The football world belongs to Madrid.
With a surprisingly comfortable 3-1 victory over Chelsea in the second leg of their semifinal matchup on Wednesday, Atletico Madrid advanced to their first European Cup final in 40 years.
Atletico will play fellow La Liga side and city rivals Real Madrid in a contest that should ignite massive intrigue throughout Spain.
The La Liga leaders came into Wednesday's match with one mission: just win. Their 0-0 draw during the first leg put Atletico in a tough position—having to advance at Stamford Bridge. While Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho put all his eggs in the Champions League basket by resting key players over the weekend, and got a huge goal from Fernando Torres in the 36th minute, the match rarely felt out of Atletico's hands.
Adrian answered Torres' goal with one of his own in the 44th minute to level the match going into half-time, and the chasm between the two sides only grew more obvious after the break. Diego Costa netted a penalty in the 60th minute, Arda Turan added another goal 12 minutes later and Atletico controlled the pace the rest of the way.
For Atletico, this is merely the latest boon in a meteoric rise this season. Once a perpetual little brother in La Liga, they are on the precipice of their first league title since 1995-96 and have set a dominant tone throughout. Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, two of the most deep-pocketed clubs in the world, have spent their entire year playing catch-up.
Chelsea know the feeling. In Mourinho, they thought they had found the man who could lead them back to the pinnacle—and it's possible he still is. But a semi-final loss in the Champions League and a likely second- or third-place finish in the Premier League wasn't exactly what everyone had in mind.
Daniel Harris of The Guardian was one of many to point out Mourinho's at-times disappointing performance this season:
Mourinho has done brilliantly with three or four specific games, but otherwise, not had a great season.— Daniel Harris (@DanielHarris) April 30, 2014
The fact that Chelsea were at home will only stoke the flames higher. Many supporters had chalked Wednesday's match as a wash, looking forward to a clash of the titans with Real Madrid. Noted international football writer James Horncastle pointed out that Chelsea supporters perhaps shouldn't have counted their chickens before they hatched:
Won at the Dragao and San Siro, drew at the Camp Nou, winning at the Bridge...— James Horncastle (@JamesHorncastle) April 30, 2014
Chelsea players weren't exactly taking it well, either:
ESPN's Paul Carr had the numbers on just how long a wait it's been for Atletico supporters:
Atlético Madrid beats Chelsea 3-1 to reach its 2nd European Cup final, 1st since losing to Bayern in 1974.— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) April 30, 2014
More numbers, this time via Graham MacAree, and none that are favourable for Mourinho—who may have some explaining to do to ownership given their financial splurge to lure him back to Stamford Bridge:
Chelsea lose a knockout tie in Europe for the first time since April 2011.— Graham MacAree (@MacAree) April 30, 2014
Mourinho's most-discussed move of the match will be bringing Samuel Eto'o into the game for Ashley Cole in the 54th minute. A controversial presence, Eto'o made his mark six minutes later by fouling Costa in the box to set up his penalty kick. There were many responses—most unprintable—so we'll just go with a tongue-in-cheek pun from Bleacher Report's Dan Levy:
More like Samuel E’tuh-oh (Sounded better in my head)— Dan Levy (@DanLevyThinks) April 30, 2014
The day wasn't all bad moments. Torres' goal marked something of a full-circle journey for the former Atletico youth turned Chelsea star. While he's been in Premier League since 2007 and has risen to stardom outside his native Spain, support is still high within the Atletico community. James Olley of the London Evening Standard noted the scene when he came off in the 67th minute:
Torres applauded the away fans as he came off then. Atletico fans singing his name now in response.— James Olley (@JamesOlley) April 30, 2014
A great deal of coverage will be spent dissecting the aftermath of Chelsea's loss. FIFA's official Twitter account was already prepared to hype the battle between intercity rivals:
Spanish journalist Rhiannon Jones noted that Madrid was beaming with pride—though that may soon be replaced by bitter rivalry:
Real Madrid made their mark in the semi-finals by thrashing Bayern Munich 4-0 in Germany. Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated noted that neither of these two sides are especially bothered by hostile environments:
And now Chelsea's done. We're headed for a Real Madrid-Atlético Madrid Champions League final. Fantastic 2 days away by Madrid teams.— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) April 30, 2014
Want an early line on a favourite? ESPN Stats & Info has that covered:
Real Madrid is a 63.4% favorite to win the Champions League Final, according to ESPN's Soccer Power Index. pic.twitter.com/pX6NzlfVIq— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 30, 2014
While a significant underdog, one has to wonder whether Atletico would have it any other way. Throughout the La Liga season, they have battled to overcome their own squad deficiencies and two of the most talented teams worldwide. And they've succeeded.
With Wednesday's win, Diego Simeone and Co. have proven they're ready for just about anything.
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