June 20, 2013
Europa final promises goals from Spanish rivals
With potent attacking talent in abundance on both sides, Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao should serve up a Europa League final to remember on Wednesday and remind the continent that Spain is not just about Real Madrid or Barcelona.
The 2010 champions Atletico have won 11 successive matches to reach the final while fearless Athletic, who only field players of Basque origin, have lit up the competition under eccentric Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa with their possession-based style that has drawn comparisons with Barca.
Athletic made the rest of Europe take notice when they beat Manchester United home and away in the last 16, then accounted for Schalke 04 in the quarter-finals with an attacking intensity that the Bundesliga side, like United before them, could not handle.
Powerful centre forward Fernando Llorente's physical presence is sure to cause problems for an Atletico defence that is vulnerable in the air, particularly at set pieces, while versatile attacking midfielder Iker Muniain, only 19 and attracting the attention of bigger clubs, pulls the strings.
If Atletico pay too much attention to Muniain and Llorente, then they risk being punished by the equally talented Ibai Gomez, Markel Susaeta and Javi Martinez.
"We will try to play naturally, with a lack of inhibition, because this will bring us closer to a victory," said Bielsa, who took the helm at the north-coast club at the beginning of the season.
"Throughout every game, regardless of their importance, I haven't seen a problem with confidence or anxiety yet that the team were not able to resolve themselves."