Athletic Bilbao and Atletico Madrid do battle in Bucharest as the two Liga sides go in search of the continent's second-biggest piece of silverware. And there's plenty to enjoy
By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Editor
The stage is set. Athletic Bilbao and Atletico Madrid meet in Bucharest on Wednesday to fight it out for European football's second-biggest prize, the Europa League, as fans flock from the Spanish capital and the Basque Country to support their sides in Romania.
Atletico claimed this very title just two years ago and will look to make it two out of three tonight, while Athletic will be hoping to claim their first trophy since winning the Copa del Rey in 1984. Here, Goal.com takes a look at five reasons why Wednesday's clash will be a firecracker.
|ALL-SPANISH FINAL IN EUROPE - BUT NOT THE ONE WE EXPECTED
It's not the one everyone expected, but Athletic and Atletico will aim to show there is more to La Liga than Barcelona and Real Madrid. The two Clasico rivals had looked set to meet in the Munich showpiece in the Champions League later this month, but both fell at the final hurdle and it is left to these two sides to compete for a continental trophy instead. Athletic go in search of their first European trophy after finishing as runners-up to Juventus in the 1976-77 Uefa Cup. Atletico, meanwhile, claimed this competition in 2010 and also boast a Uefa Super Cup from the same year, as well as a Cup Winner's Cup from 1961-62.
|BIELSA'S BOYS - JUST LIKE WATCHING BARCELONA
Athletic also meet Barcelona in the final of the Copa del Rey later this month, as Marcelo Bielsa pits his wits against Pep Guardiola in the Catalan coach's final game in charge of the Blaugrana. Many had tipped Bielsa as a possible successor for Pep at Barca, but the Argentine has created his own passing philosophy at San Mames, wowing audiences at home and in Europe this season with a string of impressive performances. Bielsa has transformed Athletic from a direct and often one-dimensional side under Joaquin Caparros to an impressive passing unit this term. At times, it's just like watching Barca, as Manchester United found out to their cost earlier in this competition.
|FALCAO'S FAVOURITE COMPETITION
Atletico won this competition in 2010, the inaugural Europa League, but their star striker claimed the cup last year with Porto. The Colombian hit 17 goals for Porto in the 2011-12 edition and needs just one in this season's final to end as the competition's top scorer. He is currently tied on 10 with Schalke's Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, but the Dutchman has played less games and will claim the prize if the Colombian fails to net on Wednesday. With his recent record in the Europa League, however, Falcao will be Atletico's biggest threat to the Basques and can become the only player to finish as the highest scorer in successive seasons in the history of the tournament (including the Uefa Cup).
Diego Simeone had two spells at Atletico Madrid as a player, but is making an even more significant impact as coach. He succeeded Gregorio Manzano in December and has brought about a spirited revival at the Vicente Calderon. With one round of La Liga remaining, the capital club have an outside chance of qualifying for next season's Champions League and they can also add a trophy by winning this match. No Argentine coach has ever won the Europa League or the Uefa Cup, but either Simeone or Bielsa will become the first on Wednesday.
|SPAIN'S LATEST CANTERA
Barcelona have formed the base of the Spanish national side in recent years, but Athletic boast an array of talent in their starting XI. The club's all-Basque philosophy means every one of their players are eligible for La Roja, with the exception of defender Fernando Amorebieta, who opted to represent Venezuela. Striker Fernando Llorente and midfielder Javi Martinez are both World Cup winners with Spain, while full-back Andoni Iraola is in contention for a place at Euro 2012, along with forward Iker Muniain and midfielder Ander Herrera.