Andres Palop is the toast

Bravo boys... jubilant Sevilla players with the Uefa Cup after defeating Espanyol in the shoot-out.-AP

The Sevilla goalkeeper made all the difference with his agility and three deft saves as Espanyol went down in the shoot-out. Kevin McCarra reports.

The Uefa Cup tends to slip out of the public mind but this final in Glasgow was contested as if it were football's supreme honour. Sevilla retained the trophy only through a penalty shoot-out won 3-1 after their goalkeeper, Andres Palop, pulled off three saves. Having also scored with a header in stoppage time to rescue his side against Shakhtar Donetsk in the last 16, he must be player of the tournament as well as man of this match.

Additional praise should be found for Espanyol, who had been down to 10 men following the dismissal of Hurtado Moises in the 68th minute. Others would have crumpled completely when Fredi Kanoute, adding to the fame he has gained since leaving Tottenham, slipped home a low cross from the substitute Jesus Navas to establish a 2-1 lead in the 105th minute. Espanyol reacted bravely and the substitute Jonatas netted from outside the area when five minutes of extra-time remained.

Immediately after Kanoute's goal there had been a few opportunities to kill off Espanyol but Sevilla were too elaborate. While Europe is getting acquainted with the idea that this is a redoubtable side, Juande Ramos's men themselves are probably still adapting to the fact a new prominence makes them a target.

The Espanyol coach Ernesto Valverde had bluffed impressively in the build-up to the game and the impression was implanted in Sevilla minds that they would be contending purely with stuffy opponents. As it turned out, Espanyol were far happier when on the attack. Verve came naturally to a club that saw even the hope of a trophy as a delicious surprise.

Sevilla, out to retain the Uefa Cup and in pursuit of La Liga as well as the Copa del Ray, are well advanced in the process of trading innocence for fame. Their sharpness was apparent in the 18th minute when they scored on the counter-attack. Palop initiated it with a throw-out down the left to send Adriano on the run.

Sevilla's attacking midfielder was assisted by Luis Garcia's decision to commit himself to a challenge. The Brazilian swept away and found the far corner of the net with a perfect finish. When the left-back Puerta then rolled a low ball across the Espanyol six-yard line it seemed as if the initial flourish from Valverde's players had been a pretty inconsequence.

After 28 minutes, however, they were level after an unusually slack piece of work by Sevilla. No one showed enough urgency in closing down Alberto Riera as he cut in from the left and when Daniel Alves did get in the way of the shot from the former Manchester City midfielder, he deflected it past Palop for the equaliser.

This was a good final, hitting a balance between technique and competitiveness. Another layer of interest was added by the challenge that faced Sevilla to impose themselves once more in a season that has already made serious demands. Enzo Maresca, scorer of two goals in last year's final with Middlesbrough, had not looked fully fit and was replaced by Navas.

Sevilla's goalkeeper Andres Palop, the hero, is over the moon.-AP

The newcomer brought drive to the right flank but the final was too far advanced for Espanyol to be cowed. Their stance was made apparent in the decision to take off the midfielder Rufete and introduce Walter Pandiani, the Uruguayan attacker who had scored a hat-trick in the first half of the 4-3 defeat by Real Madrid on May 12.

Espanyol's immediate threat, though, came from other quarters. In the 56th minute Raul Tamudo demanded an extremely good save from Palop and two minutes later the goalkeeper had to tip Riera's attempt over the bar as well. Considering the dearth of goals for the home side at Eastlands, City supporters may have been looking at this game and forming a retrospective attachment to the midfielder.

There were no wry smiles from Ramos. The Sevilla manager withdrew Luis Fabiano after the frustrated attacker was cautioned for barging into Gorka Iraizoz when the goalkeeper had already caught the ball. His successor Aleksandr Kerzhakov was soon to be at the centre of a significant episode.

Four minutes after taking the field he was brought down by Moises and the referee, Massimo Busacca, sent off the midfielder with a second yellow card of the evening. Sevilla then outnumbered the opposition but it took the agility of Palop to overcome Espanyol.

@ Guardian Newspapers Limited 2007 UNLUCKY ESPANYOL

Espanyol set a record of its own in the Uefa Cup final loss to Sevilla _ though not a desirable one.


While Sevilla became the first team to retain the trophy since Real Madrid in 1986, Espanyol was the first to go through the entire tournament unbeaten and still not lift the trophy. And that also meant coach Ernesto Valverde (in pic) set an unfortunate personal mark. Sevilla's Juande Ramos became the first coach to win the title two straight years, while Valverde found himself the first man to lose the final as a player and a coach. That it happened with the same team highlighted the sadness of his predicament.

Valverde was a striker with Espanyol _ affectionately nicknamed "Txingurri'' (the ant) _ when the club lost the 1988 final to Bayer Leverkusen, also on penalty kicks. Espanyol won the first match of a two-leg final in Barcelona 3-0, but Valverde missed the return in Germany, where Leverkusen won 3-0 and then won the shootout. At least the manner of the more recent defeat was easier to bear, Valverde said.

"My team played with a big heart,'' Valverde said. "If I could choose the way to lose, this would be the way to lose.'' And when time passes, Valverde will also be able to reflect on the fact that he follows Huub Stevens and Dino Zoff as just the third man to appear in a Uefa Cup final as a coach and a player.

While Sevilla lost twice on its way to the final, Espanyol progressed through the Uefa Cup with 11 wins and three draws in its 14 games, and was one of just two teams to negotiate the group stage with a perfect record _ two-time champion Tottenham being the other. Only the 3-1 shootout defeat in its 15th match thwarted it. "It was a real cruel final,'' Valverde said. "We walk away having not lost a match.''

� Guardian Newspapers Limited 2007