Portugal Soccer

Europa League final, preview: What to know about Benfica and Sevilla

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Benfica’s already had its redemption, having claimed the Portuguese league title, but Wednesday gives the Eagles a chance to put last spring even farther in the past. Not only will the mere chronology of the next 24 hours help, but there’s the potential to slay demons from last year’s Europa League final – a loss that came in the middle of a 16-day stretch that cost Benfica  league, Europa, and Portuguese Cup titles.

Defeat Sevilla in Wednesday’s Europa League final, and last year’s loss to Chelsea gets put in a different perspective. Instead of being part of a failed spring and a list of second place finishes on the European stage, the result looks like a springboard for this year’s success. The disappointments of 2013 will have fueled the successes of 2014.

For the Rojiblancos, it’s a chance to claim the competition for the third time (UEFA Cup wins in 2006, 2007). It’s a chance to earn the team’s first trophy since 2010. It’s a chance for manager Unai Emery move on from his failures at Spartak Moscow, and it’s a chance for a team that used to compete for Champions League spots to grasp some glory in these now, more austere times.

Kickoff for Turin is at 2:45 p.m. Eastern, when Benfica returns to the site of its semifinal triumph hoping to claim its season’s second title.

How they got here: After falling out Champions League (something teams won’t be allowed to do next season), Benfica beat PAOK (Greece), Tottenham (England), AZ (Netherlands) and Juventus (Italy) on its way to the final.

Sevilla, who only qualified because Rayo Vallecano and Malaga were excluded from Europe, defeated Maribor (Slovenia), rival Real Betis (Spain), Porto (Portugal) and Valencia (Spain) after going undefeated in group play.

Who to watch for: For Benfica, former Sporting Braga striker Lima leads the way with four goals in knockout round play, though he’s only made two starts. Former Bolton attacker Rodrigo has scored three times, while Paraguayan forward Oscar Cardozo remains a threat, though he hasn’t scored in a month.

Emery’s dangermen are former PSG attacker Kevin Gameiro and Colombian World Cup hopeful Carlos Bacca have combined for nine goals in the competition, though Stephane Mbia’s stoppage time score against Valencia in the semifinals is Sevilla’s most memorable strike of the tournament.

Other players to know: Benfica’s defense features former Brazilian international Luisao along with Uruguyan fullback Maxi Pereira and Argentina center back Ezequiel Garay, both of whom you will see this summer. Ruben Amorim and Andre Gomes will hold down the midfield, with Nicolas Gaitan running wide of Cardozo up top.

For Sevilla, the attacking midfield of Diego Reyes, Ivan Rakitic, and Diego Perotti in support of Bacca present that danger. Mbia will destroy in midfield, while Argentinine Federico Fazio will lead the defense.

Forecast: Having knockout out Juventus, Benfica’s established themselves as favorites. We’ll see if the lessons of 2013 can be applied in 2014.


Klopp to the Kop: Multiple reports say deal agreed at Liverpool

TURIN, ITALY - FEBRUARY 24:  Borussia Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp shouts to his players during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 match between Juventus and Borussia Dortmund at Juventus Arena on February 24, 2015 in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)
Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

Jurgen Klopp is on his way to Liverpool to sign a contract naming him the next coach of the Reds.

The celebrated manager, 48, has been on “hiatus” from football since leaving Borussia Dortmund last season.

[ MORE: Messi to stand trial in Spain ]

Reports starting emerging earlier today that an agreement was imminent, and now the BBC is among those reporting that Klopp will be rolled out Friday morning.

From the BBC:

No contract has yet been signed but that is viewed as a formality when Klopp arrives in Liverpool later on Thursday. He will be officially unveiled by Liverpool on Friday morning at 10:00 BST.

There’s not much to say besides this: Klopp’s addition to the Premier League will give more color and brilliance to the country’s footballing scene. Only a certain class of manager can be instantly expected to find a better system for an inherited group of players.

This could and should be a game changer on Merseyside.

Appeal rejected! Lionel Messi will face court trial in Spain

VIGO, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 23:  Lionel Messi looks dejected after the La Liga match between Celta Vigo and FC Barcelona at Estadio Balaidos on September 23, 2015 in Vigo, Spain.  (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
Alex Caparros/Getty Images
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It was a mere 48 hours ago that Lionel Messi looked close to in the clear when it came to tax evasion charges.

Now the question is whether a Spanish court will lock away the greatest active footballer, as a judge rejected the prosecutors’ (!!!) request to drop the charges.

[ WATCH: Hilarious spoof pegs Messi, Ronaldo as “Friends” ]

Messi and his father have already made a $5.5 million corrective payment, but there’s principle in play here. And the judge wants to know how Messi can claim he had no idea what was being done with his money.

From the BBC:

Lawyers acting on behalf of the tax authorities demanded 22-month jail sentences for both defendants.

“There are rational signs that the criminality was committed by both accused parties,” wrote the judge in a court filing, according to the AFP news agency.

Can you imagine one of the world’s richer men ending up in a Spanish prison? It’s very difficult to consider. In some ways it’s more plausible that he would buy his own island and start the “Messi Isle Premiership”.

Still, we won’t laugh off the idea, especially with FIFA apparently going down. Messi in prison. That’s something. Sepp in Switzerland. Lionel in Spain.