Falcao the king of Europa as Atletico Madrid down Athletic Bilbao
Radamel Falcao continued his love affair with the Europa League as Atletico Madrid defeated La Liga rivals Athletic Bilbao to claim the trophy in Bucharest.
It was Atletico’s second Europa League success in three seasons, but the evening belonged to Falcao, who achieved the unique feat of winning the competition in consecutive seasons with different clubs and finishing top scorer both years.
‘El Tigre’s’ two first-half goals were both superbly taken, although Athletic’s defending was questionable. The Basques’ coach Marcelo Bielsa kept making tactical switches, but his side never really got going and Diego Ribas’ fine solo strike finished the contest late on allowing Atletico captain Gabi to deservedly lifted the trophy.
Both coaches had beforehand predicted a clash of styles, with Atletico’s patient approach up against Athletic’s more risky all-out attacking style. Colchoneros boss Diego Simeone’s plan worked to perfection.
Atletico began the game looking more composed than the less experienced Athletic side, and none were cooler than Falcao. After seven minutes he eluded marker Fernando Amorebieta 15 yards out and curled a left footed shot into the far top corner. It was a superb strike, and the ideal start for a side designed to soak up pressure.
The Basques looked stunned but they eventually regrouped. Iker Muniain brought a decent save from keeper Thibaut Courtois and Fernando Llorente claimed he had been tugged down by Diego Godin as both contested a high ball.
The targetman was not having his best day, and mis-hit a volley from just eight yards when found by Ander Herrera’s clever cross.
With his side sat deep, Falcao had drifted out of the game, but he was just waiting his moment to pounce. Eleven minutes before half-time, Amorebieta lost possession and Arda Turan’s cross found Falcao eight yards out. He was facing away from goal, but cleverly tricked Jon Aurtenetxe with a drag-back before clinically finishing.
Athletic’s young team looked shocked. Bielsa had to do something at half-time, and substitutes Inigo Perez and Ibai Gomez were introduced with Athletic moving to a three-man defence.
It almost worked immediately when Iker Muniain ran clear, but Atletico centre-back Miranda hacked the ball away with Llorente waiting to tap in. Simeone’s side soon soon looked comfortable again however and Diego and Gabi came close to a third.
Perez’s free-kick forced Courtois to concede a corner, but he was otherwise little troubled as the half progressed, as his well-drilled team-mates worked diligently to deny Bilbao the slightest opening.
They themselves continued to look the more dangerous side and Adrian fired just wide at the other end. The Basques knew they needed something special and Ibai tried a first time a volley from 15 yards but the ball flew too high. Oscar de Marcos shot from a tight angle but also missed the target.
On-loan Chelsea teenager Courtois was finally called upon and blocked superbly after the ball fell to Markel Susaeta ten yards out. Falcao wanted a third and he ran past Javi Martínez and inside Amorebieta before hitting a post.
Team-mate Diego had better luck when he drove past the dizzy-looking Amorebieta and shot in via the far post to seal the win, and the trophy, for Atletico.