The biggest match in club football is just a stone’s throw away. For the first time in history, two rivals of the same city will vie for the trophy in the final of the Uefa Champions League.
Real Madrid, the most decorated club in European football with nine trophies, will be looking to be the first one to reach double figures when they meet their nemesis, Atletico Madrid. Lisbon, Portugal will host perhaps the most heated derby the two clubs will ever contest.
Cristiano Ronaldo will once again be the focal point of attention as he revisits the city where he began his career. With a record-breaking 16 goals in the competition this season, all eyes will be on the Portuguese.
“It will be a special game. I will be playing in my home country, in Portugal,” said the 29-year-old, according to AFP.
“It is my first final with Real Madrid, so that will be special too and it will be against a great team in Atletico. We are going to give our best and try to win because we want that 10th title.”
Surprisingly, the most intimidating factor for Real is not Ronaldo, but the abundance of match-winners in their lineup.
Gareth Bale can be considered one of the most destructive attacking wingers in the world and the €91 million price tag can be worth it if the Welshman delivers what he is capable of. Add Bale and Ronaldo to a squad consisting of World Cup winners Sergio Ramos and legendary captain Iker Casillas, the midfield genius of Luka Modric and the attacking prowess of Karim Benzema; what you have is a team that can give even Di Stefano’s Real a run for their money.
Both Madrid sides were the standout teams in the competition from the group stage on as they dropped just two points apiece in easing their way into the last-16.
Both teams faced familiar foes in the semi-finals, as Atletico took on Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea, while Real were drawn against former Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich.
After an uninspiring 0-0 draw at the Calderon, Atletico were forced to come from behind at Stamford Bridge as their former hero Fernando Torres put Chelsea in front.
The Spaniards responded in fine style, though, to book their place in the final for the first time in 40 years thanks to goals from Adrian Lopez, Costa and Turan.
It was surprisingly straightforward for Real to avenge their 2012 semi-final defeat to Bayern as, after a hard-fought 1-0 win at the Bernabeu thanks to Benzema’s solitary goal, they inflicted Bayern’s worst ever home defeat in Europe as they romped to a 4-0 win at the Allianz Arena.
On paper, Real should have nothing to worry about as Atletico’s history (one runners-up position) hardly matches up, but this season is almost the opposite. Recently crowned La Liga champions after a draw in the final game with Barcelona, Atletico have equal if not more chances of winning the most desired club trophy there is. Manager Diego Simeone will definitely be crowned the greatest in the club’s history if Atletico manage to get the double over Real.
Carlo Ancelotti’s men will be anxious to get the European crown after 12 years and hoping to complete their own double as they secured the Copa del Ray trophy against Barca. The attacking style of Real will definitely hinder Atletico’s plans of getting ahead early and defending a lead, but their defence is adequately equipped to hold off the devastating trio of Benzema, Bale and Ronaldo.
Nothing will be more important for Atletico than the presence of their star striker, Diego Costa, who can miss the all-important match. He has been diagnosed with a grade one hamstring tear, sustained against Barcelona last weekend in La Liga, and despite the improbability of his appearance in the final, Simeone is adamant that Costa will feature. The Spaniard is Atletico’s top-scorer in the Champions League with eight goals, exactly half of what his Ballon d’Or-winning counterpart Ronaldo has achieved, but that does not diminish Costa’s impact on the field.
No matter how many star names are ruled out of the match on the final day, we can expect fireworks and some eye-catching football as the Galactos will try to continue their dominance in Europe, while Atletico will be looking to prove there are other Spanish sides that can emulate the success just as well.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 24th, 2014.
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