Falcao's love affair with the UEFA Europa League continued as he struck 12 goals – including two in the final – to help take the trophy back to Club Atlético de Madrid.
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Club Atlético de Madrid 3-0 Athletic Club
(Falcao 7 34, Diego 85)
Bucharest National Arena
Falcao's love affair with the UEFA Europa League continued as he entranced throughout, sealing affections with two goals against Athletic Club in the 3-0 final win to take the trophy to Club Atlético de Madrid for the second time in three years.
The Colombia striker collected a second winners' medal in 357 days, having struck the only goal in the previous year's showpiece for FC Porto. He took his tally to 29 goals in 29 games in the competition in Bucharest, capping a fine start with a stunning seventh-minute opener and doubling the advantage with a finely-executed second before half-time. There was no way back for Athletic, Diego sealing their fate five minutes from time.
It rounded off a record 12th successive win in the competition for Atlético, the well-merited culmination of an impressive campaign by a side that shone bright following Diego Simeone's arrival as coach after the group stage. With Falcao and Adrián López irresistible going forward, Los Rojiblancos made serene progress through the knockout phase, a two-goal cushion the least they managed in ties with S.S. Lazio, Beşiktaş JK, Hannover 96 and Valencia CF.
The final pitted them against a youthful Athletic side that made the whole of Europe sit up with home and away triumphs over Manchester United FC. Indeed, their enterprising approach play, vim and vigour drew plaudits from far and wide – it seemed the 28-year wait to board their gabarra, the barge they traditionally parade their trophies from, was set to end. Yet their 61st game of the season proved one too many as Falcao left them lagging.
It was a season for strikers, with Falcao (12), Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (10) and Adrián (8) contributing more than most to a record 585 goals in 205 games. There was another new mark set at Old Trafford in February as 67,328 turned out to watch United's meeting with four-time European titleholders AFC Ajax after both sides switched from the UEFA Champions League following third-place finishes in their respective groups.
The transferees did not fare well, with Ajax, United, holders FC Porto, FC Viktoria Plzeň, Trabzonspor AŞ, Olympiacos FC and Manchester City FC all bowing out before the quarter-finals. Only Valencia made an impression as they reached the semis before succumbing to Liga rivals Atlético as three Spanish teams reached the last four. Sporting Clube de Portugal made up the quartet in a campaign when they, too, made history as they advanced from the group stage after only three games.
Belgium and Netherlands could also look back on positive gains as they were well represented in the knockout stages, while Ukraine's FC Metalist Kharkiv pushed Athletic hard for the role as arch-entertainers. The 2011/12 UEFA Europa League had everything: records, stunning comebacks, last-gasp victories, ten-man heroics, an own goal double and, in the end, deserving winners.