EUROPA CUP FINAL
Femi Solaja with agency report
History beacons on former Super Eagles winger, Victor Moses, as he attempts to become the third Nigerian footballer to win the Europa Cup, when Inter Milan, the Italian Serie A he is currently on loan file out tonight in the final game of the competition against Spanish side, Sevilla in Cologne.
Before tonight’s epic fina, only former strongman in defence line, Taribo West, (Inter Milan 1998) and Chidi Odiah (CSKA Moscow 2005) have won the second tier Europe club tournament as Nigerian internationals.
The trio of Nwankwo Kanu, Finidi George (both with Ajax FC) and John Obi Mikel (with FC Chelsea) have won the glamourous UEFA Champions League honour in 1995 and 2012 respectively.
Tonight, Chelsea wingback, Moses, who reunited with his former coach at the London club earlier in the year, Antonio Conte, are set to conquer European football again ever since Jose Mourinho won the UEFA Champions League final against Bayern Munich way back in 2010.
The build up from the semi-final matches of both teams clearly give the Italian side a massive edge but in a one leg final match anything can happen as both sides will parade their best players going into the closing glee.
While Conte will head into the Europa League final aiming to win a major trophy in his first season in charge of Moses and the rest of Inter Milan players, his ambition will naturally translate to his opposite manager, Julien Lopetegui, extending his barren spell since he unceremoniously left La Rojas’ post just few days to the World Cup finals two years ago.
The difference in fortunes could not be starker as Conte won three successive Serie A titles with Juventus followed by the 2016-17 Premier League title with Chelsea, while Lopetegui has been unable to claim a single honour at senior level as coach.
The former Rayo Vallecano goalkeeper oversaw the longest trophy-less spell at Portuguese side Porto between 2014-2016 before taking charge of Spain, where he was dismissed a week before the 2018 World Cup having steered his country to the finals.
Lopetegui made way for Fernando Hierro after it was announced he’d be taking over at Real Madrid in August 2018. He only held on to the job until October that year after suffering a 5-1 La Liga thrashing by Barcelona.
The current season finally brought some joy to the 53-year-old, who guided Sevilla to a top-four finish in La Liga and then reached the Europa League final with a combative side whose work rate exceeds its talent.
Sevilla and Inter have won eight titles in Europe’s second-tier competition between them, with the Spanish side chasing a record-extending sixth trophy against their in-form rivals.
Lopetegui conceded denying Inter would be a tall order.
“The team has a very characteristic way of playing, all Conte teams have it,” he told Sevilla’s official website.
“It is not easy for such high level players to play in such a peculiar collective way. The squad is full of players with a talent, they will oblige us to play an extraordinary game.
“They are at a magnificent level, a team made to play Champions League football who finished just one point off (Italian champions) Juventus in Serie A, they have magnificent players and an experienced manager.”
Sevilla will need to draw inspiration from their gritty 2-1 win over Manchester United, with Inter strikers Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez in devastating form as they ripped apart Shaktar Donestk 5-0 in the other semi-final.
Conte acknowledged the goal-hungry pair had developed a lethal partnership since Lukaku joined from United last year despite their individual appetites.
“It was inevitable that, working hard and working together, a connection between the two would develop,” Conte told UEFA’s official website.
“They have the typical selfishness of all strikers, but they also work hard to help the others score.
“We’re playing a team with more experience and the most trophies in this competition in the last decade. It’s a final and only the best teams reach the final, so we need to show that we’re the best if we want to win the trophy.”