BASEL, Switzerland: 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 (Thursday in Manila).
Liverpool traveled 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.
“Now it’s clear, we’re not in an international tournament next year. It means we have time to train, to work harder.
“The boys showed what they are capable of, many of them are still young and this was the first big final, and we will use this experience together.
“Some day everybody will say defeat to Sevilla was the turning point in the success of Liverpool FC.”
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.
He claimed his half-time pep talk amounted to little: “I said we just had to believe in ourselves and remember what we feel when we play at our home stadium.
“I’m very happy for all the Sevilla fans, they were absolutely amazing. They were our 12th man.”
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 the massive army of Liverpool fans — some of whom got into scuffles with Sevilla fans inside the stadium prior to kick-off — were conspicuously quiet after the interval.
Sevilla had got off lightly when Liverpool twice saw penalty appeals waved away — defender Daniel Carrico handling twice in the area — while Dejan Lovren saw his header from Sturridge’s corner ruled offside.
But Gameiro, with 28 goals this season, hit his seventh of this campaign with a simple tap-in after right-back Mariano Ferreiro pounced on a poor clearance from Alberto Moreno to charge unchallenged down the right.
Liverpool’s confidence sunk and Coke got his first after a great combination with Banega, who dribbled through the Reds defense before seeing Coke ram the ball past Mignolet from 20 yards.
It took several minutes for officials to finally decide whether Coke’s second was valid, but it will take Liverpool’s fans much longer to get over what was a poor second-half display.
“Maybe also the crowd were shocked as well,” said Klopp as he explained his efforts to get the crowd fired up in the second half.
After 24 games without a goal in the competition, it was no surprise Coke was handed the man-of-the-match award.
He said: I’ve just received 500 WhatsApp messages from fans! We’ve had good days and bads days this season and this kind of victory is for the fans and the people who help us get back on our feet.”