Europa League Final Preview

The second tier club honour in Europe is coming to Spain. Get the showdown of the all Spaniard Final encounter with Debojyoti Chakraborty


Athletic Club (ESP) vs. Club Atlético de Madrid (ESP)

Arena Națională, Bucharest

May 9, 2012

14: 45 EST

19:45 GMT

00:15 IST (May 10, 2012)


This year the Europa League has been dominated by the reigning European and World Champions, Spain. The finalists, Athletic Club and Club Atlético de Madrid, have dominated the competition this time round – along with another semi-finalist from Spain, Valencia – and it is no surprise that we are set for an all Spanish Cup Final this year. It will be a good time for the less fancied Spanish duo when their more illustrious compatriots failed in the Champions League during the same week. They came through two contrasting semi-final ties. The giant killing Athletic Club, which accounted for Manchester United earlier, had to dig deep to see off a stern Sporting Lisbon side en route to their second ever European Cup finals. On the other hand, 2010 Europa League winners, Club Atlético de Madrid cruised past Valencia for a ticket to the final on May 9, 2012 in Bucharest. Last time an all Spanish final took place was in 2007, at the finals of Europa League (then known as the UEFA Cup), when Sevilla edged past Espanyol on penalty shoot-out after a 2-2 deadlock. It will be a huge occasion for the Marcelo Bielsa managed Bilbao side. Over and above their nail-biting semi-final tie which saw them through by virtue of a last gasp winner, it will be an emotional moment for the club which last made a European final appearance way back in 1977 only to be beaten by Juventus. Elsewhere, Club Atlético de Madrid had taken a huge step towards the final by virtue of a 4-2 first leg win. They merely finished the formalities by winning the return leg also by a solitary goal. They would like to repeat the performance of two years back when they won the competition. The two teams have been locking horns even before the inception of Spanish championships (in 1929) as they met in the Copa del Rey finals in 1921 where the Madrid side was beaten 1-4. This season though, they have won one apiece in La Liga.  They are difficult to separate in the league standings also as they lie side by side in sixth and eighth positions with only two points separating them. One of the most striking features of the Basque club, Athletic Club or Athletic Bilbao, is that all of its players are either born or received their training in the Basque Country and its provinces, a culture it has upheld since its inception. Marcelo Bielsa has really done wonders since taking charge in the last year. Apart from reaching the finals of Europa League and fighting for a European spot in the league, Bilbao has set up a Copa del Rey final clash with Barcelona on May 25. Bielsa likes to start with a pressing 4-2-3-1 formation which is changed to 4-3-3 at times. Gorka Iraizoz starts in the goal with Fernando Amorebieta and World Cup winning midfielder Javi Martinez as centre-half pairing. The full-back positions are occupied by Andoni Iraola and Jon Aurtenetxe. The holding midfielder role is given to Ander Iturraspe who has formed a potent partnership with the tireless and versatile Oscar de Marcos, playing in a slightly advanced position and given the freedom to venture forward whenever the opportunity arises. Inspirational striker Fernando Llorente is the focal point of attack. With seven goals in 13 appearances, this competition has been a successful one for him and he would definitely like to finish it on a high. He is flanked by Iker Muniain and Markel Susaeta with playmaker Ander Herrera playing in the hole.

Bilbao pressing throughout

Club Atlético de Madrid is also helmed by an Argentine, Diego Simeone, and he favours a rather uncomplicated 4-5-1 formation. They have a 6’6” teenage Belgian shot-stopper in Thibaut Courtois, on loan from Chelsea, who has really impressed one and all. The defence is marshalled by Diego Godin and Joao Miranda. They have a versatile right-back in Juanfran who can also operate on the right side of midfield. Left-back is occupied by Filipe Luis. Mario Suarez and Gabriel Arenas like to anchor the midfield and complement each other in going forward. The right side of midfield has been made his own by Adrian Lopez through his marauding runs and goal-scoring knack. He is matched in the opposite flank by Arda Turan. Diego Ribas is the most advanced of this compact midfield and he supports the lone striker – the man with the golden touch, Radamel Falcao, a perfect #9. Besides netting twenty-three goals in the La Ligain 31 appearances in his debut season, Falcao has scored an amazing ten times in 14 appearances in this continental cup competition. One of his trademark weapons has been his incredible spot jump to add power in the air despite not being that tall. He is no stranger to this stage though, as he smashed a record 17 goals last time en route to winning the trophy for Porto.

Compact midfield of Atletico Madrid

With two dangerous strikers upfront from each side and to continue with the high scoring La Liga pattern, the final is expected to be a high-scoring affair. But stakes are high and it won’t be wrong to predict the coaches to be slightly worried about venturing forward at will. Nevertheless, this should be a good spectacle with a slightly better defence giving the Madrid side an edge.

What’s the Goalden Word?

We football fanatics often use terms and phrases without understanding its meaning. We hear them on television or read them in magazines and then wonder what the word really is all about. We shall focus on such terms and their usages and create our own footballpædia. If you would like to know all about any particular word, you can email us on

CANTERA: (can·te·ra): [Feminine – Noun – Singular]

The word cantera is of Spanish origin and literally means a pit or a quarry. In ancient times, it would refer to the area where stone carvings would be carried out. And just as the carvings would produce wonderful sculptures, so do canteras of modern day produce footballers. In football parlance, the cantera refers to the youth academies and nursery clubs where future football stars are nurtured and their skills honed. Notable canteras include those of Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad, FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid, RCD Espanyol and Sporting de Gijón.

The most famous cantera is Barcelona’s La Masia (pictured below), which served as the residential house for young academy players from outside Barcelona from 1979 till the middle of 2011.

The Most Famous Cantera of them all – La Masia de Can Planes which was closed on 30 June 2011

 Some of the most illustrious names in football have come through those gates including Leo Messi, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, Victor Valdes, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets and the current Barcelona manager – Pep Guardiola. The cantera policy has served Barcelona well, building trust and understanding between the young players coming in and is the real secret behind “the Barcelona way” of playing football.

The other famous cantera is the Athletic Bilbao one who had imposed a strict Basque-only policy for recruiting new players. Their motto is Con cantera y afición, no hace falta importación (With home-grown teams and supporters, there is no need for imports). Some of the legends of Spanish football who have come from Bilbao’s cantera include Rafael Moreno Aranzadi aka Pichichi – after whom the top goalscorer trophy is given in La Liga, Zarra – the all-time top goalscorer in La Liga, José Ángel Iribar – who made a record 466 La Liga appearances and was a member of the Spain team when they won the European Championship in 1964 and Andoni Zubizarreta the most capped Spanish international to date.

Real Madrid too have their own cantera in the Real Madrid Castilla and have produced players like Iker Casillas, Raul, Guti and Juan Mata. When Madrid won the 1966 European Cup, they were the first team to win it with 11 home-grown (Spanish) players and a home-grown manager.

The canteras, however, face a real problem in the poaching of wealthy clubs who would have a readymade source of good quality footballers at a cheap price (Think Arsene Wenger recruiting Fabregas at 16). There are occasions when the canteras of the big clubs poach on those of the smaller clubs. In some cases, the players themselves prefer to move on, unable to establish themselves in the main team (like Gerard Pique, a product of Barça’s cantera, at one point of time, had moved to Manchester United).

One thing is certain though, with the UEFA FFP coming in, more and more clubs need to produce their own stars of the future and adopting a cantera policy will help them achieve it.

Triviela – Beyond Trivia

The Trivela is a Portuguese term to denote the art of kicking the football with the outside of one’s foot. It is used to hide one’s weaker foot and also to suddenly fool the opposition with a wickedly swerving ball from a difficult angle. In Triviela, we will attempt to find some football feats/facts which would make you sit up and take note, like it happens when you see Ricardo Quaresma try these

Of Lions and Lambs

What is the connection between a martyred third century child saint and football?

St. Mammes of Caesarea with his lamb, seated atop a lion

Legend has it that Mammes was captured and thrown to the lions. He supposedly made the animals docile by preaching to them. So much so that one of the lions remained with him as a companion. The most famous images of him are astride a lion, holding a lamb on his left arm while his right hand holds a shepherd’s stick. Although held captive by soldiers for evading tax, he had escaped them to save this lamb from being attacked by the lion. This show of valour earned him exemption from taxation. He was eventually executed though, by being struck in the stomach by a trident. Stories of him spread to various countries like Cyprus, Lebanon, Greece, Italy and Spain. It is believed that parts of his body were brought back to Spain by pilgrims to Compostela, as relics. These relics are presently located in Bilbao and Zaragoza which later became convents.Let us first learn about this martyr. St. Mammes of Caesarea was born in prison to parents who were incarcerated for being Christian, which was considered to be a crime in the Roman Empire at the time. Caesarea is presently known as Kaysari and is located in central Anatolia in Turkey. His parents were executed and he was brought up by a widow named Ammia who died when he was 15. Mammes endured innumerable trials and tribulations, but his undaunted faith in Christianity was unwavering. He was tortured by the Roman governor of Caesarea and then sent before Aurelian, the emperor of Rome. He was further tortured but is believed to have been liberated by an angel who showed him the way to a nearby mountain cave, where he hid.

Now coming to its connection with the beautiful game called football – the stadium of Athletic Bilbao is named San Mames after the Saint Mammes cathedral which is located next to the ground. This ground is nicknamed “the football cathedral” and not the nou camp or bernabeu, which would be the first choice for most football fans in Spain. The Athletic team is also nicknamed ‘Los Leones’ or the lions, as a tribute to the lions which refused to kill Saint Mammes.

Estadio San Mames

Parting Shot

Athletic Bilbao was originally founded by migrant British port workers in Bilbao and children of Basque noble families who went to England for education. The club had to change its name in 1941 to Athletico Bilbao to adhere to Francisco Franco’s policy of banning non-Castillian Spanish languages. Franco had decreed that Castillian was the official Spanish language and all other languages like Basque and Catalan were banned in the country. Even the names of newborn babies in those periods were changed to placate the dictator. A lot of children who were named Jordi after the patron saint of Catalunya changed to Jorge because of this rule. The change of name was bitterly opposed by the supporters and the general public of Bilbao as it was perceived as a direct threat to their heritage and culture. The policy was relaxed much later in late 1960’s when the club went back to its old name.

They are one of the four professional clubs in Spain – others being Real Madrid, Barcelona and Osasuna in that it is not a sports corporation but is run and owned by associates making it a professional club.