Football: Atletico Madrid win Europa League
(CNN) — Atletico Madrid beat Athletic Bilbao 3-0 in the all-Spanish final of the Europa League in the Romanian capital Bucharest.
The game was won in the first half an hour after Colombian international Radamel Falcao scored two stunning individual goals.
Athletic Bilbao held on until half time, regrouped, and had most of the possession in the second half but couldn’t make the breakthrough.
Instead Falcao came close to scoring a hat trick when he hit to post before Diego scored a late goal on the breakaway.
The build up to the Europa League final, Europe’s second continental club competition after the Champions League, focused on the fact it was an all-Spanish affair.
Yet that only tells half the story.
Both teams may hail from the same league but their philosophies, history, catchment area and even language are a country apart.
Athletic Bilbao is a Basque team to its marrow. The team come from the northern city of Bilbao and have never been relegated from Spain’s top tier.
The Basque 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.
The Athletic Bilbao team is made exclusively of talent nurtured in its youth academy or from players who can trace their ancestry to the Basque country.
But in that context, their 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 — behavior that 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 Manchester United apart over two matches.
For the final “El Loco” was up against Diego Simione who played for Bielsa when he was in charge of the Argentina national team.
But it was Bielsa’s young protégé that came out on top, the second time Atletico Madrid have won the title in three years, largely thanks to the performance of Falcao.
His two goals gave Madrid a decisive advantage. In the second half Athletic 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.
“I am disappointed, we did not play a good match,” Bielsa told AFP after the match.
“I am in charge of the strategy of the squad who failed to achieve its objective, which makes the disappointment even greater. Atletico deserved their win, but the scale of it was excessive.”