Romania is buzzing with excitement at the prospect of hosting its first ever European final. Completion of the Arena Națională, in Bucharest, only took place last September. The embarrassment of this event would best be forgotten for all involved, as the grass on the pitch was completely damaged in less than 10 minutes of playing, in a UEFA Euro 2012 qualifier between Romania and France. A neutral venue will add spice to this clash, as well as cost to the die-hard supporters, over 55,000 Spaniards will take their seats in anticipation, hoping the only incident is players related.
A callous semi-final red card for Tiago rules him out for Atlético, whilst former Arsenal midfielder Fran Merida is cup tied. Gabi is likely to partner Mario Suárez in the double pivot in central midfield, their 4-2-3-1 formation gives license for the attacking prowess of Diego, Arda Turan and Adrían. Fernando Amorebieta has a slight calf problem, but is expected to make it in an otherwise full strength squad to choose from for Athletic. Marcelo Bielsa's side have clocked up 60 games already this season, Fernando Llorente and Iker Muniain were rested at the weekend. Likely featuring in a fluent 4-1-4-1, the forward fours pressing will be detriment to any defences hopes of settling.
Atléti have not lost in the last seven matches in all competitions since losing to great city rivals Real. They have kept just two clean sheets in this time. Udinese, Besiktas and Valencia have all been cast aside by 'El Cholo's' lads, on their mission to Bucharest. Their opponents form hasn't been up to the standard required, a mixture of reviewed ambitions and a drop of intensity has led to just five wins in the last 15 in all competitions. A 28-year trophy drought will increase the pressure to perform, but they are all to aware of writing their own names into folklore.
Main Man: Atlético Madrid
Only Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have more La Liga goals this season than Radamel Falcao. The former Porto striker scored the winner against Braga in last years final for his old side, rarely has a player had such dominance of this tournament. He currently sits third in the all-time scorers list of the competition, with 27 goals in as many appearances. A brave man would bet against him doing so again, a header can be found at 5.00 or a hat-trick at 20.00.
Main Man: Athletic Bilbao:
The key to unlocking a resolute defence could well be hidden in the boots of playmaker Iker Muniain. The little magician has all the attributes required to make a real mark on this final. Instrumental in the destruction of Manchester United, the 19 year-old will look to provide the bullets for Fernando Llorente's well tuned gun. A strike from outside the box for the young maestro can be had at 12.00.
Recent Head to Head:
In the last eight meetings between the two sides, they have won four each. Target man Llorente scored a double at San Mamés back in October as Athletic recorded a 3-0 victory, Gregorio Manzano was in charge of the visiting team that day. At the Vicente Calderón, Diego Simeone's men ran out 2-1 winners with two goals from their Colombian forward once again.
Finals are often cagey affairs, with unlikely hero's making a name for themselves, but it's hard to look past the two solo strikers from their respective teams. A straight duel to see who will score the most goals, Falcao (3.20), Llorente (4.00) or to tie (1.90).
The two clubs have contrasting styles on the pitch, whilst having distinguishable philosophies historically. If one expression was to apply to them both at present day it would be work-rate. With both sides physical presence, competitiveness and pressure on the ball, bookings are guaranteed. Midfield enforcer Mario Suárez is 2.90, whilst centre-half Fernando Amorebieta is 2.30. This really is a game that could go either way, but if I had to choose - which I do - then Athletic Bilbao's intensity will see them through. Extra time could be a real possibility and a draw can be found at 3.35. Chances will be a plenty, with a 1-2 scoreline in Athletic's favour.