A pulsating National Arena stadium welcomed two of La Liga’s success stories of the season. This final has so many sub plots to add to the main fan fare, it was sure to be a fantastic final in Romania.
Marcelo Bielsa used to coach his young protégé Diego Simeone, but despite their shared history they have a very different style to management. Bielsa the tactician, Simeone the motivator and battler. Who will out gun the other in the battle in front of goal between Radamel Falcao and Fernando Llorente? Can the midfield guile of De Marcos, Susaeta and Iturraspe outshine the rugged midfield partnership of Suarez and Gabi?
Los Leones have won the heart of most neutrals with their young team playing fantastic football, not only beating the likes of Manchester United but passing them off the park. Unfortunately this was a bridge too far for the young side from the north of Spain.
The young Basques started the game very nervously, gifting possession away far too cheaply. This was in part to the superb hunger of Atleti to charge down the players in possession all over the pitch and they got their just reward early on.
Athletic gave the ball away midway inside their own half, Falcao the furthest forward in delivered the ball on the right hand side of the box, he probes Amorebieta with a neat step over and fires a sublime curler into the top right corner with his weaker foot. A strike right out of the top draw. Game on.
It takes Bilbao more than 15 minutes to put together one of their flowing moves and this is in no small part down to the impressive Matias Suarez who is cutting out the supply Llorente and Munian. Athletic have a strong case for a penalty turned down, when a clumsy Godin is all over Llorente at the back post from a free kick, but the referee ignores the pleas of the big front man.
Athletic start to click in to gear, due to Muniain dropping deeper to collect the ball and dictate the play. A sweeping cross by Iraola should be steered on target by the tightly marked Llorente, but he miss-kicks harmlessly wide.
Just as Athletic have a grip on the game, a set piece for Madrid is only half cleared, to the feet of Amorebieta who criminally tries to play out the back with two Atleti players all over him, with the ball falling to Diego just outside the left edge of the box, he manages to steer a low ball into the front post where Falcao collect with his back to goal, shapes the ball on to his right but brilliantly drags back to his left and smash a close range shot past the helpless iraizoz in the Athletic net.
The end of the half nearly ends badly for the fantastic Colombian, having been previously booked in the half, he has every right to go into the 50/50 ball from an over hit pass, but leaves his foot in on Iraizoz, maybe lucky to stay on the pitch.
The second half begins with Bielsa changing things up, withdrawing Iturrapse and Aurtenentxe bringing on Ibai Gomez and Inigo Perez, with De Marcos moving to left back. This almost bears fruit barely a minute into the game, but Muniain wastes his drag back after getting in behind.
As the half wears on without major incident despite being intriguing, Bilbao begin to find more joy in the Atleti half but still cannot get Fernando Llorente in the game or Susaeta in behind. Ander Herrera gets increasingly frustrated and is brought off for Toquero. Previous sub Ibai Gomez is proving a handful down the left flank resulting in a number of wasted corners for Los Leones, who despite trailing are giving a real lion-hearted effort to get back in the game, Muniain and Gomez leading the charge.
With all Athletic’s intricate passing, it is Madrid who produce the move of the match with flicks and back heels between Arda Turan and Adrian which sends the Turkish international through, but he goes for the spectacular chip which is easily saved by the keeper.
Entering the last ten minutes the team trailing pile men forward as they have to only to have the tie well and truly put to bed, as a good Atletico breakaway sees Diego one on one with the disappointing Amorebieta, one step over does for the big centre half and Diego fires a pin point low shot with his weaker foot (again!) in off the post from an acute angle.
That goal sees Muniain collapse to the floor in tears after all his effort; the favourite for the ‘Inside Spanish Football’s’ young footballer of the year knows the final is lost.
Atletico fully deserved their victory, they were extremely organised in nullifying Bilbao and particularly Llorente. Turan and Diego kept the ball well when they needed to in the Athletic half and fed the awesome Falcao, who profited from a poor defensive display from the only half fit Amorebieta.
But take nothing away from the Colombian front man, who finishes top scorer and as a champion in the competition for a second successive year, a match winning performance.