Sergio Ramos and Gareth Bale the heroes as Real Madrid lift their 10th European Cup in Lisbon
LISBON // Atletico, it turned out, could climb the impossible mountain only once. Clinching the league title last week was an extraordinary achievement, but going one step further – with two of their key players injured – proved beyond them. Yet they came mighty close, leading 1-0 under injury-time when Sergio Ramos headed an equaliser.
That broke them. Exhausted, cramp striking a number of players, Atletico could only play for penalties.
They were 10 minutes from achieving it when Angel Di Maria, probably Real’s best player on the night, cut in from the left and struck a shot that looped off Thibaut Courtois.
Gareth Bale, having missed three great chances, nodded in. A drive from Marcelo and a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty gave the 4-1 scoreline a distinctly flattering aspect – and sealed for Real Madrid their 10th European Cup. It also brought Carlo Ancelotti a third Uefa Champions League as a manager – bringing him level with Bob Paisley’s record.
The magic of the horse placenta soon wore off. Although Diego Costa was deemed fit enough to start after he suffered a Grade 1 tear of his hamstring last Saturday, he was substituted after nine minutes and replaced by Adrian Lopez.
With Arda Turan, the other injury victim of the draw against Barcelona that won Atletico the title not even on the bench, that left Atletico’s resources, already sparse when compared to their city rivals, looking even more meagre.
Yet, while Turan and Costa have been two of Atletico’s best and most consistent players this season, the strength of Simeone’s team has been the spirit of the unit, something that seemed reflected even in the attitude of their fans.
Around the statue of the Marquis de Pombal in the centre of Lisbon, red and white shirts were far more numerous than white, and the sense was that, 40 years after their last final, they had made the six-hour journey west – in a convoy that, it is said, totalled 600 buses and 15,000 cars packed with as many as 90,000 fans of both teams – in a spirit of excitement, grateful simply to be there.
To say Real’s fans came in expectation of success would be stretching it, but it is certainly true that the pressure of winning la decima, the 10th title they had – as Iker Casillas admitted – assumed when they won their ninth title in 2002 would be theirs almost by rights.
Then they had won the Champions League three times in five years and, given their wealth, given the stars in their squad, the prospect of waiting 12 years for their next final was inconceivable.
Casillas, a few days before his 21st birthday, had come off the bench in the second half of that game to replace the injured Cesar, and had given a performance of such maturity that by the next season he was an automatic first choice.
Now just turned 33, it was Casillas’s error that handed Atletico the lead nine minutes before half time. The game had been scrappy and shapeless – as Atletico, no doubt, wanted it. They closed and hassled and harried and disrupted Real and then took advantage when Casillas, miscalculating dreadfully, left his line to attempt to claim Juanfran’s dink over the defensive line after a corner had been half-cleared, Diego Godin got to the dropping ball first and nodded the ball goalwards. Casillas made a desperate attempt to get back, but couldn’t hook it clear.
Atletico sat back and absorbed pressure, and absorbed some more. Real came again and again, and again and again, Atletico repelled them.
Forty years ago, they had led Bayern 1-0 in the final minute when George Schwarzenbeck, a centre-back with no great record of goalscoring, strode forward and belted in an equaliser in the final minute of extra time. This time it was another central defender, Sergio Ramos, who headed in a right-wing corner in injury-time in normal time. And this time, instead of a replay, it was in extra time that their hearts were broken.
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Published: May 25, 2014 04:00 AM