Athletic Bilbao, Atletico Madrid Reach Europa Final

Fernando Llorente’s goal in the 88th minute sent Athletic Bilbao into the Europa League soccer final against Spanish rival Atletico Madrid.

Llorente’s late score gave Athletic Bilbao a 3-1 win over Sporting Lisbon last night and a 4-3 victory in their two-game semifinal. Atletico Madrid finished off a 5-2 victory over Valencia with a 1-0 win on a goal from Adrian Lopez.

“We have been struggling in this competition since July but the prize is here, a great final,” Atletico midfielder Gabi said on UEFA website. “Athletic is one of the biggest teams in Europe and it will be a very nice final.”

The title match of Europe’s second-tier club competition will be played May 9 in Bucharest. It’s the second straight final between teams from the same country after Porto beat Braga in an all-Portuguese matchup last year.

Trailing 2-1 after last week’s opening game in Portugal, Athletic opened the scoring with a 17th-minute goal from Markel Susaeta. Sporting’s Ricky van Wolfswinkel tied the game in the 44th minute and Ibai Gomez gave Athletic the lead with a goal in injury time.

The teams appeared to be headed to extra time tied 3-3 on aggregate when Llorente put a shot between goalkeeper Rui Patricio and the left post.

Of the four semifinalists, only Athletic has never won a European competition. It lost the 1977 final of the UEFA Cup, the predecessor of the Europa League, to Juventus.

Lopez’s 60th-minute score in Valencia completed 2010 champion Atletico’s rout in the all-Spanish semifinal.

Atletico, which has won 11 straight Europa League games, will be without Tiago in the final. The team captain received a red card in the 79th minute after appearing to slap Roberto Soldado during a mass confrontation between the teams.

(Corrects day of final in fourth paragraph.)
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