Sevilla's Coke celebrates his second goal against Liverpool during their Europa League final at the St Jakob-Park Stadium in Basel, Switzerland, on Wednesday night. Sevilla won 3-1. (Photo AP)
Basel: Sevilla midfielder Coke popped up with two second-half goals to break Liverpool hearts in a controversy-filled 3-1 victory that secured a record third consecutive Europa League title on Wednesday.
Liverpool travelled to St Jakob-Park confident in their chances of a first Europa League trophy since 2001 after an impressive campaign in Europe’s second-tier competition.
But Jurgen Klopp’s men failed to build on Daniel Sturridge’s superb 35th-minute opener, and when Kevin Gameiro found Liverpool asleep to level seconds after half-time, it opened the floodgates.
Liverpool’s heads went down and, as they began to sit back, Coke struck twice in six second-half minutes to give Unai Emery’s men a 3-1 lead by the 70th minute.
Coke looked offside for his second goal, but after angry scenes that saw Klopp sprint down the touchline to confront the linesman, Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson pointed to the centre circle after consulting with his official.
An emotional Klopp, losing his fifth consecutive final, admitted Gameiro’s leveller had taken the wind out of Liverpool’s sails — although the German hoped defeat will serve as a lesson in the long run.
"Their first goal was a big influence on our game. We lost faith in our style of play, we lost our formation, (we were) not compact any more, but we’ve had this problem before," said Klopp.
With the winners earning a place in next season’s Champions League, and the losers nothing, Klopp added: "We are disappointed, we are frustrated."
Emery had demanded a last push from some of the experienced players who had helped the Spaniards to four Europa League crowns since 2006, and they came good in a stunning second half.
"This is our competition, but now we get to play in the Champions League," said a jubilant Emery. Reds striker Daniel Sturridge stepped in for Divock Origi to play in front of Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Adam Lallana and spurned two half-chances before beating David Soria with a delightful shot with the outside of his left boot on 35 minutes.
It was Sturridge’s sixth goal in last nine starts, and sent large parts of St Jakob-Park into raptures, although Liverpool fans were conspicuously quiet after the interval.