Atletico Madrid battled their way into the final of the Europa League on Thursday thanks to a crucial away goal against Liverpool from Uruguayan striker Diego Forlan.
Atletico lost 2-1 but go into the final on the away goals rule on a 2-2 aggregate.
They won the first leg 1-0 in Madrid last Thursday, with another goal from Forlan, who has been their hero in practically every round of the competition.
Alberto Aquilani and Yossi Benayoun had put Liverpool ahead but Forlan’s goal settled the tie, to the delight of the 2,000 Atletico fans who had made the journey.
In the final, to be played in Hamburg on May 12, Atletico will face surprise package Fulham, who beat SV Hamburg 2-1 earlier on Thursday.
It will be Fulham’s first ever Euro final, and Atletico’s first since 1986. Quique Sanchez Flores’ team are also in the final of the Spanish King’s Cup, against Sevilla, in Barcelona on May 19.
Forlan said that “this is one of the sweetest moments in my career. That was a really important goal for us.” He was quick to praise coach Quique, saying that “he was given us a new competitive edge since taking over at the club.” Atletico captain Antonio Lopez, for his part, said that “we really deserve to be in the final, because we have had to come through several difficult battles, not just the one tonight.” “This is one of the most defiant performances in the history of Atletico,” said former Spain midfielder Guillermo Amor, commenting the match on television.
He added that “the Atletico fans should be really proud of their team after what they have done tonight.” Liverpool goalkeeper Jose Reina gamely offered his congratulations to Atletico, then said that “at 2-0 we should have killed the game off...We let them back into it when we were on top, and that was a mistake.” Atletico dominated possession from the start, with Liverpool content to play on the break, with Ryan Babel and Benayoun down the wings.
Liverpool thought they had taken the lead in the 32nd minute, only for Daniel Agger’s header to be ruled out for offside.
But 12 minutes later Liverpool went ahead, when Aquilani made it 1-0 by turning in a precise centre from Benayoun, to level the tie on aggregate.
There were few chances in a weary second half, and so extra-time was necessary.
Benayoun put Liverpool ahead in the tie for the first time five minutes into the first period of extra-time while Jose Manuel Jurado almost scored the all-important away goal for Atletico in the 101st minute.
But the Madrid fans didn’t have to wait much longer. Two minutes later Glen Johnson failed to cut out a high ball and allowed Jose Antonio Reyes to centre for the surprisingly unmarked Forlan, who finished off the hosts with a powerful high drive.