Inter Milan take on Sevilla in Friday’s night’s highly-anticipated Europa League Final in Cologne.
The Spanish side are Europa League regulars, having won the competition three years in a row between 2014 and 2017. Antonio Conte’s Inter, on the other hand, are looking to win their first European trophy in a decade.
Both sides have two Argentinian gems who will look to make the difference under the Friday night lights.
Sportsmail’s Tom Collomosse and Pete Jenson analyse the styles of Inter’s Lautaro Martinez and Sevilla’s Lucas Ocampos respectively ahead of the final…
By Tom Collomosse
From Hernan Crespo to Diego Milito to Mauro Icardi, Inter Milan have always had a soft spot for Argentinian centre forwards — and in current No 10 Lautaro Martinez, they might just have found the best of the lot.
Quick, strong and effective both in the air and on the deck, Lautaro, as he is known, has the potential to be one of the finest strikers of his generation, even if he is happier watching LeBron James than Lionel Messi.
For now though El Toro (The Bull) is focusing on helping his club to their first European trophy in 10 years by defeating Sevilla in Friday’s Europa League final.
The 22-year-old’s list of admirers is in line to grow, especially after he struck two fine goals in the 5-0 semi-final win over Shakhtar Donetsk.
Thanks to a stellar display when Inter lost 2-1 at Barcelona in the Champions League in October, Lautaro is regarded so highly at the Nou Camp that Luis Suarez — the man he may one day replace — is already paying him compliments.
‘Lautaro has grown up a lot in Italy,’ Suarez told newspaper El Mundo Deportivo. ‘He is a special striker with fantastic movement.
‘We all want to win, and if someone who can help us do that were to come here, he would be welcomed. I’m not worried, competition between talented players is a good thing.’
Lautaro’s release clause, however, is around £95million, which may test even Barca’s resources.
The striker’s development is all the more impressive when you consider that when he joined Inter, he had fewer than three years’ senior football behind him.
Indeed, he was close to dedicating himself to basketball at the age of 15.
‘I love basketball,’ he told Argentinian magazine El Grafico in 2017. ‘At 15, I had to choose and I went with football but if I hadn’t made it, I’d have played basketball.’
Lautaro could have joined Real Madrid in 2015 but decided to remain in Argentina. Two years later, he came close to joining Atletico Madrid, only to stay put once again.
Those near-misses allowed Inter to strike in 2018, paying around £20m — an outstanding piece of business. After a slow start in Milan, Lautaro has rapidly become a key man and his partnership with Romelu Lukaku in attack has developed into a potent one.
Before the coronavirus crisis halted Italian football in March, the pair had 39 goals between them and were helping Antonio Conte’s side build a challenge to champions Juventus.
‘We are good friends, we spend time together off the field, too,’ said Lukaku. ‘I am really happy with the way we are going but we can do much better.’
Nevertheless, Lautaro has kept racking up the personal milestones. His strike at Barcelona made him the first Inter player to score at the Nou Camp since Roberto Boninsegna in 1970.
Later in the competition, he became only the fourth Inter player to score in four consecutive Champions League matches.
Inter haven’t delivered on the European stage since Jose Mourinho led them to the Champions League title in 2010.
If he is to emulate Mourinho this week, Conte needs the Bull to take the game by the horns.
By Pete Jenson in Barcelona
Not many players finish a game with ‘scored one, saved one’ stats but when Sevilla winger Lucas Ocampos took the gloves in a game last month it was always a possibility.
Five matches from the end of the season Ocampos scored against Eibar to put his team 1-0 up. He finished the game in goal after Tomas Vaclik was carried off injured. In keeping with his all-action cult hero status at the club, he saved from Eibar’s final attack.
‘The goalkeeping coach told me to just stay between the posts,’ he said in an excitable post-match interview, still wearing the gloves.
Asked how he kept out the injury-time shot delivered by the opposition keeper who had come forward for a corner, he said: ‘It came straight at me.’
Sevilla’s sporting director Monchi spotted the 26-year-old Argentine while he was working as Roma’s technical secretary in 2017.
‘I fell in love with him after watching him play on loan for Milan against Roma,’ he told Movistar TV. ‘Roma won but he was magnificent.’
Monchi never signed him for the Italians but when he came back for a second spell at Sevilla they needed an explosive, aggressive, goalscoring winger and so he paid £13.5million to Marseille and put Ocampos on a five-year contract with a £63m buy-out clause.
With 17 goals in his first season, there would be clubs willing to pay that now were it not for football’s post-pandemic financial meltdown.
At the age of 18, Ocampos was on a flight from Argentina to Europe. Barcelona and Manchester United had been monitoring him but it was Monaco who signed him.
At Sevilla the fans love the larger-than-life passion, the huge crucified Christ tattooed on his back, the wolf tattooed on his chest.
They also follow the social media activity of his wife, the Argentinian model Majo Barbeito. A barbecue, against La Liga’s lockdown rules and revealed in the obligatory social media pictures, has been forgiven.
Ocampos scored the winner against Wolves in the Europa League quarter-final, heading home in the 88th minute. Against Manchester United in the semi-final, he played with his right knee heavily strapped and went off kicking water bottles when he was substituted in the second half. But he is determined to start on Friday.
‘When it gets to this stage of the competition, you play through the pain,’ he told sports paper Marca.
The only player who tops Ocampos for raw emotion is captain Jesus Navas, who crossed for Luuk de Jong to score the winner in that semi-final and was in tears at the end of the game.
‘He let it all out at the end,’ said Ocampos. ‘He is an institution at this club. There is no limit to what he will do on the pitch for this shirt.’
Navas was in the team when Sevilla won the first of their five UEFA Cups, beating Middlesbrough 4-0 in Eindhoven in 2006. Back then he was struggling with homesickness so severe that it almost scuppered his international career.
Today he has a World Cup with Spain and a Premier League title with Manchester City among his honours and, thanks to Pep Guardiola who encouraged him to play as a full back, he could lift the Europa trophy tonight alongside the irrepressible Ocampos.