Sometimes sport presents moments that encapsulate the essence of an entire game. The 2014/15 Europa League final in Warsaw between Sevilla and Dnipro presented one of those moments after the final whistle.
Amongst the ticker tape and the bouncing wave of red and white scarves, Dnipro's Artem Fedetskiy (pictured above) crouched with his son on the edge of the penalty area. Moments earlier he had walked over to send, and in turn receive, heartfelt applause. Now he was just sharing a moment with his son. "Here's how close we came," is what he might have said in the face of his team's brave 3-2 defeat to Sevilla. Dnipro's progression to the final was a wonderful football story, but unlike many losing finalists it shouldn't be forgotten just because it didn't have a fairytale ending. They played their first ever European semifinal a few weeks ago, overcoming heavy favorites Napoli. But in the final, they came up against a side who know better than anyone how to win this title.
With chants of "Nipro" echoing all around the stadium, the atmosphere was more than infectious, it was moving. The momentum of the game was etched onto the agonizing face of each fan, who lived and breathed with each attack. There were generations in the stands; grandfathers with daughters, fathers with sons. All of them, united to support their nation's unlikely dreamers. It was hard not to feel touched by the visiting fans' passion. Heads were held in hands, nails were bitten, chants were hurled in both support and frustration. Dnipro were daring to provide a rare sporting distraction for a country ravaged by destruction.
Seven minutes in and that fantastic support was rocking so loudly that the structure of Warsaw's national stadium started to tremble under the weight of its bouncing Ukrainian visitors. A man to the left of me held his head in his hands and prayed on his knees. Another ran around wildly, unsure as to whether believe what he had just seen. Collectively, it felt like Ukraine had just scored.
Even when Sevilla equalized and took the lead, the Dnipro fans cheered on, unwavering in support of their beloved underdog.
Belief rippled around the stadium when, as they have all tournament, Dnipro fought back again. Rotan curled in a gorgeous free kick to make it 2-2 and complete a breathtaking first half. At that moment, it was hard not to believe Dnipro were really going to complete the final piece of the jigsaw.
"You communist" shouted a fan as one of their rare second-half attacks fizzled out. Dnipro were level but starting to look more and more like the second best team. Free kicks were rushed or avoided, possession was hurried, shots were snapped at. Another supporter kept shouting the word "No" in his mother tongue, desperate to stop Sevilla's increasing dominance.
When Carlos Bacca scored his second and Sevilla's third of the night though, there was an almost visible wave of surrender from the Ukrainian challengers. The collective strength that had taken them so far in the competition couldn't be summoned with 10 minutes to play. Quality had finally overcome them.
A roar of red and white greeted the final whistle as Sevilla confirmed a record fourth Europa League title. Their was a quiet hush at the Dnipro end. This fairytale hadn't ended as planned. The players made their way over to the fans to offer their thanks and were met like brave heroes. The support was as deafening as it had been after seven minutes. And on it carried, after the final whistle, the trophy ceremony and as the stadium emptied. The support was a realisation that although Dnipro had lost, making the Europa league final and performing the way they did was a special enough achievement. Perhaps that's what Fedetskiy said to his son when they talked after the game. We can only hope so.