In the first ever Champions League final featuring two clubs from the same city, both Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid have the opportunity to accomplish something that will forever be remembered as a landmark achievement. For Real Madrid, the prize is clear and has been long sought. Almost ever since Zinedine Zidane’s incredible volley hit the back of the net at Hampden Park in May 2002 with a goal that would give Madrid a 2-1 victory over Bayer Leverkusen and their ninth European Cup, the focus has been on La Decima.
Few fans would have thought it would take 12 years for Madrid to win the Champions League once more, let alone to merely reach a final. With each passing year, the desire has become increasingly an obsession. Neighbours Atletico can only wonder at such a glory-laden history. When Atletico take to the pitch in Lisbon on Saturday it will be to contest the great trophy for only the second time and first since losing to Bayern Munich 40 years ago. Atletico have already lifted the Primera Division crown with a budget one fifth the size of that of Barcelona and Real Madrid. To top that by becoming European champions, just two-and-a-half years after Diego Simeone took over a side that was 10th in La Liga and had just been knocked out of the Copa del Rey by a team from Spain’s third tier would make it one of the greatest single-season achievements in recent memory. In many ways, the action on the Estadio da Luz pitch will match the historical status of the two clubs. Real Madrid from a lavish part of the city are Spanish, and indeed European, royalty with a history that involves some of the greatest players to ever grace the sport. That is borne out in their current team which includes the two most expensive players in history, current world player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.
In Carlo Ancelotti, Madrid have a coach who throughout his career has tried to devise tactics to get the best out of his star players rather than getting players to fit a team philosophy.
In contrast, Atletico hail from the more working-class area of the Spanish capital. Their roots epitomized by their nickname, Los Cochoneros, the mattress-makers. Simeone, a man who was a tireless, dogged midfielder in the last Atletico team to lift the Spanish title 18 years ago, has fed upon the club’s heritage to create the ultimate blue-collar team.
On Saturday in Lisbon, it will be the superstar individuals of Real Madrid against the team ethos of Atletico Madrid. It is why, despite Madrid having a far stronger squad, the absence of players will present a greater problem for Madrid than for Atletico.
Much of the buildup to the game has been dominated by discussion of the fitness of a host of players. While Ronaldo looks set to make it, the closest thing to a star in Atletico’s team, Diego Costa, despite a boost of horse placenta, still looks a long shot to be named in the starting lineup.
The Brazil-born Spain international has scored a phenomenal 36 goals in all competitions this season to attract the attention of Chelsea, who he looks all-but certain to join this summer.
But, having been bothered by niggling muscle problems for several weeks, Costa’s hamstring gave out and left him in tears on the sidelines during Atletico’s title decider against Barcelona last Saturday.Atletico, though, both this season and in previous years have shown an incredible capacity to replace exceptional strikers. Last summer the prolific Radamel Falcao left Atletico, with many wondering how they could possibly replace his goals.
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ATLETICO SWEAT OVER COSTA, ARDA FITNESS
Lisbon: Atletico Madrid are still sweating over the fitness of Diego Costa and Arda Turan and a decision on whether they can feature in Saturday’s Champions League final against Real Madrid has not yet been taken, coach Diego Simeone said Friday. Costa, Atletico’s top scorer, and playmaker Arda limped out of last weekend’s La Liga title decider at Barcelona with hamstring and hip injuries respectively and there were fears they would not be available for the showpiece in Lisbon.