Griez­mann fires Atletico Madrid to Europa ti­tle

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LYON: An­toine Griez­mann was the hero for Atletico Madrid as the French striker scored twice in their 3- 0 win over Mar­seille in Wed­nes­day’s Europa League fi­nal in Lyon, al­low­ing his club to win the tro­phy for the third time in nine sea­sons.

It is Griez­mann’s first ma­jor ti­tle with Atletico, and a fit­ting way to bow out if he leaves at the sea­son’s end, with Barcelona tipped as his next des­ti­na­tion.

Griez­mann – brought up in Ma­con, just 70 kilo­me­tres from Lyon – scored once in each half, his lethal fin­ishes com­ing ei­ther side of Mar­seille los­ing Dim­itri Payet to in­jury, the French team’s cap­tain com­ing off in tears.

Griez­mann now has 29 goals this sea­son, although it was Gabi’s late strike that sealed the vic­tory.

“This is a re­ward for me af­ter I left home aged 14, for all the work I have put in, the suf­fer­ing,” said Griez­mann, who has spent his whole career in Spain but had only pre­vi­ously won one Span­ish Su­per Cup.

Atletico’s tri­umph comes af­ter ag­o­nis­ing de­feats to Real Madrid in the Cham­pi­ons League fi­nals of 2014 and 2016. They had pre­vi­ously won the Europa League in 2010 and again in 2012, the lat­ter com­ing just six months af­ter Diego Sime­one’s ap­point­ment as coach.

Sime­one, who had to watch from the stands due to a touch­line ban, called the vic­tory a re­ward for his side’s hard work and even ex­pressed hope that Griez­mann could be con­vinced to stay.

“This was just con­fir­ma­tion of what Griez­mann has been do­ing year af­ter year,” said the Ar­gen­tine.

“I hope he is happy with us. I have no doubt that there are cer­tain things that could make it more likely that he stays.

“He has played three fi­nals with us, has won two, and so that shows that he is not far away from his ob­jec­tive of reg­u­larly play­ing fi­nals.

“We are not far away in sport­ing terms from teams who are more pow­er­ful than us.”

Mar­seille had been des­per­ate to win the sec­ond European tro­phy in their his­tory, on French soil, 25 years af­ter beat­ing AC Mi­lan in the in­au­gu­ral Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal. But it was a flat night for their huge sup­port, who threat­ened to ruin the oc­ca­sion by light­ing flares and set­ting off fire­crack­ers at one end of the sta­dium, with some even be­ing thrown onto the pitch to­wards the end.

The game car­ried on re­gard­less, with Rudi Gar­cia’s side wel l beaten.

“We let our chance go in the first half. Firstly, we had the best chance to go ahead, and sec­ondly an er­ror from us meant we fell be­hind,” said Gar­cia.

“The score­line is harsh but the bet­ter team won.”

Atletico were the favourites against a Mar­seille side whose con­ti­nen­tal cam­paign had be­gun in the third qual­i­fy­ing round last July.

Just be­ing in this fi­nal was an achieve­ment for Gar­cia’s team, but they will look back on the evening with re­grets. They had started wel l and had a great chance to open the scor­ing in­side four min­utes, Valere Ger­main shoot­ing over af­ter be­ing slipped in by Payet.

It was the kind of chance that does not come up of­ten against an Atletico side who went on to keep their 34th clean sheet this sea­son.

Mar­seille were then pu­n­ished for sloppy play as they fell be­hind in the 21st minute.

Goal­keeper Steve Man­danda opted to pass to An­dre- Frank Zambo An­guissa, deep in mid­field, rather than clear long. The Cameroo­nian’s at­tempt at a touch was aw­ful, and Gabi pounced on the loose ball, send­ing Griez­mann through to fin­ish.

Things got worse for Mar­seille when Payet, their cap­tain and most in­flu­en­tial player who had been strug­gling with a ham­string prob­lem ahead of the game, came off cry­ing just af­ter the halfhour.

OM then con­ceded again just four min­utes af­ter the restart. It was a glo­ri­ous goal, Griez­mann find­ing Koke and then latch­ing onto the re­turn ball be­fore lift­ing a deft fin­ish over Man­danda and in.

Sub­sti­tute Kostas Mitroglou nearly pulled one back, his header com­ing off the post, be­fore Gabi’s low drive in the 89th minute made it 3- 0. — AFP

He has played three fi­nals with us, has won two, and so that shows that he is not far away from his ob­jec­tive of reg­u­larly play­ing fi­nals. Diego Sime­one, Atletico Madrid man­ager

Atletico Madrid’s for­ward Fer­nando Tor­res holds the tro­phy past team­mates af­ter win­ning the UEFA Europa League fi­nal football match be­tween Olympique de Mar­seille and Club Atletico de Madrid at the Parc OL sta­dium in Decines-Charpieu, near Lyon. — AFP...

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