8th May 2012
The all-Spanish Europa League final at National Arena in Bucharest should be an exciting affair and there is every chance we will see one of the most entertaining finals in the history of the competition. Neither of the two evenly matched sides are expected to discard their attractive attacking style of play, meaning that a real spectacle is in store for the fans in Romania.
Atletico Madrid are set to contest their second Europa League final in three years, and los Colchoneros will be hoping for another trophy after beating Fulham in the final of the 2009/2010 season. Interesting thing is that none of the players who celebrated the big success three years ago are expected to start against Athletic, with only Alvaro Dominguez, Paulo Assuncao and Eduardo Salvio still in the squad from the 18 players that were called for the Fulham game. That may not be such a bad thing now that Diego Simeone can count on the likes of Diego, Arda Turan, Adrian Lopez and Radamel Falcao Garcia, the players who helped the team win their last 11 Europa League games, eliminating sides like Lazio, Besiktas, Hannover and Valencia in the process. Apart from the suspended Tiago Mendes, Diego Simeone will have fully fit squad to choose from and the good thing is his players go into this game high on confidence after the La Liga victory over Malaga helped keep their Champions League dream alive.
While Athletic Bilbao may not have been as convincing as Atletico in this year’s Europa League, they have played some memorable games this season and showed a lot of quality and character on their way to the final. The double victory over Manchester United and the manner in which it was achieved will be regarded as a historic feat in years to come, but hard-fought wins over Lokomotiv Moscow and especially Sporting Gijon showed that this team can play beautiful football and grind out results at the same time when needed. Exactly 35 years after club’s only UEFA Cup final and a defeat to Juventus, arguably the best team in Athletic’s history will have a chance to make things right and bring the coveted trophy to Basque country. Needless to say that Marcelo Bielsa and his players will be fully focused on task at hand and after everything they’ve showed this season los Leones can be trusted to turn the dream into reality. Fernando Amorebieta and Iker Muniain have been passed fit, meaning El Loco Bielsa can field his strongest line-up.
The match between Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao is expected to produce plenty of excitement and there are no doubts we will see a close game, but I just have to go with los Leones here. They have performed so well under pressure this season and I am confident the players will be at their best once again and beat Atletico to the trophy.
Verdict: Athletic to lift the trophy
Best Odds: Evens