May 12, 2010

Sizing up Fulham Europa League final opponent Atletico Madrid

The "other" club from Spain's capital city is all that stands between Fulham FC and an unprecedented European triumph. Yes, Fulham are in the Europa League final, just like we had predicted, which at the time prompted the inevitable scoffing from haters worldwide.

But let's not bask in the glory of being right. Actually, wait. Let's. So we were right. Na, na, na. Eat it bitches!

Now moving right along let's look at Fulham's opponent in this afternoon's finale. Atletico Madrid are due to finish ninth or 10th in Spain's La Liga. That's not very good, particularly in a year where only one Spanish team made it past the Champions League quarterfinals. Their recent form is not very good either. They've won just two of their last seven Spanish league matches and those wins were over Valladolid and Tenerife who are 16th and 17th in the 20-team league, respectively.

Atletico were themselves a Champions League team, drawn into a group with Chelsea, Porto and APOEL Nikosia. They were pretty horrible, managing just three points from the six matches. How they managed to finish third with this type of record is pretty incredible.

But if you look a little deeper, particularly at their results the second half of the season, you will see this is a team that can hang with absolutely anybody. Their crowning achievement (so far) was a 2-1 defeat of Barcelona on Feb. 14. They also dropped Valencia (4-1), Atletic Bilbao (2-0) and Deportivo La Coruna (3-0), three teams that are ahead of them in the Spanish table. While none of the teams they vanquished (Sporting Lisbon, Galatasaray, Valencia and Liverpool) en route to today's Europa League final will set the world on fire, each is certainly very decent in its own right. Liverpool, despite being crap, were playing for their season at that point. But then again, Liverpool are crap.

Lest we forget they also advanced to the Copa del Rey final, where they face Sevilla May 19.

As for Atletico's players, Fulham will want to test whoever they put in goal. The team's first team goalkeeper, Spanish U-21 international Sergio Asenjo, was injured in their last league game. Atletico have apparently not yet decided on who will replace him, but both are young lads themselves.

The rojiblancos have a formidable strike force with Uruguay's Diego Forlan and Jose Antonio Reyes, Argentines Sergio Aguero and Eduardo Salvio and Portugal's Simao. Forlan, Aguero and Simao were all named to their countries' 30-man World Cup training camp rosters. So was midfielder Tiago (Portugal). Fulham meanwhile boast Clint Dempsey (USA), Mark Schwarzer (Australia), John Pantsil (Ghana) the unfortunately named Kagisho Dikgacoi, who will play for the host country, though he doesn't see much time for Cottagers. Neither club is sending players to their home nation's World Cup side. Obviously Bobby Zamora wasn't needed by Fabio Cappello because England are so deep at striker. Uh, right...

Anyway, enjoy the match. Post your predictions here.

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