Atletico Madrid win the Europa League final in Bucharest, Romania
2010 winners beat Athletic Bilbao in an all-Spanish final on Wednesday
Falcao scored two goals in a man-of-the-match performance
Colombia striker was also a winner last year with Portugal's Porto
Atletico Madrid beat Athletic Bilbao 3-0 in Wednesday’s all-Spanish final of the Europa League in the Romanian capital Bucharest, thanks to two stunning first-half goals from Radamel Falcao.
The Colombia striker was top scorer in Europe’s second-tier club competition last season as he helped Porto take the title, netting the only goal of an all-Portuguese final, and he has had a similar impact this time.
He came close to scoring a hat-trick when he hit the post, before Brazilian midfielder Diego scored a late goal on the breakaway.
While the build-up to the match focused on both clubs coming from the same league, that tells only half the story – their philosophies, history, catchment area and even language are a country apart.
Athletic is a Basque team to its marrow, based in the northern city and made up exclusively of talent nurtured in its youth academy or from players who can trace their ancestry to the Basque country.
The region has long walked a different beat to the rest of Spain, having a distinct language, culture and history. The terrorist group ETA has taken hundreds of lives fighting for Basque independence.
But in that context, Bilbao’s Argentine coach comes from a different planet.
Marcelo Bielsa is arguably the most innovative coach in world football. Known for his intellect, temper and idiosyncratic behavior on the sidelines and on the training pitch – which has earned him the nickname “El Loco” – Bielsa has had to rely on tactically out-thinking his opponents rather than outspending them.
The highlight of the campaign came in an earlier round when Bielsa’s team ripped English champions Manchester United apart over two matches.
For the final “El Loco” was up against Diego Simeone, who played for Bielsa when he was in charge of the Argentina national team.
But it was Bielsa’s young protege who came out on top as Atletico Madrid won the title for the second time in three years, largely thanks to the performance of Falcao – who scored a record 17 goals in 14 games in last season’s competition.
His two goals gave Madrid a decisive advantage, curling home a left-foot effort and then executing a wonderful drag-back to leave his defensive opponent on the turf before lashing the ball into the net.
“Falcao forgot what he did last year and because of that he could live the moment he did today,” Simeone, who was appointed coach in December, told reporters after the match.
“I’ve known Radamel since he was a boy – I had him at River (Plate in 2008), we won a league together. I love him as a person and admire him. There’s no ceiling to his ambition.”
In the second half, Bilbao besieged Madrid’s goal without having many clear cut opportunities. Instead Madrid waited and broke on the counter attack, scoring a third and effectively ending the contest with five minutes to go.
By then even the usually boisterous “El Loco” sat quietly on the bench, resigned to his fate.
“We didn’t expect this result tonight and didn’t expect such a stark difference between what we thought we could do and what happened,” Bielsa told reporters.
“The key thing was they managed to play the kind of game they wanted and we did the opposite – that was the big difference.
“The margin of their victory was not deserved, the difference was exaggerated – it was not in proportion to what I saw. What happened on pitch from my viewpoint is that they scored three goals and had eight chances; we had nine and scored none.”