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A European final between domestic rivals inevitably throws up more history than is usually the case. Yet amid all the quirks of an Atlético taking on an Athletic, of the two Argentinian coaches and the shared red and white stripes that the Madrid club were inspired to adopt by their Basque near-namesakes, the truth of Wednesday's UEFA Europa League showpiece in Bucharest is that this is as special an occasion as if the two teams had never previously crossed paths.
"A final is something unique and not to be repeated and that is the difference," said Athletic Club coach Marcelo Bielsa. It was a view shared by Diego Simeone, his Club Atlético de Madrid counterpart, and one-time charge in Argentina's national team. Atlético may have won this competition two years ago and have in their ranks last season's final match-winner, Falcao, but Simeone stressed the one-off nature of the contest too.
"A final is always special," he said. "
We have to live it with the hunger of a boy who's just started out and the experience of a player who's been around a long time." Simeone hopes to see "a team with a lot of character" and he has reason to believe. Atlético, the designated home side, have won 11 consecutive matches in the competition and are its highest scorers, with 30 goals from the group stage onwards.
Neither statistic is particularly surprising given the presence of Falcao and Adrián López, two of this season's three leading UEFA Europa League marksmen. They also have greater European pedigree – this is their sixth major final – albeit none of the surviving members of their starting XI from the 2010 final against Fulham FC is expected to feature from the off.
Atlético are also in better form, unbeaten in seven matches. Athletic by contrast, have picked up just one point in three Liga outings since beating Sporting Clube de Portugal in the last four. Bielsa, though, started only two of his expected XI in Saturday's home stalemate with Getafe CF, his team's 60th game of the season.
It is 28 years since an Athletic squad last boarded their gabarra, the barge they traditionally parade their trophies from. Moreover, it is 35 years since their only previous European final – when they lost the UEFA Cup to Juventus on away goals in a season when, as now, they also reached (and lost) the Copa del Rey final.
Yet a poll on the Spanish sports daily Marca's website had 64% predicting a victory for the young team who made the whole of Europe sit up with their home and away wins over Manchester United FC. Bielsa urged his players, who will wear their green away shirts, to "have faith in our qualities". He added: "
What we need to do is to live up to that level and to show as much as we can the team's potential."
There will be at least 9,000 supporters from each club flying in from Spain and Simeone predicted they would see two contrasting styles. "Athletic's game is more about getting the ball forward quickly than possession while our game is more balanced – sometimes we can have possession, other times we look for the space [behind the defence]," he said.
Bielsa noted the risk of being hit on the counterattack but was hopeful his team would enjoy "more possession and possibilities to attack". The National Arena will be decked in candy cane red and white on Wednesday – the spectators could be in for a treat.
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