Real Madrid Hold Trump Cards Against Atletico in Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo

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Real Madrid Hold Trump Cards Against Atletico in Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo
Paul White/Associated Press

Real Madrid's Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo will frighten the life out of Atletico in the UEFA Champions League final. They are such a handful that they would scare any team in the world, and for me, they will tip the balance in favour of a Real Madrid victory on Saturday.

There isn't much that would tempt you to take your eyes off the impending World Cup tournament, but this is a fascinating encounter between the two Madrid teams.

Diego Simeone has done the best managerial job in the past 30 years! Yes, that is how much you have to admire what he has achieved in getting in between Barcelona and Real Madrid to win La Liga and, at the same time, reaching the final of the Champions League.

Clearly, I am not holding it against him as the man who got David Beckham sent off when I was manager of the England team in France '98 even though we should have knocked them out and gone on to have a great chance in that tournament.

Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

Winning the title in Spain over two clubs that seem to have exclusive rights on it? It is like Everton winning the Premier League. It is just such a magnificent achievement. But it is one step too far to beat Real in the final in the world's biggest club tournament.

Simeone has gotten so far with a relatively ordinary team built on power and mobility with an economy in whatever they do. Their work ethic is commendable.

But Madrid have the ace cards in Bale and Ronaldo, and I am sure that Carlo Ancelotti will play the pair from the start. Still, it will be fascinating to see what shape the manager goes for, with centre-forward Karim Benzema carrying a slight knock.

But Ancelotti has shown he is not afraid to take the risk of playing them both and going for all-out attack, and that has paid off for him in this competition, particularly unleashing the pair against Bayern Munich. That was brave and decisive management.

 

World Cup Outlook

Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

Speaking of Simeone, Argentina have haunted my England career both as player and as a manager—but it's time for me to praise them and select them as my favourites to land the World Cup in Brazil.

During my prime in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, we all knew Diego Maradona was world class as we took on Argentina in the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. In fact, Maradona was the best in the world. I know how much Bobby Robson and Don Howe wondered whether we should man-mark him, and we went into the game without Bryan Robson, who was close to returning but not quite fit.

But no one would have predicted his "Hand of God" goal nor his wonder goal that followed. He left us all standing when he went on that mazy dribble.

Then as a manager, I was convinced we were the much better side when we took them on in France '98, when I brought in some young players like Michael Owen—who scored that wonder goal against them—David Beckham and Paul Scholes. Rio Ferdinand was on the bench that day, but we also had vast amounts of experience, too, in David Seaman, Tony Adams, Paul Ince and Alan Shearer.

Stu Forster/Getty Images

Even when we went down to 10 men when Beckham was sent off, I still felt we were the much better side despite that handicap and should have won with the golden goal. I still have no idea why the referee disallowed Sol Campbell's header. We all thought it was the winner.

I can picture to this day half my team up the wrong end of the pitch while Argentina broke away on the attack, chasing their own golden goal with myself and my coaching staff shouting our lungs out and waving furiously for the players to regroup.

Eventually, we lost in the dreaded penalty shootout.

While I might have had my problems with Argentina as a player and a manager, in Lionel Messi, they have a player you cannot take your eyes off of, the kind of player I would pay good money to watch.

For Messi to finally eclipse Maradona, this has to be his World Cup at long last. He hasn't lived up to expectations in previous tournaments, and if he is ever going to be considered as good as—if not better than—Maradona, then he has to deliver on the biggest stage. And that has to be the World Cup final.

For me, Maradona is the world's best-ever player. Yes, he edges out even Pele for me, and there have been endless discussions for years who might one day topple Maradonaor indeed Peleto take over as the world's best ever.

Messi is the genuine article and has that chance, but now, he has to deliver in the World Cup final to do it.

He has had a relatively quiet season by his own extraordinary standards, and although Barcelona looked untouchable not so long ago, they crashed out of the Champions League. But the body language for some time suggested that they felt really sorry for themselves. I would go as far to say that Messi had his mind on something else.

Messi was out of the Barca side for quite a while, and it showed in the way Barca hit a dip. It's like taking Robin van Persie away from the Manchester United team; they were not the same. United are also not the same when Wayne Rooney is missing.

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

My only concern about Argentina is that they sometimes peak too early in tournaments. But I think they are very good prospects to win it. They just need to ensure they peak at the right time, which is the key to winning these big tournaments. While I would go for Argentina to win it, there are plenty of dark horses. In fact, as many as seven or eight squads could be surprise teams.

You always have to look at Germany as being strong contenders, but then again, everyone said that about them the last time in the Euros.   

Belgium have an outstanding chance of making a surprise impact with the number of quality players at their disposal. But because so many are young, they might mount a much stronger challenge in the Euros once those players have acquired such valuable tournament experience in Brazil.

It's much the same way England's young hopefuls will be in a stronger state for the Euros once they have experienced the World Cup. I think Belgium will be a much bigger danger in the Euros in two years' time than this tournament.

Of course, we have all been saying for a few World Cup tournaments that it might be the time at last for an African nation to win the tournament. So maybe this might be the time; who knows? Watch out for the Ivory Coast.  

Chile looked a very interesting South American team when they played against England at Wembley recently. In fact, I thought they looked outstanding. And of course, you can never rule out the host nation.

Colombia look good, and so too do Japan, so you can see there are quite a few potential outsiders who could come through to make it quite a surprising World Cup.

There are some tough-to-beat teams out there. I’m looking forward to it.

 

Glenn Hoddle is part of the star-studded ITV team for the World Cup while he is also a leading pundit with Sky. He is technical director of F30, which staged the highly successful Lonsdale London Legends Cup. Read more on Glenn Hoddle on www.zapsportz.com.

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