Forlan's late strike gives Atletico Europa League title

Striker Diego Forlan celebrates with the trophy in Hamburg, northern Germany on May 12, 2010. AFP photo

HAMBURG, Germany (AFP) – Atletico Madrid won the inaugural final of the Europa League on Wednesday as Diego Forlan struck an extra-time goal that broke Fulham's hearts and secured a 2-1 win.

Having already scored the crucial goal at Anfield that knocked Liverpool out at the semi-final stage, Forlan was on target in the first half and then slipped his marker to score in the 116th minute to send the title to Madrid.

"I am very happy that my goals helped the team, it is good to have the golden shoe, but it is better to win titles with the team," said the 30-year-old, who won the European Golden Boot for the second time last season.

"I just hope the volcano allows us to get home safely now and that Madrid will dress in red and white when we get back."

This was Atletico's first European title since they won the now defunct UEFA Cup Winners' Cup in 1962, also on German soil, when they beat Fiorentina 3-0 in Stuttgart. They face Sevilla in the Spanish Cup final on May 19.

For Fulham manager Roy Hodgson, this was the second time he has finished on the losing side in a European final after he lost the 1997 UEFA Cup final with Inter Milan.

"The players are obviously very disappointed, but we put in a valiant performance," said Hodgson.

"It was a bitter blow to concede such a late goal. I thought the game was heading to penalties, we were looking good despite the tiredness and holding our shape.

"Forlan scored a typical goal-scorer's goal and we simply didn't have enough time to recover, but I am tremendously proud of what those players have achieved."

Coach Quique Sanchez Flores started former Manchester United forward Forlan up front alongside Argentina's Sergio Aguero and it was Forlan again who played the hero for his side as his two goals gave Atletico the title.

Hodgson fielded Bobby Zamora, despite the ex-West Ham striker struggling with an Achilles injury, playing in front of Hungary's Zoltan Gera after the pair's 14 goals had helped put Fulham in the final.

The London club came to the Hamburg Arena having already knocked out Juventus, Hamburg, UEFA Cup holders Shakhtar Donetsk and Wolfsburg on the way to the final in what has been a remarkable run.

Atletico reached the final having won just two previous games on their European journey, with a win at Galatasaray in the round of 32 and then a 1-0 victory at home to Liverpool in the semi-final first leg.

Atletico opened the scoring when left winger Simoa Sabrosa controlled the ball with his chest before Aguero's mis-hit shot found Forlan, who slotted in his fifth goal of the competition on 32 minutes.

Fulham were back on level terms just five minutes later after Zamora won possession on the edge of the penalty area, Gera chipped in a cross and Welsh midfielder Simon Davies drilled home a fine volley.

But Forlan was a constant threat and Schwarzer had to push his shot around the near post just before the break as it stayed 1-1 at half-time.

Hodgson took off Zamora, who had not looked sharp, on 55 minutes to give United States winger Clint Dempsey a chance up front and he immediately combined with Gera to test de Gea.

It remained 1-1 after 90 minutes and as the game went to extra time, Atletico had the best chance of the first period as Gera was dispossessed, but Forlan could not get his shot past Schwarzer.

On the stroke of the extra-time changeover, Aguero hit the side-netting from close range after Forlan had broken through again past a tiring Fulham defence.

With both sides flagging, Forlan finally slipped his marker to give the Spaniards their first trophy since 1996 and claim his sixth goal of the tournament as well as his fourth in his last three European games.

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