A double by Colombian striker Radamel Falcao inspired Atletico Madrid to a 3-0 win over fellow Spaniards Athletic Bilbao in Bucharest, Romania on Wednesday and their second Europa League trophy in three seasons.
Falcao, who also became the first player to win successive Europa League/UEFA Cups with different sides having scored the winning goal for Porto last term, scored a brilliant first-half double to take his tally for this season’s competition to 12.
Brazilian attacking midfielder Diego, who missed the 2009 final for Werder Bremen against winners Shakhtar Donetsk because he was suspended, added a third late in the second-half to give Argentinian coach Diego Simeone a trophy just months after he took over the hotseat.
Falcao opened the scoring on seven minutes with a spectacular goal taking the ball down the right and then into the box and as defender Fernando Amorebieta slipped he curled the ball round three defenders and the keeper from the edge of the box for his 11th goal in 15 Europa League games this season.
Bilbao’s far younger side – an average age of under 24 – took a while to settle but gradually started to make more of an impact.
Their leading striker Fernando Llorente – scorer of 29 goals this term – had missed with an early header when he was not helped by being shoved in the back but he should have done better in the 19th minute.
Found brilliantly in the box he only had Belgian youngster Thibault Courtois to beat but his usual sure touch let him down and his shot skimmed off his boot and wide. Falcao, though, was unstoppable at the other end and his second stemmed from the hapless Amorebieta being dispossessed as he tried foolishly to dribble it away from the box.
Turkish playmaker Ardi Turan found the Colombian, who completely fooled centreback Javi Martinez sending him the wrong way as he went the other before curling the ball into the top far left corner to double Atletico’s lead.
The two sides were more evenly matched in the opening 15 minutes of the second-half with Diego going close for Atletico but finding the side netting while Inigo Perez forced a good tip over the bar from 19-year-old Courtois.
Llorente, though, was not having the sort of night that will see him promoted over Fernando Torres in the Spanish Euro squad as once again found in a good position on the hour mark his first touch let him down and another chance went begging.
Athletic kept pressing but clear chances were rare, though Gomez Ibai had some Atletico fans hearts beating faster with his volley from outside the area which just cleared the bar with 20 minutes remaining.
Bilbao conjured up another chance in the 77th minute as the ball fell to Markel Susaseta, but his goalbound shot was deflected for a corner.
Susaseta went even closer a minute later as the ball ping-ponged round the Atletico area and the ball fell to him unmarked five yards out from goal but with just Courtois to beat the ‘keeper – on loan from Chelsea – produced a great block with his legs.
Down the other end Falcao produced a fine piece of skill to turn a defender and fire in a shot from outside the box which beat the keeper but came back off the post.
Diego, though, sealed the win for Atletico with a fine solo goal with five minutes remaining, breaking through a weak tackle by the demoralised Amorebieta and firing home from the edge of the area.
Moments after the victory, singing and dancing Atletico Madrid fans poured into the Spanish capital’s centre on Wednesday cheering their second Europa League trophy in three seasons.
Men, women and children packed the main tree-lined avenues leading to the central Neptuno fountain, a stone statue of the god of the sea that is the club’s home for victory parties.
“We are so happy to win the final. This is a great day for us,” shouted Rafa Guijarro, 42, after their 3-0 win over fellow Spaniards Athletic Bilbao in Bucharest.
Several thousand fans in red-and-white striped team shirts joined the party in the warm night air, crowding the square and chanting: “Champions! Champions!”.
A group of hundreds jumped up and down together in the street. Some fans climbed lamp posts to see the scale of the party.
A line of riot officers backed by half a dozen blue police vans blocked many hundreds of fans from approaching close to the fountain, which was protected by steel barriers.
The police action sparked howls of protest that rival Real Madrid fans had been allowed to celebrate sealing their Spanish league win May 2 at the Cibeles fountain just a few minutes’ walk away.
Late into the night, fans set off bangers and car drivers streamed through Madrid’s streets beeping horns as their passengers waved club flags and scarves through windows, leaning out to scream victory
.Winners of the Europa League (the UEFA Cup till 2009) after Atletico Madrid won the trophy here on Wednesday:
2012: Atletico Madrid (ESP)
2011: FC Porto (POR)
2010: Atletico Madrid (ESP)
2009: Shakhtar Donetsk (UKR)
2008: Zenit Saint-Petersburg (RUS)
2007: FC Sevilla (ESP)
2006: FC Sevilla (ESP)
2005: CSKA Moscow (RUS)
2004: Valencia (ESP)
2003: Porto (POR)
2002: Feyernood (NED)
2001: Liverpool (ENG)
2000: Galatasaray (TUR)
1999: Parma (ITA)
1998: Inter Milan (ITA)
1997: Schalke 04 (GER)
1996: Bayern Munich (GER)
1995: Parma (ITA)
1994: Inter Milan (ITA)
1993: Juventus (ITA)
1992: Ajax (NED)
1991: Inter Milan (ITA)
1990: Juventus (ITA)
1989: Napoli (ITA)
1988: Bayer Leverkusen (GER)
1987: Gothenburg (SWE)
1986: Real Madrid (ESP)
1985: Real Madrid (ESP)
1984: Tottenham (ENG)
1983: Anderlecht (BEL)
1982: Gothenburg (SWE)
1981: Ipswich (ENG)
1980: Eintracht Frankfurt (GER)
1979: Borussia Moenchengladbach (GER)
1978: PSV Eindhoven (NED)
1977: Juventus (ITA)
1976: Liverpool (ENG)
1975: Borussia Moenchengladbach (GER)
1974: Feyenoord (NED)
1973: Liverpool (ENG)
1972: Tottenham (ENG)