Two Spanish teams, Athletic Bilbao and Atletico Madrid, are due to face off in the Europa League final after winning close matches Thursday 26. Both fixtures were marked by high drama. Here's a look back at the match.
While Real Madrid and Barcelona are out of the picture in Europe's top-tier Champions League, two Spanish first division teams are now due to compete in the final of Europe's other club competition, the Europa League.
In Bilbao, the hosts grabbed victory against Sporting Lisbon 3-1 to go through. In Valencia, guests Atletico Madrid won 1-0 to add to their dominant result from the first leg.
Athletic Bilbao 3 - 1 Sporting Lisbon
Bilbao made a strong start to the game, with an early chance to Fernando Llorente and then another from Iker Muniain soon after. Markael Susaeta finally scored for the hosts in the 17th minute. It was Susaeta's fifth goal of the Europa League season.
A successful header from Bilbao in the 30th minute was disallowed following an offside call. Sporting had their first decent chance from a corner in the 33rd minute. Ibai Gomez and then Fernando Lorente had further chances for Bilbao in short succession as the speed of the game picked up.
From out of nowhere, Sporting striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel balanced the score in the 43rd minute with a left-footed strike. It was his sixth Europa League season goal and would have taken the Portuguese into the final. But soon afterwards, Gomez levelled the score with a chip over the keeper to make it 2-1 before the break, following a Llorente pass.
The score stayed that way throughout the second half. With both teams lacking quality in front of the goal, it looked like the game would head into extra time since the sides were equal on aggregate. Then Fernando Llorente managed a lucky tap in from a deflected Gomez strike. The 3-1 scoreline meant that Bilbao had done enough to reach the final.
Valencia 0 - 1 Atletico Madrid
Madrid headed into the match in Valencia with a major advantage after winning the first leg of the semifinal, 4-2. In fact, after about 25 minutes it already looked like the guests were starting to run the clock down by playing defensive, possession football.
Before long, Valencia were putting Madrid under pressure with numerous attacking moves towards the visitors' goal. Valencia's goalkeeper, Diego Alves, only had his first involvement in the game shortly before half time. Despite Valencia's first half dominance, the score was still nil-all at the break.
Atletico Madrid started the second half with a bang. Striker Adrian Lopes scored in fine style with a long range shot for Atletico. The assist came from former Bundesliga player Diego. Up until then, the talented Brazilian midfielder had gone almost unnoticed. The goal put Madrid 5-2 up on aggregate and basically assured them of going through to the final.
However, there was still drama to come. A 79th minute handball in the box from Valencia attacker Tino Costa erroneously lead to a penalty kick for the attacking side. That catalyzed a five-minute-long scuffle on the pitch between both teams. In the end, Atletico Madrid's captain, Tiago Mendes, was shown a red card for slapping Valencia's Roberto Soldado in the face. Soldado himself received a yellow.
Athletic Bilbao and Atletico Madrid will now face off for the Europa League title in Bucharest's National Arena on May 9.
Author: André Leslie
Editor: Spencer Kimball