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UEFA Europa League final countdown

Published: Wednesday 9 May 2012, 19.50CET
UEFA.com's team of reporters are in Bucharest and bringing you all the latest ahead of tonight's UEFA Europa League final between Club Atlético de Madrid and Athletic Club.

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Published: Wednesday 9 May 2012, 19.50CET

UEFA Europa League final countdown

UEFA.com's team of reporters are in Bucharest and bringing you all the latest ahead of tonight's UEFA Europa League final between Club Atlético de Madrid and Athletic Club.

Tonight Club Atlético de Madrid engage Athletic Club in one of the showpiece games of the season as the all-Spanish UEFA Europa League final takes place at the National Arena in Bucharest at 20.45CET. UEFA.com's team of reporters are out and about in the Romanian capital, and have all the latest on match day.

All times CET (Bucharest time is +1 hour).

Wednesday 19.50, UEFA.com London newsdesk
That is about all from this live feed. Live coverage continues in the UEFA.com MatchCentre.

Wednesday 19.40, UEFA.com London newsdesk
Remember you can join over 668,000 UEFA Europa League fans on the competition's official Facebook page. We are currently giving you the chance to win an official match ball used in the final simply by voting for your favourite player from this season's competition. You can also join the conversation on Twitter by following @UEFAcom as well as our network of reporters across Europe.

Wednesday 19.17, Simon Hart at the Bucharest National Arena
Among the fans filing into the stadium a few moments ago was Juan Antonio Zuluaga, a longstanding Athletic socio – member – who was at the 1977 UEFA Cup final defeat by Juventus. He has followed the team right across Europe this season and considers the win at Manchester United FC the highlight to date.

Yet he is confident that will be surpassed tonight. "We've been waiting 35 years for this moment and it's not going to escape us. We have a modern team, the best team in the competition – just look at what all the papers in England, Germany said about us. Today we can't miss the opportunity to lift the cup."

Wednesday 18.59, UEFA.com London newsdesk
Atlético forward Adrián López has also been on Twitter to reflect on his side's journey to the final (Tweet translated from Spanish). "Atléticos, we have gone through all kinds of situations this year, but we're here today because we deserve it, about to play a final, your support will give us strength."

Wednesday 18.53, John Atkin at the Bucharest National Arena
A queue is beginning to build on the concrete expanse at the south of the venue where the UEFA Europa League Truck Tour has parked up for the last of its 15 stops. There is a colourful exhibition of competition memorabilia, but the main source of attraction seems to be the adidas Predator Pass Tool, as the supporters put their skills and reaction times to the test. The results are a lesson to us all about the impairing effects of alcohol.

Wednesday 18.38, Simon Hart in Bucharest
There are several interesting statistics in the official final match programme – not least that the average age of Athletic's final squad is 24. The Bilbao club have faced five former UEFA competition winners en route to the final – no mean feat – and along the way have had more attempts on target than any other club, 78.

Wednesday 18.12, Simon Hart in Bucharest
A faint evening sun is shining on the National Arena and the trickle of spectators into the ground has begun. Those feeling peckish may want to note that the snack of choice here in Bucharest seems to be popcorn – at least judging by the number of tubs waiting to be sold downstairs.

Wednesday 17.52, John Atkin in Bucharest
The supporters are slowly making their noisy way down the aptly-named Decebal Boulevard, away from the fan zones, past the temporarily named Falcao metro station and towards the stadium. Many have a copy of the Gazeta Sporturilor tucked into their back pockets after Romania's biggest sports daily produced a special edition today, with half the newspaper written in Spanish.

Wednesday 17.36, UEFA.com London newsdesk
Beşiktaş JK midfielder Simão spent three and a half seasons at Atlético and scored 20 goals in 113 appearances for the club. He was a member of the 2010 UEFA Europa League winning side and has been on Twitter this afternoon to show his support for Los Colchoneros, saying: "Atleti Atleti Atleti, I wish you good luck for today, Go Atleti."

Wednesday 17.20, John Atkin in Bucharest
The floodlights are on at Bucharest's National Arena but, for the first time today, the sun has finally managed to break through the thick blanket of grey cloud. It is not expected to last, however, and local forecasters are predicting a 60% chance of rain later, with even a chance of thunderstorms.

Wednesday 17.01, UEFA.com London newsdesk
Following that last statistic about Falcao's impressive record in the UEFA Europa League it is perhaps unsurprising that Atlético, with 30, have scored more goals in this season's competition than any other side. Athletic are second in that ranking with 28 goals in their 14 fixtures since the start of the group stage.

Wednesday 16.40, UEFA.com London newsdesk
Atlético's Falcao can become the first player to finish as top scorer in successive editions of this competition before. The Colombia striker set a record in 2010/11 with 17 goals in FC Porto's triumphant campaign and is level with FC Schalke 04's Klaas-Jan Huntelaar at the top of the UEFA Europa League top scorers' table with ten goals.

Wednesday 16.00, UEFA.com London newsdesk
The omens are good for Athletic this evening. They were victorious in their only previous tie against a fellow Spanish club in Europe. The Bilbao outfit beat FC Barcelona 4-3 on aggregate in the 1976/77 UEFA Cup quarter-finals and face the Catalan side again in this season's Spanish Cup final on 25 May, at Atlético's Estadio Vicente Calderón.

Wednesday 15.42, John Atkin in Bucharest
The 200-year-old Manuc's Inn on the edge of Bucharest's old town has become a rousing amphitheatre for Athletic's fans. A vast thatched-roof compound constructed around a cobblestone courtyard, it famously hosted peace talks to end the 1806-1812 Russo-Turkish war. Athletic's vociferous fans, young and mostly old, are not singing and chanting about amity, however – they are demanding outright victory.

Wednesday 15.19, Dúnia Martín from Bucharest
There are direct buses from the fan zones to the National Arena for tonight's game but for fans who want to make their own way to the ground, the phrase 'Unde este stadionul?' (Where is the stadium?) will be crucial. The UEFA.com Bucharest city guide might also come in handy.

Wednesday 15.02, Gonzalo Aguado from Bucharest
Iñaki, a lifelong Athletic fan, shared his memories of supporting the Bilbao club. "I was in Valencia for the final of the Copa del Rey against Barcelona and that was impressive," he said. "There were nearly 50,000 Athletic fans there and, although today will not be the same because we are much further away, we will be very noisy. We have not come here to see our team lose."

Wednesday 14.49, Dúnia Martín and Gonzalo Aguado from Bucharest
The atmosphere is building with less than six hours to go until kick-off. The majority of Athletic fans are gathered in their fanzone in Constitution Square, which is next to the impressive Romanian parliament building in the heart of the city. Meanwhile, the designated area for Atlético supporters is crowded with live music, children playing football and a massive BBQ.

Wednesday 14.35, Gonzalo Aguado from Bucharest
It is lunchtime in Romania and fans of both teams crowd the terraces of the city centre to satisfy their hunger. Athletic supporters will struggle to find their traditional 'pintxos' but can savour some local delicacies. 'Mititei' (a close relation of the kebab) is the speciality most in demand. It is also noticeable that the two sets of supporters are enjoying the atmosphere together in what is proving to be a true celebration of Spanish football.

Wednesday 14.20, Dúnia Martín in Bucharest
Fully equipped with scarves, hats, jackets and red and white flags, both sets of fans do not seem to be affected by the bad weather. The sky is filled with grey clouds and there is rain in the air, which perhaps means that Athletic will feel more at home given that this is a typical day in Bilbao.

Wednesday 14.10, John Atkin in Bucharest
There has been much talk about the experience of their 2010 win making Atlético favourites. Yet their starting XI tonight is unlikely to feature anyone from that night in Hamburg, while it seems to have been forgotten that before the extra-time triumph over Fulham FC, the Madrid side were known as 'El Pupas' (the unfortunate ones); their fans 'Los Sufridores' (the sufferers).

Before 2010 Atlético had suffered three successive defeats in UEFA club competition showpieces after winning the 1961/62 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup. They developed an unwanted, unshakable habit of bringing out the best of opponents. Valeri Lobanovskiy's FC Dynamo Kyiv were irresistible in the final of the same competition in 1986, outmuscling and outmanoeuvring Atlético en route to a 3-0 triumph – it could have been more.

The Spanish side were a minute from 1974 European Champion Clubs' Cup glory when FC Bayern München conjured one last effort deep into extra time – Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck duly earned a replay, which the German side won at a canter. Yet the dye was cast in the 1963 Cup Winners' Cup final in Rotterdam, where Tottenham Hotspur FC winger Terry Dyson, usually more functional than devastating, had the game of his life.

He scored twice – one a lob, one a marvellous virtuoso effort – and teed up Jimmy Greaves for another. After receiving the trophy and a rapturous response from the crowd, he was making his way from the pitch when team-mate Bobby Smith ran over and advised Dyson to retire on the spot. Why? "Because you’ll never play a better game," said the centre-forward. Atlético will hope the curse ended for good two years ago.

Wednesday 13.56, UEFA.com London newsdesk
Only three non-European coaches have won a major UEFA club tournament, all of them Argentinian, a record which will be extended in Bucharest tonight when former Albiceleste midfielder Diego Simeone and his ex-national team trainer, Marcelo Bielsa, sit in opposite dugouts at the National Arena.

Wednesday 13.40, John Atkin in Bucharest
Almost 100 special flights have been laid on for the 20,000 Spanish fans expected in Bucharest this evening, but with seats scarce some supporters have resorted to desperate measures. A few embarked on a two-day train journey; others have come by road. Several buses arrived in the Romanian capital yesterday to offload a few weary travellers after a 3,000km trip – they left the Basque Country on Friday.

Wednesday 13.03, Dúnia Martín in Bucharest
This is the seventh continental final for Atlético, including the UEFA Super Cup. It is the eighth international showpiece if you include the 1975 European/South American Cup. In UEFA competition finals they have posted three wins and three defeats. Should they win tonight, Diego Simeone's men would be guaranteed a place in next season's UEFA Europa League as holders regardless of events during the upcoming final weekend of top-flight action in Spain. Atlético currently lie fifth and could yet qualify for the UEFA Champions League but victory tonight would ensure European football regardless.

Wednesday 12.44, Gonzalo Aguado in Bucharest
The Basque newspapers are talking about only one thing today. El Correo de Bilbao reports on the Athletic players' night time ritual of getting together over a cup of cocoa. "The Cola-Cao club" is their way of bonding ahead of big matches – as they sit drinking their hot milk and eating toast. "The aim is to bring us together because you don't have success unless you're united and committed and together as a group," said Ander Herrera about their unusual team bonding ritual.

Wednesday 12.23, Gonzalo Aguado in Bucharest
It is a cloudy morning in the Romanian capital and the heat of the last few days has given way to drizzle and a cooler temperature. We are expecting the arrival of the remaining Spanish supporters this morning – particularly Atlético fans on the evidence of Bucharest's old town yesterday where Athletic followers were the distinct majority. They brought a flavour of the Basque country to the city centre with their black berets – txapelas – and unique tongue-vibrating war cries known as 'irrintzis'. Of course, like their Atleti counterparts, they were impeccably behaved.

Wednesday 12.09, John Atkin in Bucharest
It is cold and wet, but it will take more than that to dampen the enthusiasm at Athletic's fan zone on the enormous Constitution Square. It is in the shadow of the Palace of the Parliament, but not the shade; instead, they huddle under umbrellas as they play games, sing and listen to a DJ with a remarkable lack of volume control.

Wednesday 12.01, John Atkin in Bucharest
It is more Lowry than Van Gogh here in Bucharest today, as people hunch shoulders and tuck their chins into their chests as they brave the driving rains. Yet out of the grey gloom there are flashes of colour, almost exclusively the candy cane red and white sported by supporters of Athletic and Atlético as specially laid on buses spirit them to their respective fan zones.

Wednesday 11.45, Simon Hart in Bucharest
It is not just people in Romania and Spain who will be captivated by tonight's events in the National Arena. In the Bavarian town of Ergolding they will be tuning in to see how local resident Wolfgang Stark, the match referee, fares. The German refereed the Real Madrid CF-FC Barcelona UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg last season so has experience of all-Spanish contests, and after training yesterday he shared his thoughts with UEFA.com on the prospect of his first European final.

Wednesday 11.25, Paul Bryan, Spanish newsdesk
"Bucharest is set for a red and white party," is how El Mundo leads its UEFA Europa League final coverage. "It's hot in this city with temperatures reaching 25 degrees celcius during the afternoon," reads the daily publication. "The Stadium is ready and the playing surface is perfect. Almost all that is left is to get the game underway. There are still a huge amount of fans to arrive and those who did not do so late last night will get here today."

Wednesday 11.17, Simon Hart in Bucharest
Pro Sport also documents the invasion of the Bucharest's old town yesterday by fans of the two clubs – talking about a "Fiesta de Espaňa" – and it is a theme developed by Libertatea which writes about the transformation of the Lipscani district into a "little Spain". The idea that the locals might be rooting for Athletic was put to the Bilbao club's coach, Marcelo Bielsa, in his press conference yesterday and he replied: "If that's the case, we would gladly accept the support of the Romanian people and we hope to be able to reciprocate by producing what people expect of us."

Wednesday 11.11, Simon Hart in Bucharest
The front page of Pro Sport, one of Romania's popular sport dailies, features a photo of the National Arena and a good luck greeting for tonight's two finalists in both Basque and Spanish: "Zorte On! ¡Suerte!". The article on the next page leads with the headline "Their game, our final" and it is a final that 56% of Pro Sport's readers think will end with an Athletic victory.

Wednesday 11.07, Paul Bryan, Spanish newsdesk
"Let the best team win" is how Spain's sports daily newspaper AS headlines their coverage of tonight's final, which features strikers Falcao and Fernando Llorente on the front cover. "In the showpiece two years ago, Atlético were the Athletic of today, a team returning to a final after many years," it says. "In the games between the teams in Liga this season, both were superior playing at their own stadium so an encounter on neutral territory with Europe watching is a fabulous prospect."

Wednesday 10.59, Paul Bryan, Spanish newsdesk
Spanish daily El País admits that "there are no favourites" ahead of tonight's final in Bucharest, which has converted into "a festival of red and white on a colossal scale." The newspaper goes on to say that the teams "related in origin" will be doing the Spanish Liga proud when they line up at the National Arena. "It is not up for discussion that [Atlético and Athletic] are armed with footballing talent and they will remain faithful to their style and to their fans," adds El País. "In a domestic league dominated by two Spanish superpowers, the presence of another two in a European final represents a shot of self-esteem for the Liga."

Wednesday 10.55, UEFA.com London newsdesk
Ander Herrera and Andoni Iraola attended Athletic's press conference last night, where the former said Los Leones are full of belief having taken the sizeable scalps of Manchester United FC and FC Schalke 04 en route to the final. Read what they had to say here, while the match preview has the views of both coaches.

Wednesday 10.50, UEFA.com London newsdesk
To start off with, why not check out all the facts and stats ahead of tonight's big game? UEFA.com's comprehensive match background is right here.

Wednesday 10.45, UEFA.com London newsdesk
This evening's final is the ninth in the competition's history to be contested by two clubs from the same country. What were the others? Find out here.

Wednesday 10.40, UEFA.com London newsdesk
The competition's joint-top scorer Falcao is looking to repeat the feat of last season, when he rattled off a record UEFA Europa League goal tally and was a winner with FC Porto. Read John Atkn's article on him looking forward to tomorrow's final.

Last updated: 27/11/12 17.47CET

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