Atlético Madrid won the UEFA Europa League for the second time in three years this evening with a fantastic 3-0 win over Athletic Bilbao.
On the back of 11 successive wins in the competition, Diego Simeone’s team went into the final as slight favourites, but had a tough task on their hands against the team that had taken on all comers en route to Bucharest, with many backing Marcelo Bielsa’s team for glory.
However, the Colchoneros and especially Radamel Falcao had other ideas, the Colombian netting a brace and Diego another late on to ensure yet another trip back to Neptuno.
Atleti started brightly, and it was clear straight from kick-off that our game plan was to frustrate our Basque counterparts and catch them on the break. Seven minutes was all it took to pay dividends, and just a goal shy away from taking the competition golden boot for a second year running, it was Falcao who rifled us in front.
Having gathered a hopeful ball from Diego over the top, the Colombian was faced with the large frame of Fernando Amorebieta, but superbly found space to get the ball onto his left-foot, before lashing the ball into the top corner and sending the travelling fans into raptures.
Los Leones had to respond, but looked somewhat overawed by the occasion as passes were misplaced and balls were lost. The closest they came to finding the net in the first half was from a well struck Muniain long range effort, but the outstanding Courtois was equal to it as the designated away side began to grow into the final.
34 minutes in they shot themselves in the foot though, with Amorebieta a possible culprit once again. The Venezuelan international lost the ball on the edge of the area, and after great work from Miranda and Arda, the ball found it’s way to Radamel Falcao yet again, who turned Aurtenetxe inside out, keeping his composure to slot the ball past Iraizoz for the second time.
The loyal Athletic supporters had been silenced, but did what they could to roar their team back out for the second half and to an improbably comeback.
Bielsa made two changes at half-time with Ibai and Iñigo Pérez entering the fray, but despite their attempts to push up the tempo and really apply extended pressure, our rearguard stood up strong as they have done all throughout the campaign and repelled everything thrown at them.
Diego could’ve found our third just minutes after the break but hit the side netting, before a succession of Athletic players fired over on the hour mark; De Marcos unable to take advantage of a defensive slip from Juanfran.
Ten minutes from the end they had their best change to reduce the deficit, but teenager Courtois made a huge save to deny Susaeta. Some excellent last-ditch defending from Godín had prevented Llorente from getting a shot away, but it was the Belgian stopper who came to our rescue with a sensational block.
Atleti broke away with pace yet again, and Falcao, unusually quiet since firing home our second, was almost able to claim a hat-trick, but saw his deflected shot treacle onto the foot of the post and away to safety.
However, the third would not take long in coming, and in some fashion too. Diego had done a fine job in midfield and gave fans what we hope will not be a goodbye present, walking his way through the Athletic backline before firing home, and carving our name onto the trophy in the process.
With just moments remaining, substitutes waiting in expectation for the final whistle and a charge onto the pitch and fans as always in full voice, the backline did what they had done so well for the previous 85 minutes and saw out the win, as referee Wolfgang Stark brought an end to proceedings, letting the celebrations get underway.
Captain for the night Gabi went on to lift the trophy alongside departing skipper Antonio López, and will return to Neptuno as heroes tomorrow along with the rest of the team.
A fantastic performance, not just tonight but throughout the tournament, and a night that will never be forgotten by Madrid’s Rojiblancos. On Sunday we’ll try and stake our claim for next season’s Champions League but for now, let’s enjoy the moment and bask in the glory of another much deserved European title. Vamos Atleti!
Line-up: Courtois; Juanfran, Miranda, Godín, Filipe; Mario Gabi; Arda (“90 Domínguez), Diego (“90 Koke), Adrián (“88 Salvio); and Falcao.
Goals: 1-0 Falcao (“7); 2-0 Falcao (“34); 3-0 Diego (“86)