Argentine-influenced, all-Spanish Euro final
BUCHAREST - The Associated Press
Atletico Madrid’s Arda Turan (11) and Juanfran (20) celebrate after knocking Valencia out of the European competition in the semifinal. Atletico will have another team from Spain in the Europa League final, where it will face against Athletic Bilbao. REUTERS photoThey come from the same country, but Europa League finalists Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao have another thing in common: their coaches are Argentinean.
Tonight’s Europa League final at the National Arena in the Romanian capital of Bucharest between Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao promises to be an intriguing meeting when Atletico’s Diego Simeone and Bilbao’s Marcelo Bielsa find themselves on the opposing sides.
Simeone played under Bielsa for the Argentine national team for four years, reaching a then-record 106th cap at the 2002 World Cup.
Now, Simeone can upstage his former coach after spending less than a full season in charge of Atletico.
“While I want to win the final, the rival coaching staff is composed of two of my former players. I’d still like to win though,” Bielsa said.
Return of Simeone
Simeone returned to Atletico, a team he helped win the Spanish double in 1996, as coach in December. He led Atletico to a 2-1 win over Bilbao. Before his arrival, Bilbao won 3-0 at home in their first meeting.
Being familiar with Bielsa’s methods can’t hurt either. Simeone, however, insists neither will play much of a role in the match.
“Knowing each other gives us both an advantage, but a final is a final. Both teams have the same chance of winning. I haven’t spoken to Bielsa but I hold great admiration for him,” Simeone said. “I’m very happy about going up against a Spanish team, it speaks volumes about Spanish football, and I’m even happier that two Argentine coaches will meet in a European final.”
Simeone is seeking to become only the third man to win the trophy as player and coach. He played for Inter that won the 1998 title.
The two clubs have met 150 times in the Spanish league, with Atletico holding a 64-59 edge in wins.
The final also pits two formidable strikers against each other. Fernando Llorente’s late goal against Sporting Lisbon allowed Bilbao to advance to the final.
“This is incredible. It’s the first time that I have wanted to cry on the pitch,” Llorente said as his teammates celebrated with their fans. “This is beyond words. This is the best! We made history tonight and I hope we continue to do so in the final, which I hope we can win because these players and these fans deserve it.”
Bilbao, which eliminated Manchester United and Schalke in the cup, will play its first European final in 35 years. The Basque club lost the 1977 UEFA Cup to Juventus.
Llorente has scored seven goals in the competition. Atletico striker Falcao has an even more impressive record, with 10 goals.
Arda to get name in history books
Atletico Madrid attacker Arda Turan is expected to play against Athletic Bilbao in the Europa League final tonight, becoming the first Turkish player since Fatih Tekke to play in the competition’s title game.
Arda, who is enjoying a surge in form lately, will team up with Adrian Lopez to back up Colombian forward Radamel Falcao, the top scorer in the tournament.
The last Turkish international player to participate in the final of the second-tier European tournament was Tekke, who contributed to Zenit St. Petersburg’s 2-0 win over the Rangers in the now-defunct UEFA Cup.
Turan’s former club, Galatasaray, won the UEFA Cup in 2000 to become the only Turkish team with a European trophy as well.