Europa League Player of the Tournament: Ivan Rakitic

The Croatian starred in the middle of the park for Sevilla en route to a dramatic penalty shootout victory over Benfica in Turin on Wednesday
Another European cup final for Benfica, another heartache. Instead, it was Sevilla who celebrated their third Uefa Cup/Europa League win in under a decade - a fantastic achievement for a club hardly synonymous with silverware.


3.5 Glided through the middle of the park effortlessly and continually set up good chances for his team-mates whether it was through teasing crosses from the wings or threaded passes through the middle.
At the heart of Unai Emery's side throughout the tournament was Ivan Rakitic, a midfielder who has taken his game to another level this season.

His excellence in La Liga has been undoubted but it is in the Europa League where the Croatian's talents have begun to be truly appreciated on a wider scale.

Sevilla started out in the preliminary qualification rounds, where Rakitic scored a goal in both legs as they progressed past Slask Wroclaw with ease.

The creative midfielder played in all but one of the Liga club's group games then bagged two assists as they edged past Maribor in the last 32.

Scoring the fifth penalty in Sevilla's shootout victory over Betis helped his side past their bitter rivals, before they swept aside Porto in the quarter-finals - with Rakitic scoring in the second leg - to set up a semi-final clash with Valencia.

Emery's squad were mere seconds away from elimination before a stoppage-time goal at Mestalla gave them qualification for the final on the away goals rule, where Benfica awaited having taken Juventus' scalp.

On Wednesday, the Croatian was orchestrating most of Sevilla's attacks from midfield. The captain was then rewarded for his man-of-the-match performance by being the first player on the night to lift the Europa League aloft after they triumphed on penalties.

Rakitic made 31 key passes in the main competition in 2013-14, second only to Red Bull Salzburg's Kevin Kampl in the standings.

Similarly, the 26-year-old Sevilla star is second in the passing rankings, having completed 804 passes since the start of the group stage and only Betis' Juanfran put in more crosses than Rakitic during the tournament.

Next up for Rakitic will be the World Cup, where the eyes of the world will be upon him should he, as expected, start in the curtain-raiser against hosts Brazil, then the Champions League beckons next season if Sevilla can keep the midfielder from being snapped up in the summer.

What better way to go into the biggest tournaments in international and club football than having been the star player in the last one?