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Atletico Madrid sealed their second Europa League trophy in three years, as they saw off rivals Athletic Club 3-0 on an entertaining night in Bucharest. Two goals from star man Falcao gave Atletico an untouchable first-half lead, before a late piece of magic from Diego finished the game off for the 5th side in La Liga.
It was all set up to be a carnival of beautiful soccer, from two teams who have impressed the continent throughout the tournament. The Bucharest crowd didn’t have to wait long to be impressed: little over five minutes passed before star striker Falcao cut inside, and hurled a stunning left-footed effort into the corner, to put Atletico Madrid 1-0 up.
The game didn’t quite come to life, as many would have expected after that early goal. Athletic Club looked uncomfortable in unfamiliar surroundings, but the Basque side started to play their trademark soccer as the first-half went on, and they were creating chances because of it, but Fernando Llorente couldn’t find his shots, as he sliced an effort just wide of the posts.
The people’s favorite, Athletic Club began to get on top, and were pushing Atletico back into their own area consistently. Iker Muniain threatened with a long-range effort, which Courtois could only push away. But for all their mastery, Athletic were the masters of their own downfall. Amorebieta failed to clear the ball away, and when it finally found its way to Falcao, the Colombian striker made no mistake, as he turned the defenders inside out and smashed Atletico into a two-goal lead.
The star of the show, Falcao may have been lucky to stay on the pitch shortly after his opener, when he planted his foot into Iraizoz’s groin. Whether it was intentional is open to interpretation. The first half fizzled out without any further drama though, and Athletic needed quite a response. Marcelo Bielsa was determined to get that reaction by bringing on Gomez and Perez for the second half, and he almost got it, when Muniain’s low cross was deflected behind by Miranda.
The match was as fast-paced and all action, as it had been before the break, with Atletico relatively happy to sit on their two-goal lead to soak up the pressure from their Spanish rivals. The trailing side was pressing hard, but couldn’t break down a stubborn defense, with Diego Godin at the heart of keeping Atletico’s two-goal lead intact. Athletic Club seemed to struggle with the pressure of a final cup, and were a world away from the carefree team everybody saw playing Manchester United off the pitch a few months ago.
But the team sitting 9th in La Liga wouldn’t give up. Fernando Llorente had an effort blocked before Gomez blazed over, and they came forward again. Some great work by Muniain this time ended in De Marcos smashing the ball over the bar, as Marcelo Bielsa grew increasingly frustrated on the touchline. Still Bilbao didn’t give up, though Susaeta came close, as his on-target effort was deflected agonizingly wide of the post.
It was a game that felt as if one goal would spark a sensational comeback. Llorente was once again denied by a stubborn Atletico defense, before Susaeta was denied this time by Courtois, before Falcao almost completed his hat trick,with a deflected effort onto the post, as the game became increasingly open. But with five minutes to, another individual moment of brilliance wrapped things up for Atletico Madrid, when Diego dribbled through the defense and found the far corner, and at least one European trophy would be going back to Madrid.