Lisbon’s Estadio da Luz will play host to two of Spain’s biggest names on 24 May after Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid progressed past Chelsea in the semifinal while Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid blitzed Bayern Munich to reach the tournament decider.
Real qualified for the final last Tuesday by thrashing Bayern Munich 4-0 in Munich in the second leg of their semi-final to progress 5-0 on aggregate. Two first-half headers by Sergio Ramos and two more goals by Cristiano Ronaldo gave Madrid a comprehensive win against the defending champions. It will be Real’s first Champions League final since 2002 as they look to lift the trophy for a record 10th time.
In the other semifinal played last Wednesday, Atletico came from behind to win 3-1 at Stamford Bridge. After a 0-0 draw in the first leg, former Atletico striker Fernando Torres put Chelsea ahead in the 36th minute but the London club were to lead the tie for only eight minutes. Adrian Lopez scrambled home an equaliser shortly before half-time and second-half goals by Diego Costa, from the penalty spot, and Arda Turan sealed Atletico’s place in their first European Cup final since 1974.
Atletico Madrid’s rampant run to the summit of the Spanish top flight has been aided by their success against teams in the top half of La Liga this season, with their only losses of the league campaign coming against Espanyol, Osasuna and Almeria. However, while Los Rojiblancos have gone unbeaten in their two league meetings against Los Merengues—winning 1-0 at the Bernabeu and drawing 2-2 at the Vicente Calderon—it’s Real Madrid who triumphed twice over the two legs of their Copa del Rey semi-final.
In La Liga, Real are six points behind leaders Atletico at third with a game in hand and could still become only the second Spanish side after the 2008-09 Barca team to win a treble of domestic league and cup and Champions League.
Atletico’s success is in large part down to the inspirational leadership of Simeone, who played for the club when they won a league and cup double in 1996. The Argentine’s Real counterpart Carlo Ancelotti, in his first season in charge after taking over from Jose Mourinho, plays a less prominent role but has won plaudits for fostering a harmonious dressing-room atmosphere.
Real’s expensively assembled squad, including the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, have thrived on the stability, a marked contrast to Mourinho’s divisive three years at the helm. Their 5-0 aggregate destruction of holders Bayern in the semifinal prompted the Madrid-based sports media to all-but proclaim them champions of Europe.
If Atletico defy the odds and deny their crosstown rivals a 10th European title, what has become known as the ‘decima’ in Spain, it would be a spectacular upset and by far their greatest achievement. It would also be a sign that spending hundreds of millions of euros on players is not the only path to success.
Atletico, who won the Europa League in 2010 and 2012, have just about had the better of recent meetings with Real, beating them 2-1 after extra time at their own Santiago Bernabeu stadium to win last season’s King’s Cup. They followed that up with a 1-0 win at Real in La Liga in September before last month’s 2-2 draw at Atletico’s Vicente Calderon arena. However, Real knocked them out 5-0 on aggregate in the last four of the King’s Cup.
The game in Lisbon will not be the teams’ first European battle, but it will be the first for 55 years since they met in the semifinal of the 1958-59 European Cup. Real, who won the first five European Cups, beat Atletico 2-1 in a replay in Zaragoza with goals from Alfredo di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas after the teams finished 2-2 on aggregate in the days before the introduction of the away goals rule.
While many feel Atletico’s intimate knowledge of their rivals will necessarily work in their favour in the final, their coach Simeone, however, does not agree. ‘I don’t see it as an advantage or a disadvantage. The reality is that we know each other very well and have been playing each other for a really long time. We will be playing a powerful club who are used to the big European nights. It’s been many years since we’ve been there, so it will be a new experience for us, but we’ll be very eager and excited to play well in the final,’ he said.
In the end, though, as is so often the case, all numbers and figures may well end up going out of the window as the occasion takes hold in the biggest club fixture of the season. Atletico won the previous final played between these sides, last year’s Copa del Rey showpiece. Revenge will be in the air for Real as they chase the title. The two giants of Madrid are set to meet in a veritable clash of the titans, and the world awaits 24 May.
Head to Head
Atletico Madrid’s rampant run to the summit of the Spanish top flight has been aided by their success against teams in the top half of La Liga this season, with their only losses of the league campaign coming against Espanyol, Osasuna and Almeria. However, while Atletico have gone unbeaten in their two league meetings against Real Madrid – winning 1-0 at the Bernabeu and drawing 2-2 at the Vicente Calderon – it’s Real Madrid who triumphed twice over the two legs of their Copa del Rey semifinal. This year will be the first time the two clubs will face eachother in European competition since 1959. Back then, in the semifinals of that year’s European Cup, Real triumphed after three meetings, winning 2-1 at a neutral venue after a winner failed to emerge from the first two legs. In Lisbon, Atletico will hope that a neutral venue this time will run in their favour. The overall record of the Madrid derby currently stands with Real having won 91 of the teams’ 166 meetings. With 41 victories, Atletico have less than half that amount.
Ronaldo sets new European Cup goal record
Cristiano Ronaldo has surpassed the goal total for a single UEFA Champions League season, with his strikes in Real Madrid CF’s semifinal second leg at FC Bayern München taking his campaign tally to 16 so far. The Portuguese international entered the last four with 14 goals in this season’s competition, level with the record held by his FC Barcelona counterpart Lionel Messi. Ronaldo had equalled Messi, and, simultaneously, ex-AC Milan forward José Altafini’s 51-year European Cup record, in the quarterfinal first leg against Borussia Dortmund. With Madrid already 2-0 up in Munich, the Portuguese forward set a personal landmark in the 34th minute, rounding off a devastating counterattack involving Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale for his record-breaking strike. He then added another from a free-kick to seal a 4-0 win and a place in Lisbon on 24 May. An incredible group stage performance laid the foundations for his achievement. An opening-day hat-trick against Galatasaray was an ominous portent for Ronaldo’s Group B opponents, and the 29-year-old added doubles against FC Kobenhavn and Juventus. Ronaldo struck nine times in all, breaking the eight-goal group stage record owned jointly by Ruud van Nistelrooy (2004/05), Filippo Inzaghi and Hernan Crespo (both 2002/03), and Zlatan Ibrahimovi, who equalled the feat on matchday five this term.