Europa League Final Approaches

The UEFA Europa League final is two games away from being set, as a quartet of Iberian clubs are battling it out for the two spaces available in the title contest. Three Spanish squads and a Portuguese team finish off their semi-final match-ups with second legs at 8:05 p.m. BST on Thursday. The final will take place at 7:45 p.m. on May 9 at the 55,600-seat National Arena in Bucharest, Romania. The stadium is new, as its first event was a Romania-France contest on Sept. 6.

Last Thursday, Atletico Madrid powered past a visiting Valencia squad, 4-2, in front of 49,400 at the Vicente Calderon Stadium. Radamel Falcao scored two goals in that contest. Each of Valencia’s goals came in stoppage time, one in each half. The second leg will be played at Valencia’s Mestalla Stadium. In Lisbon, Portugal, Sporting CP rallied from a goal down for a 2-1 victory over Athletic Bilbao in front of 37,700 at the Estadio Jose Alvalade. Athletic Bilbao, the only team of the four remaining to have never won a European title, will still be pleased with an away goal to take to the second leg at the San Mames Stadium in the Basque Country.

Iberian teams also dominated this competition a year ago. That year, three Portuguese teams joined a Spanish club among the final four teams playing. The lone Spanish club, Villarreal, fell to Porto in the semi-final round, while Braga knocked off Benfica in that round. Porto then claimed the title, 1-0, in front of 44,391 in Dublin, Ireland. In the 2010 title game, Atletico Madrid knocked off England’s Fulham in extra time, 2-1, so 2012 will mark the third straight year an Iberian club will win this competition and seventh time in a 10-year span.

The three Spanish teams are currently in the top half of the La Liga standings. Valencia is in third; that placing would qualify the club for the UEFA Champions League. Athletic Bilbao is in sixth, and Atletico Madrid is seventh. Sporting CP currently sits fourth in the Primeira Liga. Two of these four clubs are still in the running for their country’s premier cup competition. Athletic Bilbao takes on Barcelona on May 25 in the Copa del Rey final, a competition the club has not won since 1984. Sporting CP plays Academica on May 20 in the Taca de Portugal final. The last time Sporting CP took home this cup was in 2000.