Real Madrid finally claimed their long and desperately sought 10th European Cup and broke the hearts of neighbors Atletico Madrid with a 4-1 victory after extra-time in the Champions League final in Lisbon.
Gareth Bale, Marcelo and then Cristiano Ronaldo from the penalty spot made the scoreline an emphatic one for Carlo Ancelotti’s side in the added 30 minutes. But it failed to tell the story of a tension-filled occasion that by the end had the white side of Madrid toasting la decima and the red and whites distraught at a painful end to a sensational season.
Atletico had gone in front with Diego Godin’s header caught out Iker Casillas nine minutes from half-time. It was a lead they looked like holding onto to cap a remarkable season that had already seen them lift the Spanish title. Some superb defending and wasteful finishing from Madrid saw the game go into the third minute of injury time with Atletico still clinging onto their narrow advantage.
Instead, their resolve was finally broken when Sergio Ramos headed in from a corner to send the final to extra time. Despite, having showed incredible resolve against the odds all season long, Atletico this time had nothing left. After a number of wasted chances, Bale turned a night to forget into one to cherish when heading in at the back post after Angel di Maria’s shot had been saved. Goals from Marcelo and Ronaldo then merely added salt to the wound of team that was out on their feet.
The night ended for Atletico with Simeone charging onto the field to remonstrate with the referee for adding on five minutes of injury time. With time to reflect, the passionate Argentine may question his own decision to start striker Diego Costa. After a hamstring injury just a week ago, Atletico’s top scorer was raced back, but was forced off after just nine minutes, leaving Atletico short of substitutions when they needed them late on.
Despite losing Costa, Atletico stuck to their task of frustrating Madrid with their compact formation and the intensity of their work without the ball. Madrid weren’t helping themselves, looking devoid of ideas and with all three of their famed front line below their best. Carlo Ancelotti tinkered with his formation, but all too often they were reduced to hopeful crosses from deep that Atletico’s defense lapped up.
It took a calamitous error to so nearly gift Madrid a breakthrough. Tiago passed the ball straight to Bale inside his own half and the Welsh winger surged through into the box but he put his finish wide of Thibaut Courtois’s post.
It looked like being a potentially defining moment of the final when just a few minutes later Atletico went in front. The source of their breakthrough left no one surprised. So impressive from set-pieces all season, Simeone’s men proved so again. Juanfran headed a half-cleared corner back into the danger zone and, with Madrid’s defenders slow to get out and their goalkeeper coming out but left stranded, Godin rose comfortably above Khedira to loop a header over Casillas and into the net as the Spain No.1 failed to claw it back in time.
Atletico took confidence from the goal and with captain Gabi sensational in the center of midfield had a shell-shocked Madrid rattled. Adrian Lopez, who had replaced Costa, had a chance to double Atletico’s lead early in the second half but his effort agonizingly deflected wide off Khedira.
But as the second-half wore on, increasingly Madrid began to push Atletico back. Simeone had already reverted to just one man up front, but, with David Villa exhausted from his tireless closing down, they had no outlet to relieve a besieged defense.
Through a combination of poor finishing and desperate, sensational defending, though, Madrid couldn’t find a way through. Ronaldo’s header from a Sergio Ramos cross missed both the frame of the goal and the head of the on-rushing Benzema. But it was Bale to whom the best chances continued to fall. From Ronaldo’s neat layoff, the world’s most expensive player fired wide of the post and then, after soaring inside Juanfran and into the area, he scuffed another effort wide.
Godin, Miranda and Juanfran all made sensational last-gasp interventions in the dying minutes to deny what looked like certain goals. And as the clock ticked into the third minute of five added on, it looked like Atletico would get over the line. Instead Real Madrid delivered the ultimate sickening blow to their local rivals with a goal out of Atletico’s own playbook. From Luka Modric’s right-wing corner, Ramos showed incredible energy in his legs to rise 12 yards out and power a header down into the corner of the goal past the despairing dive of Courtois.
Real Madrid reacted with jubilant relief. Simeone, true to character, immediately went over to try and fire up his club’s fans to roar their team onto win it all over again.
But this time, for the first time in a season in which their small squad has been pushed to incredible limits, they had nothing left. Di Maria, whose place was under threat following the arrival of Bale, but who has been outstanding all season, produced the crucial moment of brilliance by slaloming past two players and cutting into the box from the right. While his shot was well saved by Courtois, the ball bounced up across the face of goal and Bale went a long way to paying off his record transfer fee by heading into the unguarded net.
Atletico, having made all their substitutions, were out for the count. In contrast, Madrid could refresh their side with quality from their bench. And one of those players brought on, Marcelo, strolled through the Atletico defense before firing under a slow-to-get-down Courtois to seal victory. All that was missing was the previously almost anonymous Ronaldo to get the moment he has worked so hard for. It came when Gabi’s tired challenge brought him down in the box and he fired home from the penalty spot to cap a night that will forever loom large in the history of Europe’s most successful club.