Friday, 23 May 2014

Three Reasons Why Atletico Madrid Will Beat Real Madrid In Champions League Final


Real Madrid and Atletico face off in the Champions League final on Saturday in Lisbon with many predicting that Atletlico will come a cropper.

On Saturday evening (1945 BST) at Benfica’s magnificent Estadio da Luz the UEFA Champions League will see its first ever inter-city final as nine-time winners Real Madrid take newly crowned La Liga champions Atletico in a mouth watering decider. It is the second successive year that the final sees two teams from the same country go head-to-head, and the fifth time in the last fourteen seasons - a phenomenon unique to this century.

It is however the first time that two great teams from the same city have reached the final. It is because of this - Real chasing “El Decima”; the mythical tenth European Championship - plus the amazing “footballing Rocky Balboa” story that has been Atletico’s rise in just two years from relegation threatened no-hopers to the pinnacle of club soccer that has made this final so particularly intriguing.

Atletico are the bookies underdogs, and face a squad of players that are the envy of every team in football, including Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale – the two most expensive players in history, managed by Carlo Ancelotti, who has won the Champions League no less than four times as player and manager.

By comparison, Atletico’s team wage budget is less than that of Championship side QPR, and their prize asset striker Diego Costa misses the final with a torn hamstring. What they do have is the best manager in soccer right now in Diego Simeone, unbreakable self-belief, plus players like Arda Turan, Raul Garcia, Koke, Gabi, Tiago, Diego Godin and keeper Thibaut Courtois, each of whose value has likely rose several-fold following their heroics of this season.

But can Atletico actually go the whole way and win the Champions League for the first time in their history? Here are three reasons why it will be the red and white side of Madrid that will be celebrating this weekend.

Three Reasons Why Atletico Will Win The Champions League on Saturday

1. Diego Simeone

Has there ever been a manger quite like Diego Simeone? One has to hark back to the days of the legendary Brian Clough to find a similar manager who took on a struggling team (Derby County, Nottingham Forest), and through sheer force of personality and a shrewd tactical brain, took on the established footballing powers of his time (Leeds United, Liverpool) and beat them at their own game.

Not that Simeone looks anything like the dapper young Cloughie. Black clad from head to toe, hair either cropped short or slicked back, Simeone has the look of a Mafia hitman or a Spaghetti Western villain more so than a  football coach. But while he cuts a menacing figure pitch-side, the truth is the Argentinian is far more affable, charming and likeable than his appearance would suggest.

In his press conferences you won’t see someone with the ego of a Mourinho or a Guardiola, just a straight talking man of the people who believes in winning, but as he himself puts it – “not at the expense of walking over others”. There is an honesty and integrity about Simeone the manager that was not always so evident with Simeone the player (remember how he got David Beckham sent off at France 98?)

Speaking of Simeone the player, this is a man who was capped 106 times by his country and played midfield for Inter Milan, Roma, Sevilla and Atletico, and was a vital part of the last great Atletico side that won the league and cup double in 1996. Simeone has seen it all and done it all, and he learned a lot from his experiences. 

His Atletico team is a blend of Spanish skill, Italian defense, plus a little good old-fashioned Argentinian toughness, and it’s proved to be an almost unbeatable combination so far.

2. The Pressure Is All On Real Madrid

…and has been since 1960 – the year they destroyed Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3 in front of 127,000 fans at Hampden Park in possibly the most iconic European Cup final ever. Alfredo Di Stefano scored three goals for Real, while Ferenc Puskas hit four. It was Madrid’s fifth consecutive win in the competition.

Since then Madrid have struggled to live up to those impossible standards set by football’s first ever “Dream Team”.

They would lose two finals before winning again in 1966, and then have to wait 32 years before lifting the trophy a seventh time – defeating Juventus 1-0 in 1998. After three decades of waiting, suddenly success came thick and fast, with Madrid picking up three Champions League trophies in five years, their final glory coming from a Zinedine Zidane winning left-footed volley to edge Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 in the 2002 final. 

Since then twelve years have passed and they haven’t reached another final – until now.

3. Destiny

Whether it was the Denmark side that won the European Championships in 1992 or the Greek team that won the same event in 2004, the Wimbledon “Crazy Gang” that won the FA Cup against one of the greatest ever Liverpool sides in 1988, or Chelsea’s improbable run to the Champions League itself in 2012 - some teams are simply touched by destiny.

They are pre-ordained for greatness. It’s almost as if the stars align to allow a kind of soccer-synchronicity to take place. How else can one explain that when Atletico began to stumble down the final stretch of the Spanish title race, their rivals – with far bigger squads, better players and greater experience – stumbled also?

How could Lionel Messi - who has scored against every team in La Liga - fail to breach Atletico’s defense on six occasions this season? How can a team that was written off in February after losing four out of six games, be on the verge of a historic double?

As the old adage goes, sometimes it’s as simple as “their name was on the trophy”, and there is nothing that the most powerful clubs with the best paid managers and the greatest players in the world can do about it!

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