Rafael Santos Borré stood alone in front of a sea of blue. All that, a long hot night in Seville and an even longer wait stretching back half a century, and it came to this: one shot to clinch Eintracht Frankfurt’s first European trophy in 42 years. The Colombian, who had scored in the quarter-final, semi-final and again in the final to bring them to this penalty shootout, ran up and scored again. The ball flew beyond Allan McGregor, history made.
At the other end of the Sánchez Pizjuán, Eintracht’s fans went wild, an extraordinary, unexpected run completed. Rangers’ fans, meanwhile, fell silent for the first time, although those that stayed would stand to applaud players who had given everything and were now broken, a unique opportunity snatched from them. Fifty years they had waited for a European trophy; who knows how much longer they will have to wait for another chance.
They had led for just over 10 minutes, only to see Borré equalise. Then a glorious 118th-minute chance for Ryan Kent would have won it only for Kevin Trapp to make an extraordinary save from close range, the follow-up from Steven Davis somehow deflecting over the bar. That meant this final went to penalties.
It was a scenario they had practised for and Aaron Ramsey had been sent on precisely to take one, but he watched Trapp save again, a crazy 19-game ride finally over in the cruellest way. So close, but defeated at the last.
It had been tense at times, and it had been some occasion too. The city was packed, the Pizjuán loud. And the game was lively at times too. Certainly when these two sides, built for the break, were able to get up and running.
Eintracht especially, at least to start with, Daichi Kamada taking a touch too many when the first opportunity dropped, eventually stopped by McGregor, and Djibril Sow’s unable to put away the follow up. Ansgar Knauff, JesLindstrom and Sow all had shots too, at a time when the battle for the wing announced between James Tavernier and Filip Kostic was being won by the Serb, a muscular, dynamic and very direct presence.
A recurring one, too. He struck a clever shot onto the roof of the net from 20 yards and then went flying up the pitch from one area to the other only to pull wide on half an hour. Eintracht’s shot count was in double figures now; Rangers had taken just that one, although with Scott Wright getting more of the ball, John Lundstram’s header was tipped over by Trapp.
And Gio van Bronckhorst’s team took the lead too, a simple Connor Goldson header returning a goal kick did the damage. Sow misjudged it, diverting the ball towards his own goal. Tuta slipped and suddenly Joe Aribo was away, running at supporters who erupted when he slotted the ball beyond Trapp.
For a moment, Eintracht seemed to find it hard to comprehend what had happened, but they knew they had to take a step forward; they also knew Rangers were more likely to take a step back. A superb recovery from Calvin Bassey prevented Knauff from getting away. Then Kamada, alone in the area, lifted his shot over McGregor and on to the roof of the net, fists beating at the turf in frustration. But Eintracht did level when Kostic’s cross passed by four men in blue, Goldson the last one to see it go, just as Borré nipped in front of him at the near post to turn it into the net.
Eintracht pressed, McGregor pushing away and Kostic flashing just wide, but it was Rangers who almost avoided extra time when Glen Kamara’s 95th-minute attempt was blocked. On it went, Scott Arfield, the sub, hitting over.
Bassey would then have gifted Eintracht a wonderful chance but for the fact that few recover like he does and so, having missed the ball and twisted himself into knots, he unravelled again and chased down Borré inside the area. He then matched Knauff, forcing his opponent into a hurried shot.
The legs were heavy, the efforts tired but not spared, even if the fear of defeat weighed as heavy as the determination to win and the errors were accumulating, shots often taken too early. Davis had one blocked and then Borna Barisic stung Trapp’s palms, beyond 105 minutes now. Ajdin Hrustic pulled wide. Kristijan Jakic swung over the bar, head turned to to the sky.
Thoughts turned to the shootout, substitutions made with that in mind. And as those final seconds ticked away, an astonishing save by Trapp, denying Kent from just five yards out, ensured they got there, giving him another chance to be a hero, history made for Eintracht at Rangers’ expense.