A double by Colombian striker Radamel Falcao inspired Atletico Madrid to a 3-0 win over fellow Spaniards Athletic Bilbao in Bucharest 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 season, scored a brilliant first-half brace 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 Argentine coach Diego Simeone a trophy just months after he took over the Atletico hotseat.
Atletico’s victory also saw them break Barcelona’s record of successive wins in European competition as they recorded their 12th, to break the record of 11 set in the 2002-2003 Champions League campaign.
Falcao, named after the great Brazilian player of the 1982 and 1986 World Cups, said he was especially pleased because people had advised him not to go to Atletico.
“I cannot contain my joy,” the 26-year-old said. “After all that has been said, like that I made a mistake in going to Atletico, I showed them it was no mistake. We had highs and lows, but we deserved to finish as we have done. The first goal? I didn’t have an angle, so I simply looked for some space.”
“They told me to look for the far post from time to time, and this time I listened,” he said with a smile. “As for my future, well, we don’t know whether Atletico will play in the Champions League or Europa League next season. We still have a possibility of the Champions League and we are determined to achieve that.”
Simeone, who was a hard--tackling midfielder who won more than 100 caps, paid tribute to his players.
“Winning is always marvelous, but you enjoy it more as a player, because one is on the pitch, one can scream, run, do a lap of honor,” the 42-year-old said. “When you are a coach, you leave that sort of thing to the players. I am proud of the players, happy for the fans, and thank those who brought me to the club in December.”
Athletic Bilbao coach Marcelo Bielsa took responsibility for the defeat.
“I am disappointed, we did not play a good match,” said the former Argentina coach, who guided the national team to the 2004 Olympic title. “I am in charge of the strategy of the squad, which failed to achieve its objective, which makes the disappointment even greater. Atletico deserved their win, but the scale of it was excessive.”
“The feeling of personal responsibility increases in the sense that the difference in quality of the two teams is not the one shown tonight,” added Bielsa, who coached Simeone when he was in charge of the national side.
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 around three defenders and the goalkeeper from the edge of the area for his 11th goal in 15 Europa League games this season.
Bilbao’s far younger side — with an average age under 24 — took a while to settle, but they gradually started to make more of an impact.
Their leading striker, Fernando Llorente — scorer of 29 goals this season — 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.