They stood in the rain with runners-up medals around their necks, watched Sevilla hoist the Europa League trophy for the third year running, and promptly disappeared down the tunnel.
Jürgen Klopp and his Liverpool players had no appetite for standing on ceremony after their European dreams were shattered by Sevilla’s second-half transformation and their own inability to withstand it.
Klopp appealed for one more show of defiance from Liverpool supporters, the dominant number inside a stadium that has brought them only European torment in 2002, 2014 and now 2016.
There was none. He took every option available to cajole a comeback equal to the quarter-final victory over Borussia Dortmund, ending the game with Daniel Sturridge, Divock Origi and Christian Benteke on the pitch. Not this time. The final whistle signalled only despair for Liverpool’s players and they collapsed to the turf en masse.
The final step was in sight, Sturridge’s exquisite finish had delivered a deserved lead, but they faltered badly and produced a reverse Istanbul – a second-half implosion of three goals in 25 minutes.
After Sturridge’s goal Sevilla appeared on the brink of unravelling. After half-time they caused Liverpool to unravel. The champions were ruthless, precise, powerful and showed why they have never lost a Europa League tie under Unai Emery and deserve a place in the history books. Kévin Gameiro and two from the captain Coke, his first goals in the competition, inflicted a fifth consecutive cup final defeat on Klopp. The manager pointed the finger at the referee, Jonas Eriksson, for missing two handballs inside the Sevilla penalty area, disallowing a second Liverpool goal and allowing Sevilla’s third. Klopp was wrong about the goals. Of greater consequence was Alberto Moreno’s mistake for the Andalucian club’s equaliser and his team’s feeble reaction in the face of the second-half onslaught.
Sevilla’s hat-trick of Europa League victories, their fifth triumph in the tournament in the last 10 years, made them the first club to win three consecutive Uefa titles since Bayern Munich dominated the European Cup between 1974 and 1976. For Liverpool, it was the most deflating end to a season in which Klopp has restored belief and unity to Anfield, investing so much in cup competitions that they affected the Premier League campaign. But there will be no European football in his first full season as Liverpool manager.
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