LIVERPOOL: Liverpool stands in the way of a third straight Europa League title for Sevilla after the clubs with a rich pedigree in Europe’s second-tier competition reached the final on Thursday. Sevilla beat Shakhtar Donetsk 3-1 at home to advance 5-3 on aggregate and maintain its impressive recent history in the competition. The Spanish club is looking to win the UEFA Cup/Europa League for a record-extending fifth time in the past 11 years.
Liverpool, a three-time winner, overturned a first-leg deficit against Villarreal by winning 3-0 at Anfield to go through 3-1 on aggregate. Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana scored second-half goals to add to a seventh-minute own goal by Bruno Soriano. Liverpool has beaten Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund, and now Spain’s fourth-best club in the knockout stages on a grueling path to the final, which is in Basel, Switzerland, on May 18.
“Wonderful night, brilliant game from my side. What a performance,” said Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp, who cupped his ear toward the team’s jubilant fans and punched the air wildly as he stood in the center circle after the final whistle.
The charismatic Klopp has guided Liverpool into its first European final in nine years, keeping alive the club’s chances of playing in the Champions League next season.
The winner of the Europa League qualifies for Europe’s elite competition. Sevilla is seventh in the Spanish league but continues to show a different side in the Europa League. Kevin Gameiro took his competition tally this season to seven goals by scoring early in each half at Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium, either side of Eduardo’s goal for Shakhtar. Right back Mariano Ferreira smashed in a brilliant third for Sevilla from outside the area, his first goal for the club.
Spanish dominance ends
Spanish teams have dominated European competition this season – Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid will face off in the Champions League final this month – but there will be no all-Spanish final in the Europa League after Liverpool’s comeback against Villarreal.
Anfield was hosting its first match since a jury at an inquest absolved the club’s fans of blame in the 1989 Hillsborough Stadium disaster, in which 96 Liverpool supporters were killed in a crush. It was an emotional evening, with a choir singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” before kickoff while a mosaic bearing “96 The Greatest Family” was held up.
Anfield was in full voice, and both the occasion and Liverpool’s ferocious work rate appeared too much for Villarreal, which looked rattled early and lost its aggregate lead when Roberto Firmino sent the ball across the face of the six-yard box, Sturridge swiped at thin air, and the unfortunate Soriano deflected it into his own net. Sturridge put Liverpool 2-0 ahead in the 63rd when a mis-hit shot by Firmino landed in the striker’s path inside the area.
Sturridge’s shot went between goalkeeper Alphonse Areola’s legs, struck the post, and crept across and over the line. Villarreal defender Victor Ruiz was sent off for collecting a second yellow card for a foul on Lallana, who ensured there would be no late tension by scoring from close range in the 81st, turning in Sturridge’s weak effort. Villarreal coach Marcelino said his team “came up against a top side on top form” on another special European night at Anfield. However, he said he felt Liverpool’s intensity and pressing was “maybe on the margins of the rules.” Klopp was delighted to return Liverpool, a five-time European champion, back to a continental final. “There are lots of teams who want to go to finals. It’s not too easy,” Klopp said. “So now we are there and it’s a great opportunity and we will take it.” — A