Falcao double gives Atletico semifinal edge

Madrid: Atletico Madrid put one foot in the Europa League final after a Radamel Falcao double lifted the 2010 winners to a 4-2 semifinal first leg win at home to La Liga rivals Valencia on Thursday.

The Colombia striker nodded Atletico ahead in the 18th minute at a festive Calderon before Jonas levelled moments before the break.

Second-half goals from defender Miranda, forward Adrian and a stunning second from Falcao made it 4-1 before Ricardo Costa snatched a second for the visitors in the fourth minute of added time to keep Valencia`s hopes alive for next week`s return at their Mestalla stadium.

Known as `The Tiger`, Falcao took his tally in this season`s edition of Europe`s second-tier club competition to 10 goals, level with Schalke 04 striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, although the Colombian is still some way short of the record of 17 he set last season during Porto`s triumphant campaign.

Valencia were looking to avenge their controversial elimination at the hands of Atletico at the quarterfinal stage two years ago, when they had a clear penalty claim turned down and went out on away goals.

Midfielder Arda Turan created Atletico`s opening goal when he got the better of Adil Rami on the byline and his cross was deflected to Falcao who nodded past Diego Alves.

Rami made amends for his error in first-half added time when he leaped above the Atletico defence at a corner and nodded the ball on for Jonas to prod home at the far post.

Miranda stole in behind the Valencia defence to nod in Diego`s free kick four minutes after the break and Adrian sped past his marker and shot back across Alves into the corner for Atletico`s third five minutes later.

Falcao the struck the goal of the night in the 78th minute when he cut in from the right past two defenders and lashed the ball high into the net off the underside of the bar, prompting wild celebrations from coach Diego Simeone.

But in almost the last action of the match, Costa sent a powerful header past Atletico goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois from Tino Costa`s outswinging corner to give Valencia hope of turning the tie around.

The winners will play La Liga rivals Athletic Bilbao or Portuguese side Sporting in next month`s final in Bucharest.

Bureau Report

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