[Note: to read through the live match comments, click here]
Coming into this week and a crucial matchup with Real Sociedad, Sevilla had a lot of question marks. With old injuries, new injuries, and disciplinary suspensions, Sevilla had 12 first-team players in danger of missing the game. In addition, the mid-week collapse at Osasuna (which saw a 0-2 advantage become a 3-2 loss, with two goals conceded in the last 5 minutes) served to create their own doubts about the squad. Finally, Atletico and Athletic were both playing teams with nothing to play for while Sevilla’s opponent, Real Sociedad, desperately needed points, so our position was very tenuous indeed.
But thanks to some quicker-than-expected healing for several players and a revoked yellow card for Medel, our missing players list was much shorter than 12, and several key players were able to play. And whatever doubts the faithful may have had, the team began the match comfortably and confidently, pressing high up the pitch against a Sociedad side that seemed to be playing for the point that would save them from relegation. The first half, then, followed a fairly predictable script of Sevilla retaining possession in Sociedad’s half but struggling to score (despite a few good opportunities and a Negredo header that hit the crossbar), and the back four occasionally allowing Sociedad a dangerous opportunity on the counter. Perotti in particular was very effective, drawing fouls and cards and sending a few dangerous shots and crosses into the area. Despite the opportunities, though, the game was still a 0-0 draw at half time.
That scoreline didn’t last long in the second half, though, as in the 54′ Romaric sent a fine ball from a free kick into the box and onto the waiting head of Kanouté, who finished brilliantly, slipping the ball just under the crossbar to give the home team a deserved 1-0 lead. Big Freddi seemed to be struggling up to that point, with a few uncharacteristic sloppy touches and poor passes, but in this instance he showed his class with a fantastic finish for the lead. Six minutes later Perotti beat his man on the left and sent in a cross which Kanouté once again headed home. Just as Sevilla was scoring their two goals in a six minute stretch, due north of the action in Sevilla Real Zaragoza grabbed a lead over Espanyol, and suddenly Sevilla were looking at qualifying for Europa a week early.
Sevilla seemed content with the two-goal lead and began to sit a bit deeper to defend against Sociedad’s desperate pushes forward to get back into the game. Unfortunately, this mostly helped the visitor’s cause, and in the 71′ Real grabbed one back, and then a minute later ran over a bewildered back line for Sevilla, nearly grabbing the equalizer. Thoughts of Osasuna certainly came to my mind, and I’m sure it did to many of the players as well. Rather than panic, though, the team dug in their heels and took care of business: after several more nervous moments, Negredo put the game away after a fine exchange between Kanoute and Romaric produced a shot the ‘keep couldn’t handle, and Negredo tapped in the rebound five minutes from time: there would be no remontada this time.
So then, the aftermath. The win for Sevilla, combined with Espanyol’s loss at Zaragoza, means that Sevilla have officially qualified for Europa League before next week’s visit to Espanyol. Sevilla are even on points with Atletico and Bilbao, but as I understand it we own the tiebreak, so 5th place is ours to lose next week. Regardless of what happens next week though, given the doubts, the recent losses, and the high stakes of the game, this was a fantastic result for the team. We are now guaranteed our 8th consecutive year in Europe; no small feat considering we were in La Segunda 10 short years ago.
Finally, as this was the last home game of the season, this might have been the farewell for many players; only time will tell for sure but it looks like Kanouté and Dragutinovic (who was subbed on in the 89’ and was given a nice tribute by his teammates after the game) as well as several others may be on their way out this summer. In the case of Kanouté I can’t think of a more appropriate sending off than two calm finishes for two crucial goal. The man is a legend and if he moves on will definitely be missed. Gracias por todo, Freddi!
And gracias, Sevilla, for a huge win and another year in Europe! ¡¡¡VAMOS MI SEVILLA!!!