Saturday, December 16, 2017

Real, Atletico square off in Lisbon


CHEST TRAP: Real’s Cristiano Ronaldo controls the ball during a training session in Luz stadium yesterday.

Mark Fraser

 \\\\\ LISBON

Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid will contest the first-ever meeting between two city rivals for the biggest prize in European club football today. 

The two teams from the Spanish capital have decamped to Lisbon for the UEFA Champions League final with Atletico having held off the challenge of Barcelona and Real to claim unprecedented La Liga glory last weekend and now looking to complete an historic double.

Real, meanwhile, have history of their own in sight, with the nine-time European champions targeting La Decima — their tenth triumph in the continent’s showpiece competition — in their first final since 2002, when Bayer Leverkusen were defeated at Hampden Park thanks in part to Zinedine Zidane’s sumptuous volley.

Real’s Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, whose 16 goals in this season’s competition are a record, told “It is a moment that all Madridistas are dreaming about — the ‘decima’. 

“It is a trophy we have been looking to win for many years. Real Madrid have wanted it for a long time. Since the first day we came here, we’ve felt that positive pressure to win the Champions League. We feel like we are now one small step away from winning.”

Coach Carlo Ancelotti can join Liverpool’s legendary Bob Paisley if he claims his third European Cup as a manager, after glory when at the helm of AC Milan in 2003 and 2007, while he also lifted the trophy on two occasions during his playing career with the San Siro side.

But the Copa del Rey winners cannot afford to underestimate Diego Simeone’s men, who saw off Chelsea at the semi-final stage and ended the domestic campaign three points clear of both Barcelona and Real following an unforgettable title race. 

Atletico are appearing in only their second European Cup final, with their first coming back in 1974 against Bayern Munich, with the German giants emerging victorious in a replay at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels.

Simeone, who has already won the league, Copa del Rey and Europa League in just three seasons as Atletico coach, said: “It’s the fruit of the labour that we’ve been doing for nearly three years. “We responded well in the Europa League a year and a half ago, if I remember rightly. We still have the same humility, the same group ethic.”