By Toby Davis
The road to Europa League success is renowned for being one of football’s greatest slogs, making it all the more impressive that holders Sevilla stand on the brink of lifting the trophy for a record fourth time in the last nine years.
The roll of honour for Europe’s second tier competition is headed by some illustrious clubs, yet victory over Ukrainian outsiders Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk in Wednesday’s final will allow Sevilla to edge ahead of Inter Milan, Juventus and Liverpool.
Unsurprisingly, Sevilla, whose first two successes in 2006 and 2007 came in the competition’s former guise as the UEFA Cup, will start the showpiece in Warsaw as clear favourites.
They are facing a club who are playing their first European final and are without silverware of any variety since 1989.
Sevilla are, in footballing terms, everything that Dnipro are not – an exciting, high-scoring outfit who have eased through to the final in style, winning 10 of their 14 matches, losing only once and scoring a competition high 26 goals in the process.
Dnipro, befitting a team whose historic roots lie in Soviet era industry, are rugged, hard-working and well-organised, but far from easy on the eye.
They have scrapped their way through to the final, winning respect but few admirers, having claimed only six wins since the start of the group stage, losing four times and scoring 13 goals, less than one a game.
They have, however, proved masters of a format that seems perfectly designed to test will and stamina of all who take part, having begun their campaign with a qualifying playoff back in August.
It probably seemed unthinkable they would reach the final when they picked up only one point in their first three group games, including a 1-0 defeat to Azerbaijani minnows Qarabag.
But they are nothing if not resilient, which is to be expected from a team who have had to overcome the disadvantage of staging home games in Kiev due to Dnipropetrovsk’s proximity to the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Coach Myron Markevych, who took over from Juande Ramos in May last year, has crafted a tactically astute side, who get results when it really matters, including a 2-1 aggregate win over a heavily fancied Napoli in the semi-finals.
They will need to be just as resilient if they are to shock Sevilla, who unlike some clubs from Europe’s bigger leagues, take this competition, which now offers a Champions League place to the winners, very seriously.
“It means something,” Emery told UEFA.com
“The team want the fans to feel the vibrations that this competition gives us. We’ve achieved something that makes us bigger, it gives us prestige, it gives us a place in history and recognition in Europe for our hard work.”