Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao will contest what promises to be a sensational Europa League final in Bucharest on Wednesday.
A cursory look at recent meetings between these sides and barely a cigarette paper separates them, although Atletico are the favourites for the National Arena showpiece.
This season Athletic won the home La Liga fixture 3-0 in October but Atletico then turned the tables when consigning their rivals to a 2-1 loss at the Vicente Calderon in March.
Marcelo Bielsa’s Atheltic have accounted for the prize scalps of Manchester United, FC Schalke 04 and Sporting Lisbon to reach their first European showpiece since 1976/77 and the San Mames outfit will also contest the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona on May 25.
Arguably the highlight so far in a compelling European adventure for Los Leones was embarrassing Sir Alex Ferguson’s side over two legs with a breathtaking display of attacking football, while Spain striker Fernando Llorente’s 88th-minute goal, which sealed a 4-3 aggregate win at the expense of Sporting, raised the roof in Bilbao.
Llorente has scored seven goals in 13 Europa League appearances so far and at 11/8 to score anytime rates exceptional value to continue his hot streak.
Prolific pair Adrian Lopez and Falcao have wreaked havoc helping Atletico record 11 successive wins in Europe and cannot be dismissed at odds-against to help repeat the club’s triumph of 2010.
The winter arrival of coach Diego ‘El Cholo’ Simeone – a member of Atletico’s 1996 La Liga and Copa del Rey-winning squad – has transformed Los Rojiblancos and they have not lost in all competitions since a 4-1 humbling by champions Real Madrid on April 11.
Juanfran said the celebrations will run for some time on the banks of the Manzanares river if Los Colchoneros can end the season on a high.
He said: “We had to overcome a lot of obstacles to get through to this deciding match, it was something we all dreamed about. History and tradition say that Atletico should be up there fighting for trophies like these.
“We want to continue reaching landmarks so we have to win this one for ourselves and for our fans.”
A notoriously difficult fixture to call between two teams of such attacking prowess, the advice here is to stick with Llorente and Falcao to deliver.