After 12 long years and over a billion spent to create one of the best counterattacking teams in Spain, Real Madrid finally ended its quest for La Decima, its 10th European Cup.
It took an extremely dramatic finish at the end of regulation time in its Champions League final match against cross-city rivals Atletico Madrid, but it happened. The match between Madrid teams, which many were looking forward to, largely lived up to its billing. Never before had two teams from the same city competed in the Champions League final. And then there were the historical implications as well, since Real was searching for La Decima whereas Atletico had never won the Champions League in club history.
Atletico had what can be considered one of its finest seasons on its way to winning the Spanish League title. Real, despite having lost the league title, did win the Copa del Rey. And both teams eliminated giants of the soccer world – Barcelona, Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, to name a few. Adding to the match’s drama was the lack of certain key players due to injury or suspension. Diego Costa aggravated his hamstring during Atletico’s final Spanish League match against Barcelona, causing many to think he wouldn’t be able to play on Thursday, as well as Arda Turan. Real Madrid had its problems as Sami Khedira, Jese Rodriguez, Pepe, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo have missed several matches due to muscle fatigue or the flu. Real also lost Xabi Alonso due to suspension.
The match started fairly evenly with both teams creating plays, attacking and defending until there was 10 minutes left before halftime. Atletico scored first when Iker Casillas committed a rookie mistake, leaving the net wide open, which Diego Godin took advantage of to put Real in a 1-0 hole. Real continued to make several good plays but was unable to put the ball in the net. Atletico came so close to victory that it could feel and taste it, but then the referee added five extra minutes of stoppage time at the end of regulation. Atletico continued to shut down Real for the first three minutes, but then a corner kick from Luka Modric became a header for Sergio Ramos. Ramos’ equalizer spun just perfectly outside of Thibaut Courtois’ reach, tying the game and sending Atletico and Real into overtime. With both teams completely exhausted and without any substitutions, the game’s momentum quickly turned. Whereas Real and Atletico were evenly matched for much of the game, Real Madrid went on the attack in overtime, causing Atletico to become more fatigued. The tie-breaker, and game-winning goal, came in the 109th minute. The Welshman Gareth Bale netted a fantastic goal and, to some extent, justified his astonishing fee. Bale’s goal wasn’t the final one. Atletico, completely worn out, faded quickly and surrendered goals to Marcelo Vieira and Cristiano Ronaldo, icing the game 4-1.
Atletico may have fared better had Diego Simeone refrained from starting Diego Costa as Simeone burned a substitution in the ninth minute when he pulled out Costa. Had he started someone else in Costa’s place, Simeone could have saved that substitution for a crucial moment and potentially shift momentum back his way. Coincidentally, 40 years ago, Atletico was in another close European Cup final, leading Bayern Munich 1-0 before Munich tied the game, stealing victory from Atletico’s grasp. Atletico would play Munich again to decide the winner, only to fall 4-0. Deja vu?
Up next is the World Cup now that the Champions League is over. Here are some key players to watch:
Cristiano Ronaldo, who set a record of most goals scored in a single Champions League campaign with 17, must now help Portugal in the “Group of Death,” which includes Germany, Ghana and the U.S.
Diego Costa, currently injured, decided to play for Spain instead of Brazil. Spanish coach Vicente del Bosque has not made public the final list of 23 players who will be going to the World Cup, but he will do so within the next few days.
Angel Di Maria, the Argentine midfielder who capped his incredible season with most valuable player of the match by continuing to create plays in Real’s win, has incredible speed and could be one of Argentina’s key players. He will be playing alongside Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuain.
Thibaut Courtois, Atletico’s Belgian goalkeeper, who at 22 years old is already considered one of the best goalkeepers in the world. Much of Atletico’s success is due to Courtois, who had an incredible saving percentage. Before the final match, he had five clean sheets, similar to Real’s Iker Casillas.
Whomever you are rooting for, just remember to enjoy the beautiful game because a World Cup is only every four years.
Be sure to follow this blog for more soccer posts, I also write for Grandstand U so go check them out! I will be writing some previews of some World Cup groups before the World Cup! 😀