Around 9:35 PM in the capital of Portugal, Lisbon. Estadio da Luz, the home of SL Benfica was still buzzing. The stadium was divided into two. One side completely red and the other completely white. The red fans were dancing. They were enjoying as the clock was ticking and nearing the 9:39 PM mark. Yes! Atletico were leading by a goal. The game was well into the second minute of the five added minutes. Atleti were defending deep in their half and conceded a corner. The whites, the Real Madrid fans were hanging on to the hopes of getting something from this corner. Ex-Tottenham player Luka Modric took the set piece and sent in a ball that met Sergio Ramos’s head. It went in! Beating Courtois. It was now the white fans who leapt up in joy – thanking God, thanking Modric and above all thanking their key figure, Sergio Ramos. Real dugout, which was in complete chaos till then, was relieved. “La Decima” was back in sight. Madrid derby was getting exciting and was going down to the wire.
Entering the final, both the clubs had at least a couple of serious injuries. Karim Benzema and Pepe of Real and Arda Turan and Diego Costa of Atleti were the injured ones. Against all the odds, the strikers of both the teams, Benzema and Costa started the game. Young French centre-back Raphael Varane replaced Pepe and Raul Garcia replaced Turan.
For Real, this was their first European Champions League final since 2002. They were chasing La Decima – the Tenth European title. For Atleti, it was their first appearance in Champions League since 1974. For both set of players, it was chance to make history.
Atleti completely dominated in the first half. They pressed higher up the pitch. They were quick. Determination to win the coveted trophy was flowing in their blood. Deservingly, they took the lead in the 36th minute. Iker Casillas, world’s best goal keeper, committed a blunder. Atleti’s corner, which was forced out of the box by Real defenders, was pumped in once again. Casillas, in an attempt to claim the ball, ran forward only to see Godin head the ball. It looped over his head. Casillas turned around and jumped for the ball. He stretched his hand out and pulled the ball back. His effort went in vain. The ball had crossed the line. GOAL! It was “GOD” in Godin’s form for Atletico Madrid for the second time in 7 days. Rojiblancos fans were over the moon. The goal was 50% luck and 50% hard work. Casillas made a mistake, a highly unusual one. Yes. But we also have to admit the hard work put in by Simeone’s men.
Costa was forced off the pitch due to hamstring problem in the 9th minute. According to me this was the deciding factor of the game.
In the first half, Angel Di Maria was the only Real player who was active on the pitch. He supplied some crosses and cut in a few times. Bale had an opportunity to put Real Madrid in front, but he aimed his shot wide. Real Madrid were desperate to get a goal. But their front trio did not get enough time on the ball.
The first 30 minutes of the second half was similar to the first half. Atletico Madrid players were pressing high, playing narrowly, staying close to each other to deny Real Madrid the space and time required to create a goal scoring chance. In fact Real were looking lack lustre for most part of the game or at least until Khedira and Coentrao were subbed off. Isco and Marcelo who came on in the 59th minute played important roles in tilting the competition in Los Blancos’ favour. From the 75th minute onwards Real started to take control of the game – mainly because they were not as exhausted as Atleti players. Real started attacking – they played in a few crosses, through balls but only to be nullified by the resilient back four of Atletico Madrid. Atleti defended deep and were happy in clearing the threats from inside the box. They were just two minutes away from being crowned as the European Champions, just two minutes. They conceded a corner. In popped the man from Seville, to score past Courtois and put Real Madrid back on level terms. That Ramos header in the 3rd minute of added time came in as a confidence boost for the Real players.
The first half of extra time flew by very quickly. Real attacked. Atletico, unusually, were happy to just clear the ball. It looked like they were devastated. They were tired. Real made use of its three substitutes correctly. Atleti were one substitute short – playing Costa, as I said, was the turning point. Atleti badly needed a break. The wanted the drama to end.
Real Madrid took advantage of Atleti in the second half of extra time. Juan Fran was injured, but still he carried on – Cholo’s words I think. Five Atleti players on the pitch were already booked once. Assessing all these Real decided not to stop their attacks. They showed no mercy at all. The most expensive footballer of all time, Gareth Bale, popped up in the 110th minute to score a header after Di Maria’s low cross hit Courtois and bounced high up in the air. Real dugout knew that they were one step closer to the title.
Atletico Madrid, who played really well for majority of the match were now trailing by a goal with only 10 minutes to go. They lacked energy and almost gave up their hopes. Soon they changed to a formation with four forwards. It was of no use. In the 118th minute Marcelo scored from outside the box and Ronaldo completed the show by scoring from the spot in front of his countrymen.
Ask an Atleti fan and he will surely tell you that Satan played the dice in favour of Real Madrid in the dying stages of the game.
Angel Di Maria’s performance was superb. He made the real difference on the pitch. For Atletico Madrid – heartbreak.
Diego Simeone took charge of Atleti when they were just four points from the relegation zone. Since then he has led them to two Europa League title, two UEFA Super Cups, a Copa Del Rey and recently a La Liga title. He surely is a magician. He is a master tactician and has proved it to the world by doing the impossible. His team broke the Barca – Real duopoly in La Liga this season. Reaching the Champions League final is really a great achievement, given that his team’s transfer budget is just 1/5th of what Real Madrid spent on Gareth Bale.
For Ancelotti, this is his third Champions League title as a manager. He did in one season what Jose Mourinho, “The Special One”, could not do in his three seasons as Real manager. Project “La Decima” is now complete. In an era of Barcelona dominance, Real Madrid have set a new milestone. They have reached the legendary status.