Real Madrid claimed their 10th European title with a 4-1 win over Atletico Madrid in Lisbon on Saturday. Having led for most of the match, it all eventually came undone for football’s Cinderellas, but it was a final which will be remembered for many reasons.
There were so many subplots woven into the fabric of the overall game that you could write a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book about it all. Madrid were in search of La Decima; Ronaldo had a chance to win a trophy in his home country; Atletico were the miserly team that could; and Gareth Bale had another to chance to prove how far he had come since being called a “flop”. Despite three misses earlier on, it was Bale’s extra-time goal which finally derailed the fairytale completely. Afterwards, the Welshman said that he and his teammates were “living the dream”.
“I’ve learned from past experience to keep going, forget about the chances you’ve missed and keep persevering,” he said. “Thankfully I got the decisive goal. It was great to see it go in. I came here to play in big competitions and win trophies. This is what every footballer dreams of and it doesn’t get any bigger in club football. Lifting that trophy is a feeling you can’t describe and it will be a memory I will never forget.”
It was a great moment for the player who, upon arriving in Spain, bullishly insisted that he didn’t just come here to play Champions League football – he came to win.
Football can be such a cruel game. For so long Atletico Madrid’s defences and marking looked superbly rehearsed, as though they had watched the match and knew exactly where they had to be to block off Real’s assaults.
Then, in the dying minutes, the script would shift. Sergio Ramos had cracked the code as Atletico had a blip in their rehearsal and concentration.
Football can be mentally draining and there are few things which can lead to such shattering undoing as a late goal. To overcome that takes incredible mental strength and this time, it was a bridge too far for Atletico. It was that one moment which cost them more than anything. For Ramos, who had scored six goals in seven matches, it was the most important one of his career.
“It’s the most important goal I’ve ever scored. We made history against a great rival. The goal is not for me, it is for the people of Madrid. We’ve been waiting for this moment for years,” Ramos said after the match.
Poetic – as it was, after all, a penalty miss against Bayern in 2012 from Ramos which dumped Real out of the competition. Pushing Atletico into extra time took its toll. Their boundless energy disintegrated and their rehearsed formations became startled. The end result, the four goals to just one, told only half the story. And while the scorecard will not reflect the journey here, football fans will certainly remember it.
Atletico’s tale was endearing. Not only are they the champions of Spain, against all odds, they made it to the Champions League final with a limited budget. Good and honest hard work got them here, but sadly, it was likely their best time for glory, too. The club will probably be raided in the transfer market and they will have to start all over again.
They deserve much credit, but for coach Diego Simeone there was no time to cry over what could have been.
“This match is not worth crying about, when the players have given everything they could on the pitch,” Simeone told Spanish TV.
“When you give everything you cannot ask for more. There is another team and other players out there and that is football. Now they need to rest, relax and take things calmly. I am very proud of my players, my staff; we have competed with one of the great clubs with humility,” he added.
For all their pluckiness and gusto, by the time the final whistle blew, it was Bale and Ronaldo who were wrapped in an endearing embrace, celebrating a wonderful achievements for one of the most recognised clubs in the world. One player fulfilling his potential and the other finally etching off an achievement he had long been striving for.
For Real’s coach, Carlo Ancelotti, cliching his fifth title was a mix of some luck and never giving up. He was mobbed by his players mid-press conference but found the time to explain: “You can say I was a lucky man but you can also say we never gave up and tried to do everything till the last second of the game.
“At the end of the second half I said we should just continue what we were doing because we were really causing them problems,” he said.
“The biggest problem we had was equalising. We had no spaces and Atletico defended very well…we found that equaliser and then the game changed completely because the goal we scored gave us new strength.”
In contrast, although Atletico’s supporters had burst out into rousing applause, their boss was far less impressed, even before the final whistle blew.
Simeone, who had been simmering since the five added minutes to regulation time, had almost got into a scuffle with Real Madrid’s players. Raphael Varane had kicked the ball towards the Atletico bench, and the Argentine exploded. He stormed onto the pitch to confront the player and was eventually sent off by the referee. It was an ugly end to a valiant fight, but it was honest.
Simeone doesn’t like losing and he is not afraid to show it. Being a bad loser is partly what has driven his underdog team to such great heights this season. That dogged determination always to push for more and always to ask for better can be a great motivator.
While Simeone and Ancelotti close the curtain on a splendid summer of European football, another one is rising for many of La Liga’s stars. The World Cup is just a few weeks away and if the showing of some of Europe’s biggest stars over the summer is anything to go by, we’re in for one hell of a treat. DM
Photo: Players of Real Madrid celebrate with the trophy after the UEFA Champions League final between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid at Luz stadium in Lisbon, Portugal, 24 May 2014. Real Madrid won 4-1 after extra time. EPA/HUGO DELGADO
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