BY NISHANT AWASTHI
“It’s the 2nd minute of stoppage time here at Lisbon and Athletico Madrid are winning the Champions League Final until something happens in the next 30 seconds for Real Madrid. 90 minutes of normal time is already played and Real have been unable to break the stern Athletico defence for this entire match and in the dying seconds of the game Real Madrid have been offered one last chance to salvage something out of this match, if they score from this corner, this match will go into extra time, if they don’t, Athletico will be crowned the champions of the world for the season 2013-14. Modric curls the ball in, Its Sergio Ramos who puts the ball at the back of the net!! Its 93rd minute of the game and Real Madrid are back in it, this match will go into extra time!!”
This was how close it got the last time these two teams went head to head in a Champions League Final. It’s not long forgotten as this Final happened in 2014 just two years back, where Real went on to win 4-1 in extra time, thanks to goals from Sergio Ramos, Gareth Bale, Marcelo and Cristiano Ronaldo. It was May 24th, 2014 and it was the first time a Champions League final was played between two clubs from the same city, the tension and drama was at its peak in Lisbon. Athletico had been a minion club up until now and was always in the shadow of the mighty Real Madrid, the biggest football club on the planet. But on that day, Athletico played like true champions and almost made history by winning the prestigious trophy for the first time in their history, almost.
It’s often said that history repeats itself, and that night, when Real Madrid snatched the trophy from Athletico Madrid in the dying seconds of the game, many thought that Athletico Madrid have blown away their biggest chance of attaining European glory and they might never reach this stage again for a considerable amount of time. Fast forward two years, Athletico Madrid are again in the finals of the Champions League, this time to be played in Milan on May 28th, 2016. And guess who they will be facing, their city rivals, their arch enemies, the bigger club of their city, Real Madrid. 2015 was not a particularly bad season for Athletico in the Champions League as they went till the quarter finals only to be beaten by Barcelona in the quarter final stage, who of course then went on to win the Champions league trophy for the season 2014-15. Real Madrid had a better Champions League campaign than their city rivals last time around as they went on till the semi-finals only to be beaten by Juventus. This time though, a repeat of the 2013-14 season awaits both clubs.
Some might say that this match may well be the revenge match for Athletico Madrid while others may say that Real Madrid already have one hand on the trophy as the repeat of the 2013-14 champions league final this year will have the same conclusion as two years ago, with Real Madrid coming out as champions eventually. It’s easier said than done. Both teams have changed considerably in the past two years from goal keepers to strikers, while Iker Casillas no longer stands between the posts for Real Madrid, Athletico Madrid’s then goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is also playing his trade now in England. While Real Madrid no longer have Sami Khedira and Angel Di Maria, who was vital for them in the 2014 final, Athletico too have seen David Villa, one of the best strikers in history for Spain and Diego Costa, currently one of the best strikers in the world go to different clubs. This does not mean both sides have weakened though, as both these teams have gone from strength to strength and signed players capable of filling the boots of those who have left the club.
This year’s Champions League final is not as easy for Real Madrid as it looked at the same stage two years ago, Athletico have grown their stature immensely and this year they have beaten Barcelona in the quarter finals and Bayern Munich in the semi-final, two of the best teams of the competition. Diego Simione is a shrewd tactician and his team plays in his image, they are strong and they are resolute, some might even say they are the favourites to win this time around as they look unbreakable.
The game on the 28th of May will be a game where contrasting philosophies of football will battle against each other, while Athletico will be as shrewd in their defence as anybody can possibly be, Real Madrid will be firing on all cylinders and taking shots from all around the Athletico defence to break them apart. This will be a classic match of the best attacking team versus the best defensive team on the planet. While Athletico will sit back in their box, trying to hurt Real Madrid on the counter attacks, Real Madrid with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale will be going all guns blazing against the team that has the best defensive record in Europe. The spectacle would be worth everyone to see, and every football lover would be at the edge of his seat cometh the moment of the big Finale.
Whoever wins this finale, will be crowned the champion of Europe, but this will not undermine the achievement of the other finalist in the game. While Real Madrid have turned a poor season around on its head, with the club legend Zinedine Zidane doing what every supporter of the club dreamed he would do, Athletico Madrid have proved this season that they indeed are among the Europe’s elite, they belong on this stage and the 2013-14 final appearance was not a fluke but the start of something very exciting for the club and the fans. No matter who wins the final, the Spanish capital of Madrid will be celebrating on the 28th. Two clubs from the same city, one with history and wealth, other with sheer determination, are making the world accept that Madrid is indeed the capital city of the world when it comes to football.