By Samindra Kunti in Lyon
May 17 – Atletico Madrid outclassed Marseille 3-0 to win their third Europa League with an Antoine Griezmann’s brace and captain Gabi’s late goal. The final in Lyon passed off without major crowd incidents, though UEFA have still issued disciplinary charges against both clubs from racism to causing acts of damage in the stadium.
Security had been tight in Lyon ahead of the final with the deployment of 1,250 police personnel in and around the city. At the start of the game, the Marseille fans, who outnumbered their Spanish fans three to one at the 59,000 capacity Groupama Stadium made their presence felt, having smuggled in flares and firecrackers.
Earlier in the competition, Marseille had been banned from taking supporters to their quarter-final away leg against RB Leipzig after violence marred the club’s round of 16 leg against Athletic Bilbao. UEFA have included in their charges against Marseille the of wall of flares and fireworks set off by their fans.
The French fans bounced up and down as their team dominated the opening stages against favorites Atletico, but as Germain Valere squandered a gilt-edged chance early on, reality settled in. A spirited Marseille were no match for the Madrid club, who demonstrated their streetwise and ruthlessness.
Simeone’s team scored with their first chance of the game. Saul Niguez pounced on a loose ball near the halfway line, released Koke and Griezmann drove the ball home. From that moment on, Atletico were in cruise control and never looked like relinquishing their lead. They played their favorite game, sitting deep and soaking up the pressure. The Spaniards revelled in their role as the ultimate antiheroes.
Marseille’s first half turned calamitous when Dimitri Payet’s thigh no longer wanted to comply. The French captain, who with a single pass could had unlocked the opposing defense at the start, limped off in tears and his team lost their rhythm. The match became an uphill battle for Rudi Garcia’s team and Marseille never recovered from Griezmann’s delightful 49th-minute chip past Steve Mananda.
Marseille’s swath of faded Premier League stars were impotent against the unison of Simeone and Madrid. Substitute striker Kostas Mitrogolou threatened late on with a header against the post, but as the Marseille support chanted ‘Aux Armes’, Gabi capped Madrid’s victory with a third goal following neat build-up play.
The Spanish proved they were the best team in the competition and the Europa League victory may have been a grand farewell for Antoine Griezmann, who has been heavily linked with a $100 million move to FC Barcelona. The 3-0 win was Atletico Madrid’s third Europa League victory in eight years. In 2010, they defeated Fulham 2-1 in the UEFA Cup and two years later they triumphed 3-0 over rivals Athletic Bilbao.
“This has been a tough season, but this victory in the Europa League means much more than just the trophy itself,” said Atletico coach Diego Simeone, who watched from the stands serving a four-match suspension from the semi-finals. “I think this is a reward for our persistence, a reward for our hard work, our reward for our insistence.”
“We’re here after having lost two Champions League finals. We lost one of them in the last couple of minutes and we lost the second one in a penalty shootout. Last season we got knocked out in the Champions League semi-finals. We made a poor start in the Champions League this season and eventually we were knocked out, so we had to reinvent ourselves in this competition.”
UEFA’s disciplinary action will slightly spoil the Atletico party with club being charged with racist behaviour and the setting off of fireworks.
The inevitable charges against Marseilles include crowd disturbances, acts of damages, throwing of objects and late kick-off.
The cases will be dealt with by the UEFA Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body on May 31.
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