Sevilla won the Europa League for a record seventh time after beating Roma in a tense penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw.
Despite all the question marks over his approach to management, few can doubt the Portuguese manager’s ability to deliver silverware and extended cup runs. His first European title was two decades ago and his performance in cup competitions remains comparable to the current elite coaches.
A year ago, Mourinho masterminded Roma’s first European trophy in over 60 years as they won last season’s Conference League in his first campaign in Rome. He fell agonisingly short of going one better this year, missing out on qualification for next season’s Champions League in the process.
Sevilla are the record competition winners, having won the trophy six times – all since 2006. Every time they had reached the quarter-finals, they had gone on to win the trophy. They have more belief and motivation in this competition than any other club, so much so that it has become their identity.
The build-up to the game was focused on the fitness of Dybala, Roma’s star player.
“Tomorrow for 20-30 minutes he will make it,” Mourinho lamented ahead of the game. The Argentine forward played 68 minutes and his strike gave Roma their lead.
That was Mourinho dictating the narrative. Playing the occasion on his terms. The same was true of his celebration to Dybala’s goal; as the Roma bench went wild in celebrations, Mourinho remained composed and deliberately non-emotional. He wanted to ensure this was no defining moment, keeping the focus on him rather than his players.
Nine years ago, when Chelsea ruined Liverpool’s Premier League title hopes at Anfield, Mourinho had turned up to the game unshaven and somewhat shoddily dressed in a tracksuit. He was putting across the message that the game was not important nor definitive for his Chelsea side, who pulled off a shock two-goal victory with a performance of extreme dogmatism.
Nobody should be surprised by Mourinho’s approach. In the semi-final, Roma – 1-0 up from the first leg – frustrated Bayer Leverkusen in the return game in Germany. The Italian side had just one shot, not on target, throughout the match compared to the Bundesliga outfit’s 29 efforts while Roma had a meagre 28 percent of possession.
Against Sevilla, Dybala opened the scoring ten minutes before the break. Ivan Rakitic, whose cries of a foul were optimistic, was robbed too easily of the ball in the middle of the pitch and Mancini provided the weighted ball into the Argentine, whose left-footed effort crept past Sevilla goalkeeper Bono.
It was the just rewards for a game that the Italian side had dominated until that point, with their power and prowess in midfield stifling Sevilla. Mourinho’s side had already passed up several opportunities to open the scoring, including Leonardo Spinazzola’s effort from inside the area being palmed away to safety.
Yet as is so often the case with Mourinho’s teams, the mood in the game so often flicks when his side hit the front. Having enjoyed the lion’s share of both possession and territory, suddenly Roma were standing off their opponents and were no longer first to tackles.
Sevilla began to implement their game plan, with a focus on getting the ball wide and bombarding crosses into the box. Just before the break, Roma were handed a warning as Ivan Rakitic’s long range effort rattled the post.
The Spanish side bossed the early stages of the second half and within ten minutes they were level. A cross from the ever-present Jesus Navas deflected off Mancini and into his own net – a moment that woke Roma from their slumber and set up a fascinating final third of the tie.
Roma thought they had retaken the lead midway through the half when Tammy Abraham met an inswinging free-kick but Bono blocked his effort from point-blank range. Drama followed at the other end, as referee Anthony Taylor, at the behest of VAR advice, overturned his decision to award Sevilla a penalty after Lucas Ocampos went down under a challenge inside the area.
The game went to extra-time and was poised on a knife-edge, with nothing to separate the sides. The extra 30 minutes was largely a non-event however, as both sides were focused on not losing, rather than winning, setting up the dramatic penalty shootout.
And as he did in the final of the World Cup back in December, Gonzalo Montiel had the last word, slamming his retaken spot-kick into the net to put the Spaniards into seventh heaven.