With his team trailing 4-2 after the first leg, Valencia boss Unai Emery had described the game as the most important of his career and his men started well with Jonas, Sofiane Feghouli and Roberto Soldado all going close. But for all their early pressure the hosts were unable to achieve the breakthrough and the sides went in all-square at the interval.
However, on 60 minutes Adrian put the tie beyond Valencia’s reach with an unstoppable volley after controlling the ball on his chest and thumping it past Diego Alves.
The visitors then lost Tiago to a red card 11 minutes from time as the game threatened to spiral out of control, with players on both sides losing their tempers. The Portuguese was upset when Valencia players claimed a penalty for handball against him, when there was clearly no contact, and the subsequent melee involving all 22 players and even Atleti boss Diego Simeone resulted in his dismissal.
Despite the extra man Los Che could not take advantage and Atleti will now contest their second Europa League final in three seasons – two years after winning the inaugural competition in 2010 – with Emery saying they were deserved victors.
“Atletico were better than us and fully deserved to win,” he said magnanimously. “It was crucial for us to get the first goal and we were not able to do that. We went close in the first half and if we had scored the momentum would have been with us, but it was not to be.”
Simeone said he was happy for his players and believes the Atletico fans have now got a team of which they can be proud.
“I am very happy for the players because they have made an enormous effort,” said the Argentine, “and also for the management who have trusted in us. I am also happy for the supporters, who today can say they are proud to be Atletico fans.”
Sporting Lisbon 2-1 Athletic Bilbao
Scorers: Adrian 60 (ATL)
Valencia: Diego Alves; Barragan, Rami, Ricardo Costa, Jordi Alba; Albelda, Parejo (Tino Costa 68); Feghouli, Canales (Mathieu 59), Jonas (Aduriz 57); Soldado.
Atletico Madrid: Courtois; Juanfran, Godin, Miranda, Filipe Luis; Tiago, Mario Suarez (Gabi 46), Adrian, Diego (Koke 84), Arda Turan (Salvio 74); Falcao.
Referee: Damir Skomina (Slovenia)