Sevilla defeat Dnipro, 3-2, to win back-to-back Europa League titles, Champions League place

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Who says players don’t care about the UEFA Europa League (once they reach the quarterfinals or round of 16)? Who says that Cup final are always/have to be cagey, boring affairs?

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Sevilla, the 2013-14 Europa League winners, narrowly defeated a courageous Dnipro (Ukraine) side full of fight, 3-2, at the Stadion Narodowy in Warsaw, Poland, to win back-to-back Europa League titles, and this this, book a place in next year’s UEFA Champions League.

Dnipro, thought to be significant underdogs ahead of kickoff, opened the scoring before the clock read seven minutes. Matheus got down the right side of Sevilla’s penalty area and crossed to the back post, where Nikola Kalinic was waiting. Kalinic headed the ball downward and beat Sergio Rico to make the score 1-0.

The lead lasted barely 20 minutes, though, as Grzegorz Krychowiak equalized in the 28th minute. Carlos Bacca, Sevilla’s leading scorer this season, received a cross near the penalty spot, where he controlled and laid the ball off to the Polish midfielder, whose right-footed shot rolled past goalkeeper Denys Boyko and found the back of the net.

[ MORE: UEFA announces 2015-16 Champions League’s top seeds ]

Bacca got himself on the scoresheet three minutes later, when the Colombian was fed through by Reyes, rounded Boyko and slotted home from a tight, right angle. For Bacca, it was his 28th goal of the season in all competitions. 2-1, Sevilla.

The lead was relatively short-lived for Sevilla, though, as Dnipro hit back and equalized a minute before halftime. Ruslan Rotan curled a stunning free kick under Rico’s crossbar to equalize in the 44th minute, beating the wall and the ‘keeper.

With both sides realizing their European run was just 45 minutes from coming to a tearful end, and that one mistake could undo eight months of Europa League endeavors, the second half got off to a decidedly slower, less exciting start. For 28 minutes, Sevilla and Dnipro played to a stalemate.

[ TOP 5: Storylines ahead of Barcelona vs. Juventus Champions Legue final ]

Then came the 73rd minutes, Bacca’s time to shine once again. Vitolo played Bacca a splitting through ball into Dnipro’s box, Bacca raced to get on the end of it and delivered the pinpoint, left-footed, first-time strike from 10 yards out (above video). Boyko had no chance to get down and cover his far post, and Sevilla had the lead again, 3-2.

Bacca nearly doubled Sevilla’s lead in the 79th minute, when Stephane Mbia’s cross found Bacca at the top of the six-yard box. Bacca headed the ball downward, but the onrushing Boyko made the flailing save with the inside of his right arm from point-blank range.

With their latest Europa League triumph, Sevilla become the first side to win UEFA’s second-tier continental competition in consecutive seasons since…Sevilla themselves did it in 2006 and 2007.

Europa League final set: Defending champs Sevilla to face Dnipro in Warsaw

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The 2014-15 UEFA Europa League final is set. Sevilla, the defending Europa League champions, will face Dnipro in Warsaw, Poland on Wednesday, May 27. Coincidentally, Sevilla happen to be the last side to win Europe’s second-tier tournament, then known as the UEFA Cup, in back to back season year (2006 and 2007)

Fiorentina 0-2 (0-5 agg.) Sevilla

The defending champs put this tie to bed very early in the second leg, grabbing a 22nd-minute goal through Carlos Bacca, forcing Fiorentina to score no less than five goals in order to advance, thanks to the away-goals tiebreaker. Daniel Carrico added a second goal five minutes later, forcing Fiorentina to score no fewer than six goals to advance.

Josip Ililcic missed a penalty in the 67th minute, Fiorentina’s best chance to snatch a consolation goal, by blasting the ball over the crossbar.

Dnipro 1-0 (2-1 agg.) Napoli

Ahead of the semifinal draw, there three teams desperate to face Dnipro, the perceived “weakest” competitor remaining. Not so fast, because the Ukrainian side is heading to the final after knocking of Rafa Benitez’s Napoli.

Despite holding just 36 percent of the game’s possession, Dnipro managed to create 10 chances in the game and put an efficient seven shots on target. Napoli, who created 18 chances (6 on target) just couldn’t find a way through Dnipro’s well-organized, disciplined defense. Evgen Seleznyov, the scorer of Dnipro’s goal in the first leg, scored the second leg’s only goal, heading home from close range Yevhen Konoplyanka’s cross in the 58th minute.

UEFA Europa League preview: Sevilla 3-0 Fiorentina, Napoli 1-1 Dnipro ahead of Leg 2

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It’s put-up-or-shut-up time for the four remaining teams in the UEFA Europa League. Sevilla, Fiorentina, Napoli and Dnipro all have a mere 90 minute (perhaps 120, and penalty kicks) to make their case for a place in the 2014-15 Europa League final.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s CL coverage | UEL ]

Fiorentina 0-3 Sevilla

Aleix Vidal scored a first-leg brace and Kevin Gameiro completed the rout to give the defending champions, Sevilla, a comfortable 3-0 halftime lead. Most importantly of all, the conceded no away goals in their home leg, meaning a single goal on Thursday and Fiorentina can advance with no less than five goals of their own.

Unai Emery’s side looks destined to return to the Europa League final and defend last year’s crown. The question is: with the second semifinal much closer, who will they face?

[CL RECAPS: Bayern Munich 3-2 (3-5 agg.) Barcelona | Real Madrid 1-1 (2-3 agg.) Juventus ]

Dnipro 1-1 Napoli

Rafa Benitez’s Napoli looked set to carry over an already-disappointing 1-0 result from the first leg, when Evgen Seleznyov equalized with 10 minutes still to play, making the Italian-Ukrainian semifinal exceedingly interesting. David Lopez score Napoli’s only goal of the first leg, heading home a cross from close range.

This year’s final will be played on May 27 in Warsaw, Poland.

Europa League semifinal roundup: Defending champs Sevilla halfway home; Napoli in trouble?

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With the UEFA Champions League hogging all the attention these days — with good reason — it would be pretty easy to forget about the Europa League, Europe’s second-tier continental competition.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s CL coverage | UEL ]

The Europa League’s semifinal round kicked off on Thursday, and here’s how things stand after the first legs.

Sevilla 3-0 Fiorentina

The defending champions are taking the challenging of defending their Europa League title ever so seriously, while also maintaining a top-four challenge in La Liga in order to cover all their bases for qualification into next year’s Champions League (beginning this year, the winner of the EL qualifies for the following year’s CL).

Sevilla took an early lead through Aleix Vidal’s 17th-minute strike, which capped off an intricate, well-worked bit of passing down the left wing. Carlos Bacca laid the ball back to Vidal at the top of penalty area, where the 25-year-old Spaniard uncorked low blast to the far post and wrong-foot Fiorentina goalkeeper Neto.

[ CL RECAPS: Barcelona 3-0 Bayern Munich | Juventus 2-1 Real Madrid ]

Vidal doubled his tally in the 52nd minute, bagging just his fifth goal of the season, to finish an incisive counter attack down the right side of attack. Vitolo provided the through ball that put Vidal into the penalty area all by his lonesome, and once Neto cheated early to protect his far post, the finish was straightforward for Vidal, who slid the ball near post and into the back of the net.

Vidal nearly completed his hat trick in the 75th minute, turning a cross from Benoit Tremoulinas toward to far post, but with the ball destined to sail wide of the goal, Kevin Gameiro, into the game mere seconds beforehand, redirected a tap-in shot past an outstretched Neto to make the score 3-0.

Rafa Benitez, SSC Napoli

Napoli 1-1 Dnipro

In Naples, Napoli, massive favorites ahead of the first leg, hold no lead over Ukrainian side Dnipro.

David Lopez headed home Lorenzo Insigne’s cross in the 50th minute to give Napoli a 1-0 lead just after halftime. The goal was the first of the season for Lopez, a defensive midfielder by trade. Dnipro equalized in the 80th minute, when Evgen Seleznyov knocked home Artem Fedetskiy’s cross from close range. With the second leg to be played in Ukraine, Dnipro might just be favorites to go through.

Second legs of each semifinal will be played next Thursday with two places in the Europa League final, to be played in Warsaw, Poland, on the line.

Europa League preview: Sevilla vs. Fiorentina, Napoli vs. Dnipro in semifinal, 1st legs

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As if the last two afternoons (for us North Americans, at least) haven’t been entertaining and exciting enough with the first leg of UEFA Champions League semifinals being played, Thursday offers little downtime and even more final-four soccer, as the Europa League kicks off its semifinal round.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s EL coverage ]

In semifinal first leg No. 1, defending champions Sevilla will play hosts to Fiorentina, easily one of this year’s tournament’s most impressive, darling sides. Fiorentina knocked off Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur (3-1 on aggregate) in the round of 32, fellow Serie A side Roma (4-1 agg.) in the round of 16 and Dynamo Kyiv (3-1 agg.) in the quarterfinals to reach Thursday’s semifinal.

Sevilla defeated Bundesliga side Borussia Monchengladbach (4-2 agg.) in the round of 32, thumped fellow La Liga side Villarreal (5-2 agg.) in the round of 16 and slipped by Russian side Zenit St. Petersburg (4-3 agg.) in the quarters. Colombian striker Carlos Bacca (above right, No. 9) leads Sevilla with four Europa League goals, while Peruvian midfielder Juan Vargas’s three goals are tops for Fiorentina.

[ UCL RECAPS: Barcelona 3-0 Bayern Munich | Juventus 2-1 Real Madrid ]

Meanwhile in Naples, Napoli will host Ukrainian Premier League side Dnipro at the Stadio San Paolo. In reaching the semifinal round, Napoli brushed aside Turkish side Trabzonspor (5-0 agg.), knocked off Dinamo Moscow (3-1 agg.) and hammered second-placed Bundesliga side Wolfsburg (6-3 agg.), thanks to the goalscoring contributions of Gonzalo Higuain (7), and and the trio of Jonathan de Guzman, Marek Hamsik and Dries Mertens (4 goals each).

Dnipro topped Olympiacos (4-2 agg.) in the round of 32, advanced past Ajax (2-2 agg. on away goals) in the round of 16 and slipped past Belgian side Club Brugges in the quarterfinals.