Going into their Europa League semi-final second leg match against Napoli, Dnipro knew that a win last night of any kind would see them through to the final. It was a tough ask for Dnipro – a side who have never been to a European final before – to beat over two legs a Napoli side, on a 10-match unbeaten run in the competition, coached by a Spanish manager with years of European experience and success. But, spurred on by their vocal home crowd, the Ukrainian team managed to edge past Napoli and seal their place in the Europa League Final thanks to a Seleznyov header. The Dnipro fans went wild, which was unsurprising given that the fans have never seen their team advance to the last stage of any European competition ever. Though they will no doubt be the underdogs going into the match, they will be surely be high in confidence, with a rare chance to create history for the club and their fans.
In their first ever European final, Dnipro will meet Sevilla, a side who are anything but a rookie in this competition. Dnipro’s Europa League story is in stark contrast to that of Sevilla. The Spanish club emphatically defeated Fiorentina 2-0 to stride confidently into the Final on the 27 May, and will be looking to win their fourth UEFA Cup in just nine years. It is an incredible record, and even if they don’t win the Final later this month, their consistency is a testament to their dedication and commitment to the requirements of the competition (requirements so often dismissed by other clubs). Sevilla’s record is a stellar example of what a team can achieve when it takes Europe’s ‘throwaway’ competition seriously, and their league position of 6th shows that the Europa League isn’t something to shirk, whether from fear of fatigue or, worse, indifference.
The Europa League Final this year will be a coming together of two sides from totally difference ends of the historical spectrum. Dnipro, the competition’s rookie finalists, against Sevilla, the kings of Europe’s second tier. This time, though, there’ll be even more on the line as, for the first time in its history, the winner of this year’s Europa League Final will earn a place in next year’s Champions League. Two stories make up this Final, but only one will get to enjoy their ending.