In a season in which Spanish
teams threatened to completely dominate their continental
rivals, it falls to Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao to carry
the flag when they meet in the Europa League final on Wednesday.
Barcelona and Real Madrid unexpectedly fell by the wayside
in the Champions League semi-finals, leaving Atletico and
Athletic, similar in name and club colours of red and white, to
share the spotlight in UEFA's second-tier competition.
Atletico won the inaugural Europa League, which replaced the
UEFA Cup, in 2010 while Athletic, who only field players of
Basque origin, are in their first European final since their one
and only previous appearance in 1977.
Both sides, coached by Argentines - Atletico by Diego
Simeone and Athletic by Marcelo Bielsa - boast strikers capable
of lighting up the National stadium in the Romanian capital.
Atletico, who have scored the most goals in this season's
competition - 30, will look to Radamel Falcao and Adrian Lopez.
Colombian Falcao set a record in 2010/11 with 17 goals in
Porto's triumphant campaign, including the winner against Braga,
and is joint top-scorer this season on 10 with Schalke 04's
Klass-Jan Huntelaar. Lopez has eight to his name.
Athletic front-man Fernando Llorente is a menace to any
defence while in teenager Iker Muniain, the north-coast club
have a player destined for a big-money move sooner rather than
"Athletic does not depend on one single player, they have
some excellent players and throughout the season those players
have shown they have stepped up when needed," said Falcao.
"Llorente and Muniain are excellent players but we think of
Bilbao as a squad."
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