Europe: Bilbao helpless as Atlético claim second title
Only a few years ago could one look at the history books and see that a club as grand in tradition as Atlético de Madrid had only won one European title in their illustrious history. Now, following their second successful UEFA Europa League campaign in three years, the history books are beginning to show the Spanish club in a much more favourable light.
Los Rojiblancos had only claimed a solitary European Cup Winners’ Cup title before 2010 and that triumph had taken place so long ago that there probably aren’t too many people left who remember it too vividly (for the record Atlético beat AC Fiorentina in the 1961-62 competition). In the last three seasons, however, the club’s pedigree has improved with some much-needed silverware making its way to the club. The 2010 UEFA Europa League triumph, in which Atlético scrapped to a 2-1 extra-time win over English club Fulham FC, was bettered last night by a convincing 3-0 defeat of compatriots Athletic Bilbao in the Romanian capital of Bucharest.
Bilbao were featuring in only their second continental final, their first since losing to Italian giants Juventus FC in the 1976-77 UEFA Cup, and had impressed many onlookers on their way to this year’s showpiece with some wonderful attacking football, most notably against Manchester United in the Round of 16 in which the English champions succumbed to a 5-3 aggregate defeat. Players such as Fernando Llorente, Javi Martínez and Iker Muniain, to name but three, had impressed throughout the tournament and one would imagine that their current transfer values are significantly higher now than they would’ve been at the start of the season.
Sadly for the Basques their inexperience on such a big stage proved to be their undoing as Atlético de Madrid, through the wonderful striking prowess of Colombian star Radamel Falcao, began strongly and were two goals to the good after just 34 minutes. Substitute Diego sealed the deal with just five minutes remaining in the second half following a game in which Madrid’s ruthlessness was such that it hardly mattered that Adrián López, who had been the club’s top scorer in the tournament before the final kicked off, failed to add to his tally of eleven goals for the competition. Falcao’s brace took his tally to twelve for this season and an impressive thirty goals in 31 European appearances in the last two years, during which the Colombian had also won the UEFA Europa League trophy with his former club FC Porto in last year’s final.
Atlético de Madrid’s reward for winning the UEFA Europa League is a place in the final of the 2012 UEFA Super Cup against either FC Bayern München or Chelsea FC depending on who wins this year’s UEFA Champions League final a week on Saturday. Athletic Bilbao, on the other hand, do have the consolation of knowing that another cup final awaits for them in two weeks’ time when they face FC Barcelona for the second time in three years in Spain’s premier knockout competition, the Copa del Rey.