It was an all-Spanish meeting at the National Stadium in Bucharest. Could the Columbian hero of last year’s final steal the show again?
We’ve gone minute-by-minute at the National Stadium in Bucharest for tonight’s Europa League finale.
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Is it a year since Dublin played host to this fixture already? Couldn’t be.
Welcome along to tonight’s coverage of the Europa League final, where two La Liga side face on in the Romanian capital.
Last time around, Radamel Falcao’s header was enough to edge Porto past their Portuguese opponents Braga at Lansdowne Road and, as chance would have it, the Columbian striker will start his second consecutive final here.
Basque outfit Athletic Bilbao have gained countless new fans around Europe along their path to the final. They have never won the competition but with Marcelo Bielsa at the helm and talents like Andoni Iraola, Javi Martinez, Iker Muniaian and target man Fernando Llorente, they have proved a force to be reckoned with – as Manchester United and Schalke found out.
Atletico Madrid, who have to live in the shadow of their city rivals Real, and we’re in a bad way when former midfield general Diego Simeone took over before Christmas. He has turned their fortunes around and brought them to fifth in La Liga as well as seeing off the likes of Valencia and Lazio.
They are favourites tonight and won the competition two years ago, beating Roy Hodgson’s Fulham in the final.
Here are the starting line-ups:
Atletico Madrid: Courtois, Godin, Filipe, Miranda, Mario Suarez, Turan, Gabi, Juanfran, Diego, Adrian, Falcao. Subs: Sergio Asenjo, Antonio Lopez, Dominguez, Paulo Assuncao, Jorge Koke, Eduardo Salvio, Martin.
Athletic Bilbao: Iraizoz, Aurtenetxe, Amorebieta, Iraola, Iturraspe, Susaeta, Herrera Ander, Javi Martinez, Llorente, De Marcos, Muniain. Subs: Raul San Jose Dominguez, Ekiza, Toquero Pinedo, Gabilondo, Perez, Ibai.
Shots inside the stadium are showing what looks like an electric atmosphere. As well as Spain v Spain, this game also pits an Argentinian manager against his mentor. Simeone played 30 times under Bielsa during his time as the national coach between 1998-2004. Ten minutes to kick-off.
Simeone, left, receives instuctions from Argentina boss Bielsa in 2000. Credit: Steve Mitchell/EMPICS Sport
Atletico Madrid are the ‘home’ side tonight, meaning they get to wear their traditional red and white stripes. Bilbao, meanwhile, will be in their change strip of green with red and white, which reminds me a lot of Cork City’s current home kit:
The teams huddle for those last few words of encouragement and the place is hopping. Let’s get going then…
Madrid are first to register an effort but Adrian Lopez’s header is off-target. Muniaian has just caught Gabi, meanwhile, and Diego’s delivery is decent but referee Wolfgang Stark signals a free-out. Nervy first five minutes, unsurprisingly.
GOAL! Atletico Madrid 1-0 Athletic Bilbao (Falcao)
That didn’t take long. The man who scored the winner last season has taken seven minutes to notch his 34th goal of the season. Receiving the ball on the right-hand side, he throws a few stepovers then cuts inside onto his left and curls an exquisite strike into the top corner before pointing towards the sky.
He’s now the topscorer in this competition for the season with 11.
Excellent chance for Bilbao as a free-kick from deep finds its way to Llorente. He is being pulled by marker Diego Godin and sees the ball bounce off his head and out of play. The big striker pleads for a penalty but it doesn’t arrive.
Check out the goal which separates the sides with 14 minutes played:
First corner of the night for Bilbao with Muniain at the heart of the attack. The set-piece is headed away, however.
Llorente gets onto the end of a Herrara cross after positive play from Markel Susaeta but he swipes at it and the contact isn’t sufficient.
It’s a yellow card for Herrara, who chops Diego down folllowing Falcao’s breakaway from the halfway line. The former Juventus and Werder Bremene playmaker stands over it…
The wall does its job, however, and goes out for a corner, which Gorka Iraizoz.
Muniain has a strike on goal from distance for Athletic and onloan Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois matches it with the save.
Goalscorer Falcao has been cautioned for a late tackle on Ander Iturraspe in the last few moments.
GOAL! Atletico Madrid 2-0 Athletic Bilbao (Falcao)
That’s a top drawer finish from the Columbian. The ball isn’t cleared when Bilbao have the chance to and Diego cuts a pass back to the edge of the six-yard box. A neat turn gives Falcao just enough space to pull the trigger and he blasts the ball home.
The thing is, with 47 minutes remaining, you would fancy him to add a third!
Falcao’s just shot high and wide after another penetrating run. Bilbao have won themselves a corner and it will be the last action of the night. And… it is wasted.
Half-time: Atletico Madrid 2-0 Athletic Bilbao
Plenty of work for Mr Bielsa at the break. His side haven’t done themselves justice so far. They look jaded and will need to shake things up in the second half if they are to have any hope of making a comeback. Madrid have been organised, energetic and, when the time was right, clinical.
Second half has begun and there’s been a changes in personnel for Bilbao – Inigo Perez is on for Iturraspe and Ibai Gomez replaces Aurtenetxe.
Straight from the off, they’re on the offensive with Muniaian, who’s ball is put out behind for a corner. Encouraging start from the side who trail by two goals.
Gabi with a strike and Atletico are still looking the more likely to score. Bilbao are winning the occasional corner but aren’t making the most of them.
Substitute Inigo Perez whips what looks like a cross in and it very nearly catches Courtois out at his far post. A minute later, the ball falls to Llorente but his touch is a heavy one and the chances goes begging. Hasn’t looked himself at all tonight.
Herrara is on for industrious striker Gaizka Toquero, who is sure to work his socks off for the remaining 27 minutes.
Falcao wins his team a free, which Diego balloons over the bar.
Bilbao come close. Getting some joy on the right flank a ball falls nicely for Ibai Gomez, but his volleyis always rising.
This time it’s Oscar De Marcos who sends his shot too high when Ibai makes up good ground. They’re getting joy but not capitalising on it and time is running out.
Agnosisingly wide from Susaeta, whose strike deflects off a defender. It’s been all Bilbao the past few minutes but they are at risk of getting caught on the counter-attack.
Brilliant move conducted by Turkish international Arda Turan but he attempts the chip from 20 yards when power would’ve been the better option.
Down the other end, there’s a goal-line scramble and stopper Courtois comes out on top.
Falcao, on a hat-trick, then hits the post!
GOAL! Atletico Madrid 3-0 Athletic Bilbao (Diego)
That looks to be game, set and match. Diego drives forward and skips by Fernando Amorebieta before blasting past Iraizoz.
The cameras pick out Muniain, who has collapsed on the ground in a fit of tears.
That is Diego done for the night as the Brazilian is taken off for Koke. We’re into time added on now.
Watch that third goal:
It’s just not going to happen for Bilbao here – Ibai, who has been excellent since coming on, clips the bar from distance.
Full-time: Atletico Madrid 3-0 Athletic Bilbao
The Europa League is going back to Madrid who are value for their money. They controlled the game from start to finish and in Falcao have a world class finisher. If Atletico paid €40m for him last summer, what would the likes of city rivals Real or Manchester City have to stump up for the Columbians services in the next transfer window?
Bilbao have been a joy to watch all season but it proved one match too many for them this evening and they were evidently on their last legs. They are a youthful side and if Bielsa can keep the nucleus together, they’ll come back stronger next season. They’ve still got the small matter of a Copa Del Rey final meeting with Barcelona too.
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