In Turin on Wednesday night, Jorge Jesus will try to defy Bela Guttmann's 1962 prediction that the Portuguese club would not win a European trophy for the next 100 years
If last season's Europa League was won by reluctant champions, the same will certainly not be said on Wednesday evening. The celebrations of Benfica and Sevilla following their semi-final victories were two of the most impassioned displays of emotion in the competition's recent history, jubilation clear within the two sets of players who meet in Turin under the watch of ghosts from glories past.
Sevilla's first full season under Unai Emery began disastrously but has turned into a significant success, the Andalusian club on course for a fifth-place finish in La Liga despite sitting bottom after five matches. Two hundred miles across Iberia and Benfica have the chance to secure a clean sweep of silverware in a campaign for the Portuguese club that will be forever remembered for the passing of Eusébio as well as the trophy haul.
Europe's premiere club tournament does not roll into Lisbon for another week and a half but for the red half of the city the Champions League can wait. Now, following a remarkable year under Jorge Jesus, they have another opportunity to defy the curse of Bela Guttmann, who allegedly vowed with Mercutio-esque foresight when acrimoniously leaving Benfica in 1962 that they would not win a European trophy for the next 100 years.
Guttmann's imprecation has haunted Benfica ever since he departed. After winning the European Cup twice during the Hungarian's reign, Benfica have lost seven finals in the last 52 years, most recently falling to Rafael Benítez's Chelsea in Amsterdam, when Branislav Ivanovic's late effort broke Eagles hearts. Eusébio once prayed at Guttmann's grave in Vienna in an attempt to lift the curse, yet to this day a major European title has evaded them.
Benfica, though, may not have a better chance to end the barren run for some time. Jesus, who has been strongly linked with a move away from the club this summer, has already seen his team wrap up the Portuguese title by a seven-point margin, also adding the League Cup to their trophy cabinet, with the Portuguese Cup final to come against Rio Ave.
They will be without suspended duo Eduardo Salvio and Enzo Pérez against Sevilla, while Silvio is out with a knee injury and Ljubomir Fejsa a doubt with a foot problem. Benfica have a solid central defensive partnership of Luisão and Ezequiel Garay and ample attacking talents including Nicolás Gaitán and Lazar Markovic, although the latter could miss the final through suspension, with Uefa set to make a late decision on whether to allow him to play following a yellow card received post-match in the semi-final win over Juventus.
"We're stronger than last year but that doesn't give us an edge over Sevilla," said Jesus. "We've been working on this project for five years, we have become stronger and our work has been rewarded. We know Sevilla are a strong opponent, they have great history in this competition.
"When you're prepared for a final, which is the case this year because we were in the final last year, you feel more secure. It doesn't create great difficulties at an emotional level, the more decisive moments you go through the more confidence you have."
Emery and Sevilla have been on a journey of their own, catapulted into the final in dramatic circumstances following Stéphane Mbia's header in the fourth minute of injury time against Valencia. Mbia, on loan from QPR, sent Sevilla into dreamland at the Mestalla as Emery raced down the touchline he once prowled as the home manager.
Sevilla, who won the Europa League in 2006 and 2007 under Juande Ramos, will be without the suspended Jairo Samperio, while Denis Cheryshev and Sebastián Cristóforo are injured and Vitolo is struggling with a hamstring problem.
Their hopes rest largely on the Croatia midfielder Ivan Rakitic, a man who has embraced the city's identity during his time there since 2011 and who has been linked with a summer move to Real Madrid. Sevilla have other players who can hurt Benfica, including Kevin Gameiro and the 27-year-old striker Carlos Bacca, who was a bus conductor before turning professional aged 23, but Rakitic is the key man.
Emery said: "It is just another stage in the process. It is a dream to be here, now we have to enjoy it. We have to enjoy this moment, everyone is hoping for a positive result for the work we have put in this season. It will be wonderful to finish the season with a trophy, but just being here is fantastic, it's been a long journey."