After 120 minutes of some beautiful football, close chances and a brace by a Uruguayan, Atletico Madrid emerged as Europa League champions. One down, one to go – Atletico Madrid are on course for an European and domestic cup double. Not bad for a team that has won a total of 3 European games all season, lost more games (16) than it’d won (13) in La liga, played a solitary top flight Spanish team on its way to a Spanish league cup final, and not surprisingly was on its second manager of the season. This is the story Atletico Madrid, the elegantly clumsy girl next door.
Unlike Atletico Madrid, Fulham’s journey to the cusp of European glory was a David vs Goliath encounter.
First scalp : Defending UEFA Cup champions Shaktar Donestk – check!
Second scalp : Juventus - 27 league titles, 11 domestic cup titles, 2 champions league trophies, 3 UEFA cups, 2 European Super Cups and 2 Intercontinental Cup titles – check!
Third scalp : Wolfsburg, defending Bundesliga champions – check!
Fourth scalp : Hamburg, venue of the Europa League final and only German team never relegated from top-flight league – check!
This wasn’t your average cottager, Fulham fancied traveling.
The match however failed to live up to the back story of both clubs. It wasn’t one for the theaters, this was headed straight to DVD. In a very open tie, both teams had a plethora of chances but lacked the final bite to put game away.
Atletico began the the brighter of the two teams as its attacking trident of Aguero, Forlan and Reyes kept Fulham on the edge. As the game progressed, the Rojiblancos looked the likelier to open the scoring and minutes after Forlan’s strike clipped the far post of Fulham’s goal, the poacher made his mark on the game after he rerouted an Aguero miss-hit, wrong-footing the ball past Mark Schawrzer. Atletico were ahead and looked good for the lead.
However, the Iberian outfit lived up to its erratic tag as its flighty distribution of the ball let Roy Hodgson’s side back into the tie. Damien Duff’s short pass to Zoltan Gera was torpedoed in by Simon Davies following reverse ball from the forward. Fulham were back. The Cottager’s weren’t going down this easy.
The next 45 minutes was a symphony free flowing football coupled with showers from the sky eclipsed with an abundance of missed opportunities. Atletico’s 19-year old goalkeeper, David De Gea, produced a superb save to deny Simon Davies, while Fulham’s Australian stallwort, Mark Schwarzer, kept the opposition at bay. As regulation was nearing an end, a penalty shootout looked inevitable — as both teams created half-chances.
With 240 seconds remaining in the second period of extra-time, just as the crowd braced itself for a thrilling spot kick decider, Liverpool heart breaker Diego “winner of two European golden boots” Forlan, rushed in past Fulham’s Aaron Hughes to tap in Aguero’s brilliant low cross.
The customary I’ll-take-my-shirt-off-and-wave-it-in-the-air-and-run-around-the-pitch-whilst-avoiding-my-oncoming-teammates-whose-puckered-lips-wish-to-grace-each-millimeter-of-my-face goal celebration ensued.
Father’s all around the red part of Madrid were ecstatic. When their young ones asked them why they supported Atletico Madrid instead of Real Madrid, they finally had an answer. Instead of the pseudo-true bullocks of passion, desire, underdog story of years past, they could just pop in the 2009-10 Europa League Final DVD, relax, and whistle the night away.