Football

Atletico triumph in all-Spanish final

Simeone and Falcao celebrate Europa League success. (©GettyImages)
Simeone and Falcao celebrate Europa League success. (©GettyImages).

Atletico Madrid won the Europa League trophy for the second time in three seasons after a thrilling 3-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao in last night's all-Spanish final in Bucharest.

Two superb first half strikes from Colombian striker Radamel Falcao took his 2011-12 tally to 12 goals - meaning he finished as top scorer in the competition - and set Diego Simeone's side on their way to an emphatic cup conquest.

Diego added a late third to put the tie beyond doubt, and despite a vast improvement after the break from Athletic, inspired by the enterprising Iker Munian, who, at 19 was the youngest member of a side with an average age of just 24, it was Atletico who always looked the more ruthless.

A tale of teacher versus pupil, Bilbao boss Marcelo Bielsa - who coached Simeone for several years during his time in charge of Argentina - was outfoxed by his 42-year-old understudy, as Atletico's attack tormented Athletic's defence all night long.

Bielsa's men were the architects of their own downfall though, and after starting the game nervously, twice gave away possession at the back. They had barely got into the match when Falcao fired Atletico ahead; he checked inside and curled the ball into the top corner with only seven minutes on the clock.

Falcao doubled their lead just after the half hour mark when Arda Turan dispossessed defender Fernando Amorebieta on the edge of the box, lashing high into the roof of the net from the Turkish midfielder's cutback, past a helpless Gorka Iraizoz in the Bilbao goal.

Athletic rang the changes at half-time, with Bielsa introducing Ibai Gomez and Inigo Perez to replace Ander Iturraspe and Jon Aurtenetxe in an attempt to fortify his midfield and add attacking impetus. But, the vigilant display of Mario Suarez in front of Atletico's back-line, backed up by Diego, Adrian Lopez and Arda helped nullify their renewed threat.

The achievement means Simeone has become only the third person to have triumphed in the competition as both player and coach, after getting his hands on the silverware again, 14 years after he first held the trophy following Inter Milan's 3-0 defeat of Lazio in 1998.

His twin successes put Simeone in an exclusive club alongside Dino Zoff and Huub Stevens. Zoff won the UEFA Cup as goalkeeper in the Juventus side that beat Athletic in the 1977 showpiece final, before leading the Turin club to glory as coach, against Fiorentina in 1990.

Stevens triumphed as a PSV Eindhoven defender in 1978, when the Dutch side defeated Bastia, and he followed that up with managerial success when he guided Schalke to victory over Inter in 1997.

Simeone has also become only the fourth non-European coach to win a UEFA club competition, and follows in the footsteps of three fellow Argentine managers, Luis Carniglia (Real Madrid), Helenio Herrera (Inter Milan) and Alfredo Di Stefano (Valencia) to achieve that.

Meanwhile, Falcao's love affair with the Europa League also continued, after the 26-year-old became the first player to win the competition in back-to-back seasons with two different clubs.

Speaking to Spanish TV after the game he said: "I am grateful for this moment that few players have the chance to experience, grateful to all the team, my colleagues, the coaching staff."

Last season he struck the only goal for Porto in the final against Braga, and finished with an impressive tally of 17 goals. Twelve months on, and that record now reads 29 goals in 29 games in the Europa League.

Topics:
Europa League
European News
Football

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