Stand by for Europa final to savour as Spanish sides go for goals
It has been an emotional ride so far and nothing about tonight's Europa League final suggests it will be anything but dramatic, as free-scoring Athletic Bilbao face the only team to have scored more than them in the tournament, Atletico Madrid.
Bilbao's Marcelo Bielsa is in one dugout, and Diego Simeone – his captain when he coached Argentina – is in the other. The teams boast two of the finest No 9s in the world in Fernando Llorente and Radamel Falcao. Around 22,000 of the two noisiest sets of supporters in Spain have gathered in the Bucharest National Stadium. And as if all that were not enough, there is that other great aid to goal-laden drama – tired legs: these two sides have played 117 games between them this season.
"There's a very good chance they can win it" was Sir Alex Ferguson's appraisal of Athletic Bilbao after they knocked his Manchester United side out of the Europa League 5-3 on aggregate in the last-16.
Whether or not they do indeed win their first European trophy tonight, Bilbao have had an incredible season. Their 19-year-old forward Iker Muniain explained how coach Bielsa's persistence with a relentless pressing game, and his tendency to stick with a settled side, have paid dividends.
Muniain said: "In October they started talking about rotation, that we could not make it to January without rotation. In November they said the same and in December the same again. Now we are in May and we have just three games left. We are tired, but no more than the opposition. And we go into the game with everyone available."
Bielsa's players complained of being "on the verge of suffocation" when he came in last summer demanding they ditch their largely long-ball football for a rapid-tempo passing style. "Madrid and Barça don't exist on the verge of suffocation, they exist in suffocation," he told them. "The suffering becomes addictive" admitted Muniain, who is more at home than most with that.
Simeone played 30 of his 106 games for Argentina for Bielsa, who said of him then that "where his technique does not take him, his fighting spirit does". The former midfielder has moulded his Atletico team in his own abrasive style but they can play as well: they are the Europa's League top scorers with 30 goals, two more than Athletic.
Latest in Sport
The Prince of Wales Stakes today is regarded by many as the No1 race of the Royal Ascot meeting and ...
by Gareth Purnell
19 June 2013 02:01 AM
Today’s St James Palace looks a cracker and there has been sustained money for Dawn Approach since t...
by Gareth Purnell
18 June 2013 02:01 AM
Newcastle don’t need a football director – they need a new medical team after finishing bottom of the injury league
Newcastle United have shocked their fans by appointing Joe Kinnear as director of football but new f...
by Alex Miller
17 June 2013 04:39 PM
ACT Brumbies v British and Irish Lions - player ratings
Premier League fixture list unveiled: David Moyes and Jose Mourinho on an early collision course
Liverpool expected to complete deal for £6m Spanish winger Luis Alberto in next 48 hours
In pictures: Royal Ascot 2013 - Opening day
Exclusive: Cristiano Ronaldo advised to stay at Real Madrid for further 18 months before making possible switch to Manchester United
- 4 Uri Geller psychic spy? The spoon-bender's secret life as a Mossad and CIA agent revealed