Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

UEFA: Can Atlético de Madrid carry on from here? (+video)

Posted in European Football by peterbein on May 13, 2010
Diego Forlan

Diego Forlán proved to be the hero for Atlético Madrid in the first ever UEFA Europa League final

Finally Club Atlético de Madrid savour some silverware. The success starved club from the Spanish capital finally won their second European trophy after defeating a battling Fulham FC side 2-1 after extra-time to add the UEFA Europa League to the European Cup Winners’ Cup that they won in 1961-62. But this may not be the only silver which graces Atlético’s trophy cabinet this season as los Rojiblancos also have the opportunity to win the Copa del Rey (Spanish King’s Cup), the final of which they play in Barcelona on May 19th against Sevilla CF. In a season which could also see more illustrious neighbours Real Madrid complete the season empty-handed this has the potential to be quite some year for all followers of Madrid’s ‘other’ club (a term I use very loosely).

In 1995-96 Atlético completed, for the first time in their history, the domestic double of La Liga and Copa del Rey and good times seemed destined to grace the club for some time. Under the astute leadership of coach Radomir Antić Atlético, graced with names such as Caminero, Kiko and Simeone, finished four points clear of nearest challengers Valencia CF in the league whilst consolidating the success with a cup final victory over FC Barcelona with an extra-time goal from Milinko Pantić proving to be the cherry on the cake of the perfect season at the Vicente Calderón. Sadly the club didn’t capitalize on this despite signing players of the quality of Juninho, Christian Vieri and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and, within four years, the club were playing their football in the second division having been relegated in the 1999-2000 season. Two years later the club were back where they belong but the club, always beset by drama off-field as well as on-field, have had to be patient whilst watching clubs like Valencia CF and Sevilla CF enjoy occasional bouts of success along with the big boys of Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona. It has taken them fourteen years to sample that winning feeling again and one hopes that Atleti will learn the lessons which they failed to do the last time they won a trophy.

If the club can hold on to players such as Diego Forlán, Sergio “Kun” Agüero and Simão then the club will start from a good position. Unfortunately Atlético haven’t qualified for next season’s UEFA Champions League, a competition they’ve graced for the last two seasons, so they may struggle to bring in significant additional quality in the short-term. But as the team has shown in Europe and at home this season there is still sufficient quality already for the club to build on under coach Quique Sánchez Flores who has performed fantastically well given the terrible position the club was in when he arrived. Flores took over the club when they were lying one place above the relegation zone after eight games of the season and he has steadily taken the club up to a more respectable ninth position in the table despite Atleti’s usual bouts with inconsistency in the league. Flores has given the team a more attacking mentality with the star striking duo of Forlán and Agüero looking deadly scoring a combined thirty league goals between them whilst players such as Simão and Reyes, who looks a totally different player from last season, have provided quality from the flanks. The defence is a concern however with Atleti shipping in 58 goals in 37 matches so far this season, the worst record out of those teams in the top half of the table and the joint fifth worst record in the whole league with only Deportivo Xerez, Racing Santander, Tenerife CD and Real Zaragoza having worse records whilst Valladolid have conceded the same number of goals.

The UEFA Europa League won’t go down as a classic but there was still enough moments of drama to merit any showpiece occasion. Diego Forlán gave Atleti the lead in the 32nd minute turning home from an Agüero assist but Fulham FC, whose European adventure under coach Roy Hodgson had already had many a memorable comeback, equalized just five minutes later after a cross from Zoltán Gera took a minor deflection before reaching the foot of Simon Davies who volleyed home at the far post to make it one each. The game saw no further goal action in the ninety minutes which meant extra-time at the end of an already pulsating final. With just four minutes to go in the extra-time period Forlán just managed to poke home from short range when Agüero’s well struck low cross reached the Uruguayan predator on the edge of the six yard box to nudge the ball in the net just before Fulham defender Brede Hangelund could do anything to stop him. It was cruel for the Craven Cottage club to lose so late in the game but one can’t deny the fact that Atlético, ultimately, had the better quality players to decide the match. For fans of the Rojiblancos just winning the UEFA Europa League means a great season but if they can win the Copa del Rey next Wednesday evening then that would be a double triumph which, in the long term, could prove even sweeter than the one they won in 1995-96.

Watch the match goals and trophy ceremony here:

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