"The idea that we are cursed comes from the press," Rodrigo stated last week. "Nobody in the team is worried – we don't believe in any hoodoo.” The Spaniard may feel differently now, after Benfica's heartbreaking Europa League loss to Sevilla.
Benfica has infamously never had much luck in finals; it had been beaten in its previous seven tournament deciders in continental competition before Wednesday night's nightmare in Turin. That it lost the toss to decide which end the penalty shootout would take place in front of did not bode well, and what unfolded thereafter was of no surprise to the club's long-suffering fans.
But make no mistake about it: The curse of Bella Guttman curse was not responsible for this latest loss. There were no darker forces at work here. In truth, Benfica only had itself to blame — or, more accurately, its misfiring front line.
Jorge Jesus’ men created more than enough chances to have won this game comfortably. There is no denying that Sevilla played its part in a truly absorbing final. With Ivan Rakitic having justified all of the hype surrounding him with a man-of-the-match performance, Sevilla was always a serious threat on the counterattack. Nicolas Pareja, meanwhile, performed miracles in defense, while Stephane Mbia and Co. ran themselves to a standstill in midfield.
However, Benfica opened Sevilla up time and time again. Yet time and time again, it failed to find the back of the net. Lima saw a shot cleared off the line by Pareja but he had been forced wide by a dreadful first touch on a terrific lofted ball from Gaitan that should have put the Brazilian straight through on goal. Rodrigo was equally guilty of squandering excellent opportunities with weak finishing. Oscar Cardozo’s shockingly arrogant penalty in the shootout perfectly summed up everything that had gone before from those inaccurate attackers. Benfica got what it deserved in the end: nothing.
But Benfica’s back four had deserved better. Luisao and Ezequiel Garay had been immense at the heart of the Eagles defense. The pair put their body on the line time and time again. Twice Garay collapsed to the floor, stricken by cramps. Twice he battled on. That his bravery proved in vain will be devastating for not only him but the entire club.
There will, of course, be a temptation for supporters to blame the Guttman curse, which will now enter a 53rd year. There will be some comfort in the thought that somehow this wasn't their fault; that fate had simply conspired against them once more.
But the cold, hard truth is that Benfica should have blown another excellent opportunity to end its European trophy drought. Benfica was not the victim of a curse, it was not the victim of bad luck. It was the victim of bad finishing.