Sevilla made European football history Wednesday by becoming the first club to win the continent’s second-tier competition four times.
Colombia striker Carlos Bacca scored twice to secure a 3-2 victory over Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk in the Europa League final in Warsaw, which ended in concern for the Ukraine side’s Brazilian forward Matheus – who was stretchered off after collapsing late in the match.
The Spanish side’s fans came to a respectful hush when the stretcher-bearers carried off Matheus, who had earlier suffered a clash of heads in an aerial duel and sometime later fell to the turf for no apparent reason.
Two Belgian players have died this season after cardiac arrests during games, and Sevilla knows all too well such tragedy after Antonio Puerta died after collapsing during a game in 2007.
Thankfully Matheus appeared to have regained consciousness as he was carried off with a visibly bloody nose, though his condition has yet to be confirmed. Some reports, not verified by CNN, said he had been taken to hospital with a broken nose.
Matheus had set up the opening goal for Nikola Kalinic in the seventh minute as underdog Dnipro took a surprise lead in its first European final.
Sevilla, which beat Benfica in last season’s final after a penalty shootout, hit back with two quick goals.
Poland midfielder Gregorz Krychowiak delighted the home fans when he drove home a low shot in the 28th minute after Dnipro failed to clear a short corner.
Bacca then beat the offside trap to collect a delightful through pass by Jose Antonio Reyes and round goalkeeper Denys Boyko before slotting in from a tight angle.
Dnipro captain Ruslan Rotan leveled the score just before halftime as he quickly took a free-kick which curled over the wall and beat stranded goalkeeper Sergio Rico at the near post.
Bacca put Sevilla back in front in the 73rd minute with a low left-foot drive after being sent clear in the penalty area by Vitolo’s clever flicked pass.
He was then denied his 29th goal this season as Boyko blocked a header which would have made the forward the tournament’s joint-top scorer on eight.
The victory earned Sevilla a place in next season’s Champions League group stage, and a place in the history books after surpassing the three wins of Juventus, Liverpool and Inter Milan in a competition formerly known as the UEFA Cup.
“This is a very special moment, we must enjoy it fully. I thank the fans and city,” coach Unai Emery told reporters.
“We’ve enjoyed every single moment of this. Football can be beautiful. My heartfelt congratulations to Dnipro, who had a great tournament.”
Sevilla, which also won the Europa League in consecutive years in 2006-07, has set up Spain for another European double.
Last year Real Madrid won the Champions League, and on June 6 Barcelona will take on Juventus in this season’s final in Berlin.
Sevilla had initially missed out on a place in the 2015-16 Champions League after finishing fifth in Spain’s La Liga, but has been rewarded for its 15-game run in the Europa League as the rules were changed for this campaign to give more incentive to the eventual victor.
“They were more experienced, and I think that showed. But we tried to play our best game,” Dnipro coach Myron Markevych told reporters.
“Unfortunately today we allowed Bacca the chance to be aggressive. We made a lot of mistakes in defense. We gave them the third goal. We should have cleared the ball but didn’t.”
Dnipro played 18 games to get into the final, having dropped down a level after being beaten in the Champions League’s third qualifying round.
Its achievement in reaching the final was considerable, given that the team has had to play its home games in Kiev due to the ongoing problems in Ukraine.
Dnipro can still qualify for next season’s Champions League, but must make up a two-point deficit on second-placed Shakhtar Donetsk in the final round of its domestic competition, which has been hit by the absence of Crimean clubs since the peninsula’s annexation by Russia.