Spain did it again, Sevilla did it again and Liverpool could do little to turn the tide as a Europa League title slipped away on Wednesday.
Sevilla’s thrilling second-half comeback in a 3-1 win ensured the club’s third straight Europa League title, and a fifth in 11 seasons.
It also ensured Spain will sweep Europe’s club competitions for a third straight year, ahead of the Atletico Madrid-Real Madrid final of the Champions League on May 28.
It was fitting that Spain’s former King Juan Carlos stood beside the Spanish soccer federation president, Angel Maria Villar, who presented the trophy as UEFA’s senior vice president to Sevilla captain and two-goal standout Coke.
‘Maybe we are not the ones who should say it,’ Sevilla coach Unai Emery said when asked to explain Spanish dominance of European club soccer. ‘Maybe others should analyze what we do.’
‘I have my own theory,’ Emery added. ‘We really compete and we have been able to win against teams that were better than us.’
Liverpool certainly was better in the first half at rain-swept St. Jakob Park, tearing at the two-time defending title-holder in a strong end to the first half.
Still, the high-intensity pressing game demanded by Liverpool coach Juergen Klopp yielded one goal — Daniel Sturridge’s beautifully curled shot with the outside of his left foot in the 35th minute.
When Sevilla equalised less than 18 seconds after the restart, with Kevin Gameiro’s goal from close range, the tempo and flow of the game utterly changed. Coke struck with right-foot shots in the 64th and 70th minutes and Liverpool had little answer.
The ferocious spirit Liverpool showed at Anfield in overhauling Borussia Dortmund in the quarterfinals and Villarreal in the semifinals was strangely muted.
Defeat leaves Liverpool with no European football next season and potentially a tougher time to recruit players in Klopp’s first offseason at a storied club he joined just seven months ago.
It also dealt the charismatic German coach a fifth straight loss in a cup final, including the 2013 Champions League final when he was at Dortmund.
Klopp accepted he and his players reacted poorly after Sevilla’s fast start to the second half.
‘In this moment we lost faith in our style of play,’ he said. ‘We have 44 minutes to strike back, so where is the problem? The reaction was the problem.’
Victory lifted Sevilla back into the Champions League group stage with Europe’s elite next season.
‘Sevilla and its fans love this competition. We want it so much,’ Emery said. ‘Now we want to take the step toward the Champions League.’
Klopp suggested his side had no luck with potential handball and offside decisions that went against his team.
The third Sevilla goal was furiously disputed by Liverpool after an assistant signaled what at first seemed an apparent offside against Coke, then lowered his flag.
Still, that goal — and Gameiro’s earlier — exposed defensive errors by former Sevilla player Alberto Moreno on the left side of Liverpool’s defence.
Sevilla caught Liverpool cold after Moreno’s poor header gifted possession to Mariano Ferreira. The right-back then broke too easily through a Moreno tackle to pass the ball across the goalmouth for the unmarked Gameiro to score.
Coke soon struck a sweeping shot from the edge of the penalty area, after Vitolo played two return passes and broke through a tackle. Coke then exposed Moreno’s lack of attention by firing low into Mignolet’s goal.
Liverpool had led when its three forwards linked together for the first time. Brazilians Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho passed across the Sevilla defense to find Sturridge to step forward and strike a sweet shot.
Liverpool fans far outnumbered Sevilla supporters in the 35,000 crowd and fights broke out 30 minutes before kickoff in a poorly divided area behind one goal. Only then did a line of police and stewards stand between the two groups of fans.
Most Liverpool fans had long left the stadium when Sevilla players danced in the rain on the field with the silver trophy that was theirs yet again.