It's the final of the Europa League this week, between two sides that deserve a great deal of respect for the effort they have put into the tournament. Dnipro of Ukraine take on Spain's Sevilla in Warsaw on Wednesday, knowing that, for the first time, the prize, the UEFA Cup, has positive repercussions into next season too.
Since qualifying for the knockout stages, both Sevilla and Dnipro have had difficult routes to the final; both are deserving of their place. What makes this final even more interesting is the disregard many in England have for the Europa League. Routinely, with the exception of Everton manager Roberto Martinez, English teams have sent out weakened sides for the secondary European competition. The thinking was that domestic league position is more important than European success.
Sevilla, in particular, are a sign that this does not need to be true. In Spain, La Liga is dominated by a triumvirate of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, but Sevilla have made the Europa League their own, winning the trophy three times. Should they win on Wednesday, they would become the first side to win four times. Their route to the final involved victories over Germany's high-flying Borussia Mönchengladbach, Villarreal, the well-funded Zenit St. Petersburg managed by former winning Europa League-winning manager Andre Villas-Boas, and hard-to-beat Italian side Fiorentina.
Sevilla's domestic form also remained strong this season, in spite of the departure of the likes of Ivan Rakitic to Barcelona and Alberto Moreno to Liverpool. Gerard Deulofeu and Kevin Gameiro, along with Carlos Bacca, have had good seasons for Sevilla.
Fifth place would have qualified the side for Europe again next season, but Sevilla have a bigger prize on their mind. Should they, or Dnipro, win, as mentioned, they will gain entry to the Champions League next season, which financially could make a major difference to either of these clubs, allowing the signing of new players and possibly a domestic title challenge.
Although they enter the final as significant underdogs, Dnipro will be pushing hard for that Champions League prize, having never competed in a European final before now. The traditional powerhouse in Ukraine was Dynamo Kyiv during the Soviet era and then again in the 1990s with the likes of Sergey Rebrov and Andriy Shevchenko in their team; Shakhtar Donetsk then took the mantle, winning the UEFA Cup in 2008-09.
Dnipro finished third, 12 points behind Dynamo Kyiv, in the Ukrainian Premier League, but will head into the final with a great deal of hope. Their squad is international in flavor, with two Brazilians, a Portuguese and a Selegalese player, although the bedrock of the side is Ukrainian. Yevhen Konoplyanka is the star turn, a 25 year-old left winger who has attracted interest from the likes of Liverpool before now. Given the upheaval in Ukraine, which has put football in perspective, it would be seen by many as uplifting if Dnipro could claim a surprise victory in Warsaw.
To get to the final , Dnipro have beaten some major powers in European football. Napoli and Ajax, both well-funded teams from traditional footballing power-bases, would have hoped to beat the Ukrainian side, but were thwarted by a little flair mixed with excellent teamwork.
Sevilla have the stronger side, and have the European pedigree. However this is a cup final, and in a one-off setting, anything can happen. Although it would be a great story if Dnipro won, we still give this to Sevilla, by a narrow margin. European finals tend to be cagey affairs, with both sides not wishing to make a mistake; we anticipate that the result will be settled by only a single goal.
12/5 with Ladbrokes for Sevilla to win by one goal.
17/5 with Unibet for a half-time/full-time result of Draw/Sevilla.
5/2 with bwin for Gerard Deulofeu to score anytime.
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