KEIR RADNEDGE in Bucharest: The Champions League Final was the one supposed to be the all-Spanish affair. Instead, the Europa League Final tonight in Bucharest owns that pride as Atletico de Madrid face their original parent club, Athletic of Bilbao. This is the ninth European meeting of clubs from the same country in a final.
Real Madrid and Barcelona fell a round short in their event, leaving the stage free for an all red-and-white-striped affair at the climax to a competition still trying to develop its own character.
The Europa League is the fourth version of a tournament launched in the mid-1950s as the Industrial Inter-Cities Fairs Cup and which evolved via the simpler Fairs Cup into the UEFA Cup. But Europe’s No2 club event still suffers from a perception that it is a competitive dumping ground for also-rans – an image not assisted by the introduction halfway through of eight clubs relegated out of the Champions League.
Atletico have been here before in recent times, beating Fulham in extra time two years ago in Hamburg; Bilbao must look back to 1977 when they lost narrowly over two legs to Juventus.
Their joint presence underlines the happy fact, for UEFA, that Iberian clubs take the competition more seriously than some. Last year Porto beat Braga in Dublin in an all-Portuguese final. Then, as now, the host stadium was making its final debut.
Last year there was no doubting that Porto were favourites. Under Andre Villas-Boas they had won the curtain-raising Portuguese Supercup and went on to land the league title undefeated.
This time it could go either way.