Most film sequels tend not to live up to expectations or are rarely as good as their predecessors. The Inbetweeners 2, Grease 2 and Jaws 2 are all examples of franchises that had set themselves too high and unrealistic ambitions for themselves to follow up with. The 2005/06 UEFA Cup was a vintage year for the tournament. Middlesbrough’s run to the final was an epic fairytale adventure that wouldn’t look out of place in Hollywood. It was the stuff of dreams. It’s sequel, however, was even better and somehow managed to improve on the blockbuster the season before. This is the story of the 2006/07 UEFA Cup.
The drama and excitement began all the way back in July in the second qualifying round. Norwegian side Start set the tone that was to follow by beating Irish side Drogheda United 11-10 on penalties to progress into the first round proper. There would be more thrills for Irish sides to follow as well, Derry City managed to beat Swedish heavyweights Göteborg in the First Qualifying round 2-0 and almost pulled off another huge upset by holding Paris Saint-Germain to a 0-0 draw in the first leg of their first-round tie. The Parisians prevailed in the second leg 2-0 but the spark had been lit on what was to be a classic year for the competition that was supposed to be ‘second-fiddle’ to the UEFA Champions League.
The group stage also didn’t disappoint in terms of surprises. An Espanyol side that was coached by Ernesto Valverde and featured the likes of Carlos Kameni and Pablo Zabaleta, finished top of a tricky group that contained the likes of Ajax and Sparta Prague, winning every game. Although Espanyol picked up the Copa Del Rey the previous season, they had been involved in a relegation scrap that went down to the last day of the season. To beat Ajax especially home and away was a huge achievement for a side that was not really expected to do much in the competition.
It had been a chore to qualify for the group stage in the first place for Espanyol as well. Slovakian side Petržalka Akadémia who had shocked Celtic the season prior 5-0 in the Champions League, provided tough opposition in the qualifying round. A 5-3 aggregate win was just enough to send Espanyol through. Petržalka went 2-1 and 3-2 up on aggregate and made it harder than it should’ve been for Espanyol, which made their group stage success even more remarkable.
Another unfancied side that finished top of their group was Blackburn Rovers. Mark Hughes was in charge at Ewood Park and his side finished sixth in the 2005/06 Premier League season. The likes of David Bentley and Benni McCarthy were at the spearhead of a side that topped Group E ahead of Feyenoord and Basel. Rovers ended up going out of the competition in the round of 32 after a tough draw put them up against Bayer Leverkusen, who saw them off 3-2 over two legs.
As the unfancied sides in the competition started to impress in the group stages, holders Sevilla were making tough work of their defence. A 0-0 draw away to Czech side Slovan Liberec had been a disappointing start to Group C. The strange format that the competition had at that stage of eight groups of five that played each other once meant that Sevilla had to settle for second place after another defeat to group leaders AZ Alkmaar.
The competition though would ultimately end up being defined by the Spanish sides that were taking it by storm. In the round of 32, all of the four Spanish sides in the competition progressed. Espanyol had no issues in seeing off Livorno 4-1, Celta Vigo edged out Spartak Moscow 3-2, Osasuna progressed after an extra-time winner against Bordeaux and Sevilla recovered from their early setbacks by knocking out Steaua București 3-0.
The round of 16 is really what sets this apart from other editions of the UEFA Cup, especially Sevilla’s tie with Shakhtar Donetsk. Sevilla were expected to have got this far in the competition, unlike the other Spanish sides. Juande Ramos had a good team that included the likes of Dani Alves, Jesús Navas and Luís Fabiano and they were occupying third spot in LaLiga. Shakhtar, on the other hand, were starting to appear more regularly in European competitions after Ukrainian billionaire and oligarch Rinat Akhmetov started to invest into the side.
Former Galatasary and Inter Milan manager Mircea Lucescu was in charge of a promising young side that had six Brazillian players in the squad. The likes of Fernandinho, Elano and Luiz Adriano would be tough opposition for Ramos’ side. The first leg at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán almost ended in a shock win for the Ukrainian side. Martí gave Sevilla the lead through an early penalty but goals from Tomáš Hübschman and Matuzalém put Shakhtar 2-1 up. A late penalty that was dispatched by Enzo Maresca rescued Sevilla from being a goal down going into the second leg in Ukraine. Even with the late equaliser, Shakhtar still had two away goals and were definitely in a great position to go through.
And it looked as if it would be Shakhtar that would knock the holders out of the competition. Matuzalém gave Shakhtar a 1-0 lead four minutes into the second half in Ukraine with a spectacular scorpion kick that left Andrés Palop rooted to his spot. Sevilla now needed to score two goals to make it 3-2 on aggregate. Maresca got one back with a header to make it 1-1 five minutes later but a late Elano strike seven minutes from time on the counter-attack, made their task a lot harder. Sevilla needed to find a goal very quickly to stop themselves from crashing out.
Shakhtar were holding onto the ball and were wasting as much time as they possibly could. All they had to do was hold on for eight minutes and they would be through. Sevilla managed to get themselves a corner though in the last minute of stoppage time. It was the only chance they had left to keep themselves in the tie. Everyone was up for it. Alves sent in a whipping outswinger and it fell just outside the six-yard box onto the head of Sevilla ‘keeper Palop who was left unmarked and amazingly he headed the ball into the Shakhtar net to keep Sevilla in the tie. Incredible.
Javier Chevantón gave Sevilla the lead just before the end of the first half in extra time to knock Shakhtar out of the competition and send Los Nervionenses into the quarter-final to keep their hopes of retaining the UEFA Cup alive. It had been a valiant effort from Shakhtar who had been so close to causing a big shock but it wasn’t to be.
There was also drama at the Estádio da Luz in Lisbon where Benfica knocked out PSG with a late penalty from Simão that stopped the tie from going to extra time. Benfica were now one of the main favourites for the trophy alongside Sevilla and Tottenham Hotspur. A third place finish in Group F of the Champions League saw them drop into the competition and a quarter-final tie against Espanyol gave them a great chance to try and stop the “curse” of Béla Guttmann. Espanyol avoided a big name in the round of 16 and easily saw off Israeli side Maccabi Haifa 4-0. Despite the impressive results against Ajax in the group stages, Espanyol were hugely unfancied against the two-time winners of the European Cup.
However, a shock 3-2 win at the Olímpic Lluís Companys in Barcelona gave Espanyol a slender one goal lead going into the second leg in Lisbon. Raúl Tamudo, Albert Riera and El Rifle Walter Pandiani fired Espanyol 3-0 up but Nuno Gomes and Simão pulled two back for Benfica. A backs to the wall performance from Espanyol at the Estádio da Luz was needed to take them within two games of reaching their first European final since 1988.
Benfica threw everything at Espanyol but whatever they did, they couldn’t score. Both sides had strong penalty decisions turned down, Mantorras missed a free header inside the six-yard box for Benfica and the block that Valverde had set up was just too difficult for Fernando Santos’ side to break down. The “curse” of Béla Guttmann had hit Benfica again. A 0-0 draw was all that Espanyol needed to go through, and that is exactly what they played for and got.
Werder Bremen, Sevilla and Osasuna would be the other sides that would join Espanyol in the semi-final. Over two legs, Bremen saw off AZ 4-1, Osasuna ended Leverkusen’s hopes of returning back to Hampden Park five years after they lost to Real Madrid in the Champions League final by comfortably beating them 4-0 and Sevilla managed to end Spurs’ hopes of winning their first European trophy since 1984. Spurs managed to come back from 2-0 down to snatch a draw in the second leg but the damage had already been done after Sevilla won the first leg 2-1.
It would end up being an all-Spanish affair at Hampden Park for the final. Espanyol once again continued their rich vein of form that was non-existent in LaLiga but sprung into life for the UEFA Cup. Unlike the anxious tie against Benfica, Espanyol managed to progress into the final with no qualms. A 5-1 aggregate win over Bremen secured their spot in the final. A red card in the first leg for Bremen’s ‘keeper Tim Wiese after Espanyol had gone 2-0 up made it a long night for the Germans. A third in stoppage time from Coro as well meant that Bremen had made it too hard for themselves to come back.
Hugo Almeida gave Bremen a slimmer of hope with an early goal in the second leg after four minutes, but it was Bremen’s discipline that cost them again. Miroslav Klose picked up a second yellow card for diving after 20 minutes which made their task almost impossible. Coro and María Lacruz scored twice for Espanyol in the second half which sealed Bremen’s fate. For Espanyol, this would be a chance to finally take centre stage in Catalonia. A side constantly in Barcelona’s shadow would finally get a chance to try and emulate their local rivals’ success.
It would also be a chance for Espanyol to make up for the last time that they reached the UEFA Cup final in 1988. Bayer Leverkusen cruelly came back from a 3-0 first-leg defeat to win on penalties back when the final was two-legged. Valverde was in the Espanyol side for the first leg but sat out the heartbreaking second and was desperate to end the pain still felt by the club.
If Espanyol were to overcome their trauma, once again they would have to do so as underdogs. Sevilla saw off the other unfancied Spanish side left in the competition Osasuna, after coming back from a 1-0 deficit in the first leg to win 2-0 at the Sánchez Pizjuán. For Sevilla, it was an opportunity for the side from Andalusia to do something that only Real Madrid had done in winning two consecutive UEFA Cup’s back-to-back.
Despite Sevilla finishing 22 points and eight places ahead of Espanyol in LaLiga, the final was extremely tight. Hampden Park in Glasgow was the venue for a final that paid homage to the drama and chaos that the rest of the tournament was all about.
Just under 20 minutes into the final, it looked like it would be Sevilla that would pick up the trophy when Adriano Correia gave Juande Ramos’ side the lead. Palop started a quick counter-attack for Sevilla straight from an Espanyol corner, throwing the ball all the way into Espanyol’s half from his own box. Adriano chased after it similar to a wide receiver in the NFL, fighting off the hopeless David García to open up a one-on-one with Gorka Iraizoz. Iraizoz couldn’t stop Adriano’s side-footed effort to his far-post and watched on with dismay as the ball nestled behind him.
But Espanyol, the tournament’s top scorers were swift to draw the game level just 10 minutes later. A low driving shot from Albert Riera that took a nasty deflection off Alves, wrongfooted Palop and misdirected the ball into the bottom right corner of the goal.
For a final that meant a lot to both sides, it had a great rhythm to it. You could hardly separate the two sides. Espanyol despite being the underdogs weren’t phased by the occasion and stuck to their nice possession-based football that Valverde had instilled into them and Sevilla’s pace on the counter-attack was posing as a constant threat.
Both sides had big chances in the second half but Espanyol’s attack was hampered when midfielder Moisés Hurtado was sent off for a second yellow on 68 minutes. With Valverde already subbing on Pandiani, he was left with no option but to take off Tamudo and play with only one striker.
As the Glasgow rain poured on, the 2007 UEFA Cup final skidded into extra time. Espanyol now were referring back to their tactics vs Benfica as they grew more tired and tried to frustrate Sevilla and hit them on the break.
And as the Espanyol defence grew more tired, mistakes were bound to happen. Frédéric Kanouté managed to slip in at the near post and connected with a low Jesús Navas cross on the right-hand side to re-give Sevilla the lead just before the end of the first half in extra time.
But just as it looked like Sevilla would be picking up the trophy, Espanyol added another twist to the final and sent the game to penalties. Five minutes from time, Brazilian midfielder Jônatas brought the ball down from Pandiani and teed the ball up for a shot on the wet surface. It might have been a hit and hope with minutes to spare but it was a great strike. With his laces, Jônatas fired the ball just outside the D and it landed right in the bottom right corner. Palop at full stretch could do nothing about this, no goalkeeper could.
Espanyol had forced penalties and now had a chance to finally end their UEFA Cup misery by making up for 1988. It would have been the perfect way to do it on penalties but instead, it just made the pain 10x worse. Palop was the hero against Shakhtar and he was the hero again in the final.
Palop saved the first kick of the shoot-out from striker Luis García and Jônatas was also denied by the Sevilla keeper from 12 yards. Playing with 10 men in extra-time had completely worn Espanyol out. Marc Torrejón needed to score for Espanyol after three kicks to keep his side in the final but you’ve guessed it, Palop saved his kick as well. Espanyol once again had lost on penalties in the UEFA Cup to extend their trauma. And with their relegation confirmed from LaLiga this season, it’s unlikely they’ll get a chance soon to rectify their UEFA Cup pain.
As for Sevilla, they managed to become the second side to win back-to-back UEFA Cup’s after Real Madrid. A record that was only broken by themselves nine years later when they picked up their third consecutive title after beating Liverpool in Basel.
The final was everything that summed up that season’s tournament though. It was the opposite to the boring Champions League final that season between Liverpool and AC Milan. It was fast-paced, there were great goals and two teams that were desperate to win the trophy. It was everything you wanted from a major tournament final. The 2007 UEFA Cup was a magical tournament and despite everything that happened in the previous edition, it managed to improve upon it.