 22nd penalty of the season in all competitions, and Bruno Fernandes, who almost turned in Rashford’s shot, smashed his spot kick past Bono.
Fred had a chance to make it 2-0 for United on the counter-attack but in a wildly open first half, Sevilla levelled when Suso swept in Sergio Reguilon’s low cross.
United should have led by halftime with Anthony Martial side-footing a great chance over the bar, Rashford stinging the palms of Bono, and Fernandes’s improvised volley forcing another fine save from the Moroccan.
Bono made another instinctive stop from Mason Greenwood just after halftime as United laid siege to the Sevilla goal.
Martial was also denied by Bono as Sevilla’s goal led a charmed life, but they battened down the hatches and regained a foothold as United’s intensity inevitably waned.
United had 20 attempts at goal compared with Sevilla’s nine, but all the spurned gilt-edged chances came back to bite them as their hopes of a first trophy since winning the Europa League under Jose Mourinho three years ago evaporated.
To make matters worse it was former Manchester City player Jesus Navas’s cross from the right that caught Victor Lindelof and Aaron Wan-Bissaka sleeping and De Jong drifted in behind the pair of them to slot home.
United’s frustration was such that Lindelof and Fernandes had a heated row.
“I think it’s normal (to be frustrated) when you concede a goal in the last 10 minutes. What happened between me and Victor was nothing,” Fernandes said afterwards.