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5 things to know about the Europa League final between Benfica and Sevilla
TURIN, Italy - Looking for its first European club title in 52 years, Benfica will play Sevilla on Wednesday in the Europa League final.
The Portuguese club, which won back-to-back European Cup titles in 1961-62, has lost seven straight finals, including last year's Europa League final.
Sevilla will be aiming to win UEFA's second-tier competition for the third time in nine seasons, and complete Spain's sweep of the major continental titles.
The winner of Wednesday's match will also be rewarded with playing the Champions League winner — either Real Madrid or Atletico Madrid — in the season-opening UEFA Super Cup in August in Cardiff, Wales.
Here are five things to know about the Europa League final:
Both clubs are seeking to win a third major European title, though from very different histories.
Benfica won its European Cup trophies in the early 60s when, inspired by forward Eusebio, it was a finalist five times in eight seasons.
Now, the Portuguese club has a streak of seven straight losses in continental finals stretching back to the 1963 European Cup.
"It's folklore, we're going to have to break that curse," Benfica coach Jorge Jesus said of the losing run. "We came close last year and now we again have a chance to this year.
"It motivates us further, gives us strength, so we can lay to rest that ghost. It's going to have to be broken sometime, let's hope tomorrow will be that time."
Sevilla is relatively new on the big stage, never having reached a European final until the 2006 UEFA Cup. The Spanish club also started with back-to-back titles, retaining the second-tier trophy which was rebranded as the Europa League two years later.
Wednesday's match is the first between the teams since both made UEFA competition debuts in a September 1957 preliminary round of the European Cup. Sevilla won 3-1 at home and advanced after a 0-0 draw in Lisbon.
ROADS TO TURIN
Both clubs took roundabout routes to the final, and neither was even entered in the Europa League at the end of last season.
Financial problems at two other Spanish clubs let in Sevilla, which had finished ninth in the league, two places and six points behind city rival Real Betis. Sixth-place Malaga and eighth-place Rayo Vallecano were denied entry licenses and failed with off-season appeals.
Sevilla stepped up and on Aug. 1 beat Mladost Podgorica of Montenegro in the third qualifying round to begin a 19-match trek that ends in Turin.
"The path to this final has been really long but it has been wonderful too," Sevilla coach Unai Emery said. "It has been a success just being here ... Tomorrow we can grow a little bit more, but we have grown over the whole path."
Benfica started in the Champions League. It finished third in a group behind Paris Saint-Germain and Olympiakos and switched to the second-tier competition.
On Feb. 20, Benfica finally played in the Europa League, and would become the third winner in five seasons which transferred from the Champions League. Atletico Madrid did it in 2010 and Chelsea last year.
Though Benfica is favoured based on recent results, Sevilla has been down but never out.
Benfica is unbeaten in four knockout rounds, eliminating PAOK Thessaloniki, Tottenham, AZ Alkmaar and Juventus. The Eagles held the Italian champions to a scoreless second leg played in the same Turin stadium that hosts the final.
Sevilla, however, lost one match to each of its last three opponents.
Against Betis in the last 16, Sevilla lost the opener 2-0 at home and survived a penalty shootout in the return. It also lost away legs to quarterfinal opponent FC Porto and semifinal rival Valencia.
"None of us is thinking of failure, none of us is considering the possibility of not winning tomorrow," Sevilla defender Federico Fazio said. "We have won many matches to be here today, all of us have worked very hard for this.
"We want to take any opportunity to win. We came back against Betis, against Valencia — we fight every match."
TEAM OF DESTINY
For a team that didn't even qualify for the tournament, Sevilla's semifinal victory was quite spectacular.
Sevilla beat Valencia 2-0 in the first leg, but then trailed 3-0 in the return and was seconds from being eliminated. But a flicked header looped toward the goalmouth and Stephane Mbia rose to head the ball into the Valencia net, sending Sevilla through on away goals.
"You are almost suffering for 90 minutes and then comes this moment and you want to hug everyone," Sevilla captain Ivan Rakitic said. "You want to grab everyone, you want to grab the referee and kiss him."
Benfica comes to Turin with its record 33rd Portuguese league title, and first in four years under coach Jorge Jesus. Sevilla will place fifth or sixth when the Spanish league program ends this weekend.
So while Benfica will head to the Champions League draw in Monaco on Aug. 28, Sevilla will return to the Europa League.
From next season, Europa League finals will reward the winner with an entry to the Champions League — either in the playoff round or direct to the group stage — as part of UEFA plans to ramp up interest in the often-unloved junior competition.
Associated Press reporter Daniella Matar in Turin contributed to this story.
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