Atletico will go into their first-ever Champions League final with a first La Liga title in 18 years under their belt, safe in the knowledge that defeat would be unfortunate but hardly the end of the world.
But victory over Real Madrid in Lisbon will certainly end some bad memories that have been haunting them since 1974 when they played their only European Cup final.
That final was against a Bayern Munich team which ended up winning three consecutive European Cups.
Played at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels, Belgium, the game finished 0-0, and Luis Aragones scored in extra time to give Atletico the lead just four minutes from time.
Jose Eulogio Garate, one of the legends of the club, could have scored another, but his mistake has always haunted him. Remembering it last week, Garate broke down crying in front of hundreds of fans, because, just a few minutes later, Bayern drew level through Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck, and the German club destroyed Atletico 4-0 in the replay.
While it’s safe to say they would certainly have taken the scenario they now find themselves in had they been offered it when they kicked their season off on Aug. 19, there’s nothing that would please Diego Simeone more than to bring a miserable end to the season for Atletico’s posh neighbours.
Make no mistake about it: defeat for Real Madrid against anyone on the biggest of stages in front of the watching world would be terrible. Defeat against their poorer relations in the final of the competition they have banked everything on winning would be nothing short of a disaster.
Simeone and his staff have spent all season wringing out the very maximum from his brave and highly committed charges. Until the moment of truth on Saturday night, he will be urging them to give what they have tried to deliver all season in one final push.
The bookmakers have Atletico as slight underdogs for the match, but the bookies aren’t playing in it.
Cristiano Ronaldo has gone on record as saying he considers it to be 50-50, as Richard Martin of The Telegraph reported, while Sergio Ramos has gone as far as to say that he sees Atletico as slight favourites, as The Guardian noted.
Juanfran, the Atletico full-back, and most people do not believe Ramos. Pressure should only be in the Bernabeu camp.
In truth, it remains too close to call, and we’ll have to see whether the fact Atletico take the field as champions with nothing to lose and everything to gain works for or against them.
Injury-wise, despite Simeone’s merciless use of a very small but dedicated squad, his side, Diego Costa apart, look to be in fine fettle, a tribute to the fitness conditioning regime in place at the Vicente Calderon.
Hats off to Professor Oscar Ortega, who has done an excellent job as a physical trainer. He has always said, "If we are good physically, we are unstoppable." And he is right. Atletico finish games stronger than their opposition, as Barcelona found out.
Although it is being assumed that Diego Costa will miss the match because of a hamstring injury, the club has still not given a firm stance.
If he does play, it will probably rank as the greatest comeback since Lazarus arose from his deathbed, but the likelihood is that either Adrian, most likely Raul Garcia or perhaps even Jose Sosa will come in for him.
In midfield, the excellent Arda Turan looks to have recovered from a knock to his pelvis and is set to play.
Safe in the knowledge that they have been unbeaten in this season’s Champions League, the mood in the Atletico camp is as relaxed as it is buoyant.
It’s also worth noting that this will be Simeone’s third final—fourth, if you count the European Super Cup—since taking the helm at the club. He has yet to taste defeat.
Club president Enrique Cerezo typified the mood of the club when he announced this week, "We’re going out there to win, because as Luis Aragones used to say, finals are there to be won."
Simeone will be saying something not totally removed from that to his players this Saturday. It is a final played for Garate, too.
I can’t wait.
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