Real Madrid's pursuit of La Decima, a 10th European Cup, was salvaged late on by a regulation-time equaliser from centre-back Sergio Ramos. His goal sent the game into extra time, where further goals from Gareth Bale, Marcelo and Cristiano Ronaldo made it 4-1 Real.
Bale already scored the clincher against hated rival FC Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final. This time, his close-range header firmly secured Bale's place in Los Merengues folklore.
Stylish left-back Marcelo sealed it with a fine solo effort before a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty made it 4-1.
But for a long time, it looked as if Real would be thwarted by their city rivals. In the first half, defender Diego Godin pounced on hesitation and calamity from Real goalkeeper Iker Casillas.
The moment of Real's early collapse was captured brilliantly on the Squawka Football Twitter page:
Can any 'keepers out there explain what Iker Casillas was up to? pic.twitter.com/uRZtbQ3hTg— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 24, 2014
But once Ramos had saved the day and powered Real into extra time, the quality and depth of Carlo Ancelotti's squad showed. Here's how Ancelotti, Bale, Atletico boss Diego Simeone and others reacted:
Simeone's initial reaction was to be sent off after a particularly volatile argument with the referee. It wasn't the first time Simeone had goaded the official during the match.
His final act was an unsavoury scene, as BBC Sport reporter Phil McNulty noted:
Simeone on the pitch arguing again. Not sure it would be a quiet night out on the town with him.— Phil McNulty (@philmcnulty) May 24, 2014
Meanwhile, as Ancelotti lets the moment sink in, he'll realize he has achieved a fantastic personal milestone. Squawka Football pointed out how a third UEFA Champions League trophy would put the Italian coach in exalted company:
If R.Madrid win the Champions League, Carlo Ancelotti will equal Bob Paisley's record of most European Cup wins (3). pic.twitter.com/bTjpY3JLX6— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 24, 2014
Of course, Ancelotti will be far from alone in basking in this historic triumph. Ex-Real centre-back Fabio Cannavaro took to Twitter to make sure everyone knows just how many European Cups his old club has won:
Considering they were leading until injury time, many perhaps felt sympathy for the underdog Atletico, feeling the scoreline flattered Real. But BBC Match of the Day host Gary Lineker didn't share that view, believing the more deserving name ended up on the trophy:
Great game. The right winner. Felicidades al Real Madrid!— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) May 24, 2014
Naturally, Atletico's players could not hide their disappointment in the aftermath. But full-back Juanfran managed to sound magnanimous, offering praise to his team's local enemy, per the UEFA Champions League Twitter page:
Juanfran had endured a tough night attempting to track the runs of fleet-footed wide forwards Bale and Ronaldo. His resilience epitomized Atletico's defensive discipline during normal time.
However, skipper Gabi Fernandez appeared to bemoan his team's lack of attacking thrust and creative verve, per more quotes from UEFA:
Gabi was superb for most of the night. The aggressive spark-plug midfielder was a terrier in the middle, playing a key role in breaking up Real attacks, particularly in the first half.
At least Juanfran did offer one positive message for downhearted Atleti fans, per the club's English Twitter feed. The 29-year-old defender reaffirmed the squad's desire to return to the final of Europe's top club tournament and go one better:
Of course, Atletico's chances will depend on the club's ability to retain key members of this squad. Star striker Diego Costa is widely tipped to join Chelsea this summer, per Sky Sports.
The same club could also recall on-loan goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, according to Sami Mokbel of the Daily Mail. Those are two significant figures Simeone could struggle to replace.
He did manage to make his team even better after losing prolific striker Radamel Falcao last summer. But successful annual regeneration can only continue for so long.
Still, the Argentine coach remained proud of his team's effort this season, per Atletico's official Twitter account:
Simeone: "This match doesn’t deserve a tear. When you give your life, there’s nothing to say" #UCLFinal— Atleti English (@atletienglish) May 24, 2014
That's certainly a justifiable view, considering Atleti did break Real and FC Barcelona's stranglehold on the La Liga title this season.
As for Real, Ancelotti is already looking ahead. He had special words for Bale, words that sound ominous for next season's opponents, via quotes from UEFA.com:
Ancelotti, @realmadrid: "At the right moment, Bale was ready to score and that's how it's been all season. He'll be even better next year."— Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) May 24, 2014
Perhaps it's fitting that the final words belong to Bale. He went to Madrid adorned with a massive fee and coming off only one truly outstanding season.
But two huge goals in Real's biggest games of the season have gone a long way to justifying Bale's status as the most expensive player on the planet. The Welsh attacker now feels vindicated and ready to do even more next season:
Playing in a squad almost bloated with enviable attacking talent, guided by a brilliant manager, it's easy to imagine Bale enjoying a moment similar to this next season.