Two goal from Radamel Falcao helped Atletico Madrid to a 3-0 win over fellow Spaniards Athletic Bilbao and their second UEFA Europa League trophy in three seasons.
Falcao, who also became the first player to win successive Europa League/UEFA Cups with different sides having scored the winning goal for Porto last season,opened the scoring on seven minutes with a spectacular goal, taking the ball into the box and curling the ball round three defenders and the keeper from the edge of the box for his 11th goal in 15 Europa League games this season.
Bilbao’s far younger side, an average age of under 24, initially seemed overwhelmed by the occassiom and the early Atletico goal. But gradually they came into the game and should have gotten back on level terms in the 19th minute when their leading striker Fernando Llorente only had goalkeeper Thibault Courtois to beat, but his usual sure touch let him down and his shot skimmed off his boot and wide.
Falcao, though showed Llorente how a top striker finishes. Amorebieta was dispossessed as he tried to dribble it away from the box. Ardi Turan found Falcao who completely fooled centre-back Javi Martinez, sending him the wrong way as he went the other, before curling the ball into the top corner to double Atletico’s lead.
In the second half, Llorente had another great opportunity to pull his side back into the match when he found himself in a good position on the hour mark, but once again his first touch let him down and another chance went begging.
Llorente has been superb all season for Athletic but tonight was not his night. It will be interesting to see if tonight’s performance drops him behind Chelsea’s Fernando Torres in the Spanish UEFA EURO 2012 squad.
Down two goals, Athletic Bilbao had no choice but to throw men into attack, even though they left themselves open to the counter attack. And they did create some chances and in the 78th minute Markel Susaseta had a great chance to make the score 2-1. The ball ping-ponged round the Atletico area and fell to him unmarked five yards out from goal. But, with just Courtois to beat, the keeper (on loan from Chelsea) produced a great block with his legs.
With Athletic throwing everything into attack, it was inevitable that they would get caught on the counter-attack and that is what happened with five minutes to go when Diego sealed the win with a fine solo goal, breaking through a weak tackle by the demoralised Amorebieta and firing home from the edge of the area.
It was a tough loses for Athletic Bilbao, but they will have another shot at silverware this season when they meet Barcelona in the Copa del Rey later this month.