19 April ~ What supporters in other countries may view simply as a Europa League clash between two teams from the same country is a great source of pride in Spain, a gloomy place where football seems to be the only thing working properly these days. Although there is a perception that the local duel between Atlético Madrid and Valencia is proof of the dominance of la Liga over the English game, this may not necessarily be the case, despite the additional evidence of Athletic Bilbao’s performances over Manchester United. It is entirely plausible that Spain has three teams in the Europa League semi-finals because it is the only trophy la Liga teams that are not Barcelona and Real Madrid are ever likely to win.

Although Athletic Bilbao still have a chance in the Copa del Rey final – Barcelona stand in the way, of course – this is certainly the case for Valencia and Atlético Madrid. Valencia in particular seem forever destined to finish third in the league, with only the possible change to their status being a drop down the table rather than a move up.

While the 2010 Uefa Cup and subsequent European Super Cup provided Atlético Madrid fans with just enough glory to keep them happy, Valencia’s supporters are desperate for an excuse for a celebration. They have spent a tough period stuck behind the big two, watching their best players being sold year after year.

A win over Atlético Madrid and triumph in the final might not be enough to give manager Unai Emery a contract renewal at the end of the season. The much-maligned coach may not want one, such is the abuse he receives from an uppity set of fans. Emery could yet leave Valencia on a high, after giving the club their finest moment since they won the league title in 2004.

Standing in the way are Atlético Madrid, a battle-hardened outfit lead by Diego Simeone. He took over in December and has built a team that is flakey in la Liga but supremely effective in Europe. Atlético have won all six knock-out games under the Simeone's guidance, and 14 from 16 in the competition overall.

Valencia are the hungrier of the two teams, but Atlético Madrid have the proven pedigree in Europe this season and must start as favourites for a second final appearance in three years. Tim Stannard

Comments (2)
Comment by trickydicky 2012-04-20 11:02:33

Well called! Atletico looked good last night and Falcao was impressive again. Although Valencia's late 2nd to make it 4-2 still gives them a chance. I reckon Atletico should have enough to see them into the final, Simeone prefers being defensive anyway and they'll be a tough nut to get two past, plus, Valencia's fans might get frustrated and turn on their own team/manager.

Comment by FCKarl 2012-04-25 08:33:29

Compared to the sad state of Italian footballing clubs that still have not yet discovered offensive, attractive football and the regular pinball game one sees in Britain, I am glad that the Spanish are getting their due. This should be seen as the indictment that it is: Eight final clubs in the two Euro club competitions. Five of the eight are Spanish clubs with a sixth coming from Portugal (Sporting) which is so heavily influenced by their larger neighbor, Spain. The sad thing is that an English club will probably try to buy Falcao from Atletico in the summer, just as Sergio Aguero is now at Manchester City. And sadder still is to compare highlight videos of Aguero at Atletico and now at City. There is no comparison; Aguero was a far more delightful, offensive, speedy, attacking player in Madrid. Give me the choice any day and I'd be choosing a La Liga match over the Premiership. If that hurts your English pride, well, sorry. And I wouldn't be even ever bothering to travel to Italia to see a Serie A encounter there. One, the matches are all manipulated anyway, two, the number of shots on goal is less than the fingers on one hand. Chelsea may have just got past FC Barca, but this is just like Italia beating Brazil in the Spain World Cup 1982. Everyone knows which side is far superior. The author is right. Nothing else is working in Spain at the moment. However, the football that is branded, marketed, and on display is, at least, doing something to keep up the good name of the sport.

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