- Associated Press - Friday, May 20, 2016

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) - Liverpool learned the hard way that fewer teams are better than Sevilla when it comes to winning finals.

Now Sevilla hopes Barcelona will be the next giant to fall.

Sevilla aims to dethrone Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final on Sunday, four days after fighting back to defeat Liverpool 3-1 and win a record third straight Europa League title.

Sevilla can’t come close to matching the star power of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, but the Andalusian side sure has perfected its own formula for success.

Coach Unai Emery has masterfully focused his resources on the knockout tournaments instead of a Spanish league title hunt. And the strategy has paid off.

With a budget of about a fifth of what Barcelona spends, Sevilla has dominated Europe’s second-tier competition for three years despite an annual overhaul of its squad that has also meant good business, with the club buying players low and selling them high.

While most of Europe’s big clubs consider the Europa League and domestic cup titles a sort of consolation prize to salvage a season that doesn’t end with a bigger piece of silverware, Sevilla has gotten the most out of its limited resources by prioritizing these tournaments.

Longtime Sevilla sports director Ramon “Monchi” Rodriguez, who is widely credited with developing the club’s model of continued success while keeping it financially sound, said staying modest has been critical to winning.

“This doesn’t have to end. We have to keep working without ever losing sight of our road map, and doing so humbly,” Monchi said. “We are breaking records and we have to enjoy it and prepare to keep it going. We have landed a triple somersault and now we have to head to Madrid with our hopes high.”

Other than a Spanish league title in 1946, knockout competitions have proven Sevilla’s specialty. Its unprecedented five Europa League titles have all come in the last 11 years.

With his team stuck in the middle of the league standings, Emery rested his best players during the final weeks of the season. The coach called the Europa League “our competition” after seeing his players lift the trophy in Basel.

“Our real success is what we have done on the way here,” Emery said. “We’ve enjoyed this year in Europe and now we’re enjoying being champions again. We have to enjoy this moment while thinking about the Copa del Rey final on Sunday.”

Sevilla has won five Copa del Rey titles, the last coming in 2010. On Sunday at Vicente Calderon Stadium in Madrid, it will seek to repeat a Europa League-Copa del Rey double that it pulled off in 2007.

Emery and his players know that while outperforming Spanish league champion Barcelona over a 38-match season is beyond their reach, they have proven to be their equal over the course of 90 minutes.

In 2006, Sevilla surprised a Barcelona side that had won the Champions League a few months before with a 3-0 rout in the European Super Cup.

That story almost repeated itself last August, when Sevilla pushed Barcelona to the limit before losing 5-4 in the European Super Cup. It then beat Barcelona 2-1 at home before losing by the same score at Camp Nou in the league.

“Knowing Sevilla and their manager, they will prepare the match down to the last detail,” said Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic, who transferred from Sevilla two seasons ago. “We will have to start well and go for the match.”

Sevilla captain Jorge “Coke” Andujar typifies his team’s character.

An attacking midfielder better known for his hustle than his goals, Coke was the star on Wednesday when he scored twice to complete the comeback over Liverpool.

Now he says his team will ready for Barcelona regardless of the quick turnaround.

“On Sunday, we will run even more if we have to and take the match to them,” Coke said. “It’s difficult to play two finals, but we will head into the match with all the confidence and strength in the world.”


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