Real Madrid are the champions of Europe for a record 10th time after a dramatic 4-1 victory over city rivals Atletico Madrid in the Champions League final on Saturday.
Twelve years and over a billion pounds spent on players since they won their ninth European crown, Real have “La Decima” they desperately craved thanks in part to their world-record signing—Gareth Bale—breaking the 1-1 deadlock in injury time to effectively decide matters in Lisbon’s Estadio da Luz.
Substitute Marcelo and Cristiano Ronaldo (from the penalty spot) then each scored in the 117th and 120th minutes to clinch the victory. The strong finish came not long after it looked like the result would be entirely different.
A week after winning the Spanish title, Atletico came so close to adding their first Champions League crown to a remarkable campaign. Diego Godin took advantage of a rare Iker Casillas mistake to give them a first-half lead.
They defended manfully but were breached deep into injury time, Sergio Ramos granting his side a chance at redemption in the 93rd minute of normal time.
By that point Atletico seemed emotionally and physically spent and, despite the desperate encouragement of manager Diego Simeone, were overwhelmed in the closing stages.
The third and fourth goals were unfair on Los Colchoneros, but Simeone struggled to contain his rage, storming onto the pitch before the final whistle had been blown. It was an unsightly end to an otherwise enthralling contest.
Afterwards, Ancelotti told reporters:
I'm extremely happy, because we've managed to do it for Real Madrid and that's very important.
All of us who've been working hard all season feel very proud of achieving this result, for all of Real Madrid. Personally I feel very happy; happiness is giving happiness to those that follow us day in, day out, all the time.
Madrid fans are extremely happy and that's why we're happy too.
"You have to look at it overall—Madrid were better in the second half, they kept us in our half and we couldn't get out," Simeone added. "I told my players that, when you've played as well as they did tonight, to keep their heads up and start thinking about next season."
The pre-match talk was dominated by discussions about injury concerns and selection dilemmas, with both managers surprising many with their eventual decisions.
Carlo Ancelotti opted to replace the suspended Xabi Alonso with Sami Khedira—who had previously managed less than two hours of football since picking up an injury in November—and opted for Raphael Varane in defence over Pepe, who had also been struggling with an injury.
Simeone, meanwhile, made the bold decision to start Diego Costa—just a week after the striker had limped off against Barcelona with a hamstring strain. With Arda Turan, another injured last week, unable to even make the matchday squad, it was perhaps a risk worth taking. But within the first 10 minutes Costa was off, replaced by Adrian.
The Brazil-turned-Spain international made a couple of half-hearted runs in the opening exchanges before accepting that his injury, treated with horse placenta during the week, would not hold up to the strains of the match.
It was perhaps the most significant moment of the first half-hour.
Both managers made bad lineup decisions. Carvajal over Arbeloa, Khedira over Illara, Costa over Adrian, Tiago over Suarez all wrong.— Kevin McCauley (@kevinmccauley) May 24, 2014
Before that moment, and for 20 minutes afterwards, it was a subdued match, with both sets of players seemingly focused more on resuming personal feuds than producing incisive football. Raul Garcia and Ramos were both booked early on, with the latter man coming closest to inadvertently breaking the deadlock as he sliced Koke’s cross wildly over his own crossbar.
Soon after that, however, Real had the first clear-cut chance of the final, and it came from a mistake. Tiago was the culprit, the midfielder giving the ball straight to Bale with a slack pass inside his own half. Bale ran into the box and looked certain to score, but somehow contrived to send his placed shot wide as Miranda desperately recovered ground.
It felt like a big miss at the time, and moments later it was punished. All season Atletico have been dangerous from set-pieces, and it proved their route to breaking the deadlock on the biggest stage of all.
The initial corner was cleared, but Juanfran nodded it back into the danger zone and, with Casillas rushing from his line, Godin rose above Khedira to send the ball over the stranded goalkeeper. Casillas tried to scramble back, but the ball had already crossed the line by the time he could claw it out.
Replays suggested Casillas had misjudged the initial header, although Luka Modric should perhaps have cleared his lines quicker to play Godin offside.
Real pushed for an equaliser before the break, but it was Atletico who actually went closest to getting another: Adrian heading narrowly over Gabi’s cross after another corner was only half-cleared.
The second half was an altogether more vibrant affair, with Ronaldo threatening Thibaut Courtois three times in the space of a minute early on and Adrian seeing a dangerous potshot deflected only narrowly wide at the other end.
Real, through necessity, had a real urgency to their play, with Ancelotti quickly making the decision to bring on Marcelo and Isco (for the faltering Khedira) to give his side some extra attacking dimensions.
Their most expensive signings continued to fluff their lines, however, with Bale adding two further glaring misses to his first-half mistake as Real knocked on the door but failed to find a way in.
The first miss was understandable, skewing a first-time effort wide from a difficult position, but the second was agonising—the Welshman running in behind Godin but dragging his left-footed attempt wide of the near post with only Courtois to negotiate.
At least he was making an impact. Karim Benzema, on the fringes of matters all night, was eventually withdrawn for the young Alvaro Morata.
As the game entered the final 10 minutes, Real threw everyone forward in haste, with Atletico—who had brought on Sosa to reinforce the midfield—unable to take advantage of all the space now afforded to them in the break.
The yellow cards piled up for Simeone’s side as Real pushed forward: Villa, Juanfran and Koke all entering the referee’s notebook.
Real threw everything at their opponents but the ball just failed to fall in the right places in the box, despite some inviting deliveries from Modric and Isco.
When Villa rushed back 50 yards to dispossess the onrushing Bale, it felt like the side perennially in Real’s shadow were about to get the sweetest revenge. Yet there was to be a sting in the tail.
After some sustained pressure deep into added time, Real won another corner, and this time they took advantage. Modric’s delivery was inviting, and Ramos showed his hunger to rise highest and plant his header beyond Courtois to the Belgian’s right.
At full-time Casillas kissed his defender, thanking Ramos for ensuring his uncharacteristic mistake would not decide the final.
"We played Atletico four times already this season, every one was very close and difficult, when they get ahead they are difficult to break down," Bale told the BBC at full-time. "Once we got the goal, we had the momentum into extra time."
Can't help feel Atletico only have enough left to play for penalties, or perhaps fluke one. Spent.— Miguel Delaney (@MiguelDelaney) May 24, 2014
Nice to see the money used from the sale of me produce the goods! Real confirmed the signing of Ramos once they agreed to sell me. #GoodSwap— michael owen (@themichaelowen) May 24, 2014
All six of the previous Champions League finals to go to extra-time had required penalties to decide a winner. The seventh looked like it might be different: Atletico, re-arranged to defend a lead, suddenly did not have the flexibility to change their approach significantly, while Real had the momentum with them and were emboldened by their last-gasp equaliser.
They hassled and harried an exhausted Atletico side, with Miranda stretching to clear Marcelo’s low cross, Ronaldo seeing another free-kick flicked just off target, and Varane heading straight at Courtois at the end of the first period.
In the second half Atletico really began flagging—Koke, Adrian and Juanfran all limping at one point or another—and Real finally put them to the sword. Bale got the goal but it was entirely of Angel Di Maria’s doing, the Argentine dribbling between Juanfran and Miranda before firing at Courtois.
The Belgian made the save, but the rebound fell perfectly for Bale to rise and head home at the far post.
Atletico had nine minutes to respond but, after Villa had failed to take advantage of another ill-advised Casillas lunge, their reaction was in the wrong way. Marcelo was gifted space and time on the edge of the box to power his shot past the defenceless Courtois, before Juanfran fouled Ronaldo in the box to give the No. 7 the chance to get a goal in his home country.
The Portuguese duly did so, sparking wild celebrations—at least, once Simeone had been removed from the pitch.
"We were close to getting the trophy but the title is not yours until it is all over," Atletico captain Gabi said, per the BBC. "We fought hard but now we want to congratulate the champions."
"What was most difficult was to get the equaliser," Ancelotti concluded. "We didn't have any space, Atlético defended very well, but we tried every way possible, right to the end—we managed to do it and then the game changed completely.
"The goal we scored gave us a lot of strength and after that perhaps we wanted the victory more."
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