The Europa League semi-final was always going to deliver and it did. Diego Costa returned to haunt Arsenal again as Atletico Madrid made the final while a 32-year old striker scored with virtually his first kick of the game to send Marseille through and break Salzburg hearts.
Ghana’s Thomas Partey, who was influential in his side’s win at the Wanda Metropolitano, is looking to end the season on a high with silverware- his first major trophy and a chance to play again in the Champions League next year. “I have a lot of strength and I’m ready to give my all to ensure that Atletico wins the trophy. The team is training hard and we are ready to win the Europa league,” Partey said.
The midfielder who played at right back for his side in both ties has been one of Atletico’s best players this season- helping them to a third European final in four years. The Rojiblancos have set up a meeting with Marseille, who reached the final on controversial circumstances and it promises to be a feisty encounter in Lyon on the 16th of May.
Former Chelsea striker Diego Costa returned to the Atletico side to haunt the Gunners again with his composed chip on the brink of half-time that ended their European hopes. This is the summary of yesterday Euoropa League’s matches,that brought Marseille and Atletico to heaven and sucked Salzburg and Arsenal back into hell.
On the Austrian side, Amadou Haidara was the one who made the breakthrough and started Salzburg’s fightback with a fine individual effort before Bouna Sarr’s own goal levelled matters; however, all of this felt useless when the substitute Rolando volleyed home from a corner in the 115th minute and scored a dramatic extra-time decider to snatch a 3-2 aggregate victory.
It was tough on Salzburg, who had looked set to stage another memorable recovery having turned a 5-2 aggregate deficit against Lazio into a 6-5 victory in the quarter-finals. The late goal denied Salzburg a chance to become the first Austrian club to reach a European final since Rapid Vienna was beaten by Paris Saint-Germain in the 1996 Cup Winners’ Cup. “We are very disappointed. We had a great Europa League season but forgot to give ourselves the reward for that,” Salzburg coach Marco Rose said.
If the funeral is about to begin for the Austrian team, Marseille, runners-up to Valencia in the UEFA Cup 14 years ago, celebrated this historical win and are now ready to make the short trip from their Stade Velodrome home to take on Atletico in the final. “We believed in it and in the end we managed to get everyone together, all the people of Marseille believed in us, we’re in the final,” defender Adil Rami, who won the tournament with Sevilla two years ago. “It was a completely crazy match. Thanks to our character we managed to score that goal,” said, instead, Payet, adding that Marseille would enter the final as “outsiders.”
There will be no more chances for Wenger to finish his “love story with Arsenal well”: despite winning three Premier League titles and seven FA Cups with the Gunners he has only reached two European finals in 21 seasons of continental competition with the Gunners. And he won’t reach a final now either, ending his fairytale without winning any European trophy with the club and meaning Arsenal’s out of the picture for the second straight season. It will be a new era at Arsenal next season with Arsene Wenger stepping down, and the team is currently on track to qualify for next season’s Europa League.
Will Costa be able to let Atletico’s fans regret Falcao? Many already say yes, but Marseille’s ones are pretty sure this time tears of joy will come down their eyes. Referee, Let the game begin!
By Michele Calamaio
The writer is an intern with TV3 Sports