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Kepa comes full circle with penalty shootout heroics for Baku-bound Chelsea

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From scapegoat to hero

”Wembley was the past, I learned, I said sorry to all the people but always we keep [moving] forward. Today was another game, another semifinal, and we are very happy to qualify for the final in Baku.”

It’s been two and a half months since Kepa Arrizabalaga went down with a cramp in the final seconds of extra-time in the EFL Cup final, a cramp which spiraled out of control beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. A raucous Wembley crowd — not to mention the sensationalist media — latched onto the scenes unfolding. Whistles and jeers echoed louder with each gesticulation from Kepa’s arms.

Sarri’s confusion became increasingly visible as seconds continued to tick. Confusion evolving into anger. Anger boiling into rage. But Kepa would remain on the pitch and would-be-substitute Willy Caballero would stand helplessly waiting..

Today, Kepa looked a man on a mission to right past wrongs. Mission accomplished.

Multiple big saves including two in the penalty shootout: the circle is now complete, from hero (vs. Spurs) to scapegoat to hero again. Kepa came up with the goods today to lead his team to the Europa League final. He may have chalked it up to luck, but it’s luck partly of his own making through preparation, learning, and execution. The save between the legs was particularly excellent and something rarely seen — he may not be as tall as Courtois, but he can close the wickets.

“Penalties, you know, are a little bit [about] luck. Today we win; in the other final we lose. But that’s football. Yes, we always prepare for all the penalty shooters. We got lucky today.

”Arsenal win? Then we have a strong final and a London derby.

”I think our season was a little difficult but we are in two big finals, qualified for the Champions League, so it’s a good season.”

- Kepa Arrizabalaga, source: BT Sport

For the world’s most expensive goalkeeper, he’s had a solid season. He’s still improving, just as his already impressive English. And he may yet play a key role in winning a trophy in his first ever European competition.

Incidentally, speaking of full circles, his opposite number in the Europa League final could be none other than Petr Cech, in the final match of his legendary career before retirement (and possible return to Chelsea in a non-playing capacity).