Atleti out to prove a point

Sights set on Europa

Sport360 - - Front Page - By Tom All­nutt @toma­ll­nuttafp ed­i­to­

Af­ter painful de­feats in re­cent con­ti­nen­tal fi­nals, Diego Sime­one’s Atletico Madrid are de­ter­mined to jus­tify their sta­tus as favourites in Wed­nes­day’s Europa League show­piece against Mar­seille in Lyon.

Atletico lost in ex­tra time to Real Madrid in the Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal of 2014, hav­ing been sec­onds away from vic­tory in 90 min­utes, and then lost on penal­ties to their city ri­vals in the fi­nal of the same com­pe­ti­tion two years later.

An exit from this sea­son’s Cham­pi­ons League in the group stage came as a big sur­prise for a for­mi­da­ble side spear­headed by An­toine Griez­mann in at­tack, but they have put that be­hind them to close on glory in Europe’s less pres­ti­gious com­pe­ti­tion.

Atletico are look­ing to win the Europa League for the third time in nine sea­sons, af­ter tri­umph­ing in 2010 and again in 2012, shortly af­ter ‘Cholo’ Sime­one was ap­pointed coach.

“We can’t wait for the fi­nal to come around,” full-back Juan­fran told Ra­dio Marca as Atletico tar­get a first tro­phy since 2014, when they won La Liga.

“With ‘Cholo’ lots of things have changed at Atletico. Ev­ery­thing we have ex­pe­ri­enced in these last few years we will re­mem­ber for­ever. I hope we can get an­other lit­tle medal.”

It would be a first, and pos­si­bly last ma­jor medal as an Atletico player for Griez­mann, who was raised not far from Lyon but has spent his whole ca­reer in Spain.

The 27-year-old for­ward joined Atletico from Real So­ciedad on the back of their ti­tle suc­cess in 2014, but could soon be on his way to Barcelona.

Griez­mann and Diego Costa will lead Sime­one’s at­tack as Atletico re­turn to Lyon, where they lost 3-0 to Dy­namo Kiev in the fi­nal of the now de­funct Cup Win­ners’ Cup in 1986.

Atletico have had plenty of heart­break in Euro­pean fi­nals down the years, as have Mar­seille.

The French club have pre­vi­ously ap­peared in four, los­ing three, the ex­cep­tion be­ing their vic­tory over AC Mi­lan in the in­au­gu­ral Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal in 1993.

Rudi Gar­cia’s team were not ex­pected to make it this far, hav­ing started their Euro­pean cam­paign in the qual­i­fy­ing rounds last July.

But af­ter rous­ing wins over RB Leipzig in the last eight and Salzburg in the semi-fi­nals, OM and their pas­sion­ate fans are now dream­ing of glory on home soil.

“Those who won the Cham­pi­ons League in 1993 are still he­roes be­cause no­body else has done it since,” Dim­itri Payet told UEFA. com.

“We know how tough it is. Of course, that’s an added source of mo­ti­va­tion, and if we do win the fi­nal, our names will be writ­ten into the club’s his­tory books for­ever.”

Mar­seille are also bat­tling for a top-three fin­ish in the French league, and the fear is that fa­tigue will be a fac­tor as they try to break down Atletico’s bril­liant de­fence.

“They are a big club, a su­per team with great play­ers and a great coach. They are used to play­ing in big Euro­pean matches. They are clear favourites but we will do ev­ery­thing to cre­ate a sur­prise,” winger Flo­rian Thau­vin told sports daily L’Equipe.

Payet is “op­ti­mistic” he will shake off a mi­nor mus­cle prob­lem to fea­ture in Wed­nes­day’s game, where Mar­seille will hope to have a big sup­port be­hind them.

Only around 11,500 of their fans will of­fi­cially be in at­ten­dance, how­ever, but sev­eral thou­sand more should make the three-hour trip to Lyon.

Au­thor­i­ties are pre­par­ing for the threat of trou­ble, with a big ri­valry de­vel­op­ing in re­cent years be­tween Mar­seille and Lyon.

Since reach­ing the fi­nal, Mar­seille fans have taunted Lyon and their out­spo­ken pres­i­dent Jean-Michel Au­las with chants of: “We’re go­ing to smash up your house”.

There will be 1,250 po­lice of­fi­cers de­ployed in the city and around the Groupama Sta­dium, where Wed­nes­day’s match will start at 22:45 UAE time.

“With ‘Cholo’ lots of things have changed at Atletico”

– Juan­fran

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