Champions League Final: Real Madrid face Atletico in a Derby for the Ages

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Down the Paseo do Prado stands two monuments that have been adopted as symbols by Madrid’s two fondest football clubs. To the north is the Cibeles fountain, where the goddess Cybele sits upon a chariot, majestically pulled by two lions. Further south is the fuente de Neptuno, the god of the sea watching over the springing waters while holding onto his trident.

On Saturday after the Champions League final, one of these fountains will see fans throng around and they will not be there for the water. Either the Cibeles will see a Real Madrid flag draped around her or Neptune will have Atletico Madrid fans dancing around him.

Either way, there is bound to be a party in the Spanish capital.

The Madrid Derby

For fourteen years, the city of Madrid belonged to Real Madrid. Not anymore. Not since Joao Miranda rose high, planted his header past Iker Casillas and won the 2013 Copa del Rey for Atletico Madrid. At the Santiago Bernabeu no less.

That was a turning point. Sid Lowe called it ‘the first day of the rest of their lives’.  A generation had passed without ever seeing Atletico Madrid defeat Real Madrid. The 14 year wait was over.

As such, it has meant that since then, there has been more to celebrate for the mattress makers. Since then, the feat of defeating Real Madrid has been replicated. In La Liga, it was Diego Costa’s goal that won el derbi Madrileño at the Bernabeu while the return at the Vicente Calderon saw a share of the spoils. It meant that a tie on points would have seen Atletico emerge League champions on a better head to head record. It was not needed. Atletico won the league outright.

However, Real Madrid proved their worth in the Copa del Rey, avenging last season’s defeat with a win over two legs in the semi-final. After defeating last season’s cup champions, they went on to become this season’s cup champions when Gareth Bale run past Marc Batra, out beyond the touchline, almost into the Barcelona technical area, nearly heading to the dressing rooms before returning back onto the pitch and reducing that high octane speed just in time to slot in the winner.

It means Saturday’s game will be the chance to complete the double.

Infinitely, it is much more than that. A Champions League triumph awaits. Club football’s most coveted trophy will be on display before the game and for one of these teams, forever in their trophy cabinets.

For the rojiblancos, it will be a first. A chance to claim what seemed impossible years ago and which in the near future may not become possible again. Unfortunately for los colchoneros, years of mismanagement mean that debts are owed and taxes are accruing. Whatever happens, Atleti must sell their superstars — maybe even their coach — so as to ensure sustainability. As such, this is a period that represents their time in the sun. After this – maybe — they retreat back into their cave.

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At least though they have enjoyed the ride. Ever since Diego ‘El Cholo’ Simeone took over in 2012, the mood around Atletico has changed. Previous mental weakness has been done away with as Cholismo has taken center stage. Grit and determination, hard work and resilience has seen them scale the heights, win the Europa League, the UEFA Super Cup, the Copa del Rey and now La Liga. In doing so, they have threatened and breached the duopoly of Real Madrid and Barcelona. Completing it with a Champions League will be the most perfect ending.

Real Madrid on the other hand are waiting the end to an obsession. Ever since Zinedine Zidane scored that beauty at Hampden Park, this is the chance they have been waiting for. The dream of la Decima has taken them 12 years. How they wish that it now becomes a reality.

Money has been spent on galactico after galactico — and coach after coach — with nothing to show for it. That great tradition of winning European Cups that started all the way back in 1956 has seen it turn into an unhealthy obsession. More and more has been required, and less and less has been delivered.

Maybe, this is the end. And when it does arrive, it will be done with Cristiano Ronaldo, arguably football’s greatest player at the moment, in his domineering form. A support cast exists with Luka Modric pulling the strings in midfield and Gareth Bale making those incisive runs. All this under the stewardship of Carlo Ancelotti. A manager who has won this trophy four times before — twice as a player and twice as a manager.

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Xabi Alonso however will be missing for Real and that could prove a key moment. But also as well on Atleti’s side, maybe Diego Costa too will be unable to run that hamstrung leg of his. Atleti though will be buoyed by the fact that in two important games this season — the second leg of the Champions League quarter-final against Barcelona as well as the league decider last Saturday — were overcome without the presence of Costa. The team always fights for each other, the sum of the parts greater than the whole.

Thus, it will either be the quality and history of los merengues, or the sheer determination and never say die attitude of Atleti that will emerge victorious on Saturday. Either way, history will be written. Atletico could win their first European Cup. Real could win their tenth. Simeone could win his first, while Ancelotti could get his third (fifth overall). An intriguing final awaits. The world will be watching and you can bet that so too will Cybele and Neptune.

 

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