It was was a happy homecoming for Cristiano Ronaldo in the first ever Champions League final featuring two teams from the same city, as Real Madrid claimed la décima by beating Atlético Madrid 4-1 during extra-time in Lisbon. Real employed a 4-3-3 formation as they started with Gareth Bale on the right and Cristiano Ronaldo on the left, while Atlético started with a 4-4-2 system. Yet it was clear after a few minutes that Atlético striker Diego Costa would struggle to last 90 minutes as he ran gingerly with a nagging hamstring injury. The Spain international was replaced after nine minutes by Adrián López and will now face a race against time to be ready for the World Cup finals next month.
After a nervous start from both Madrid sides, tempers reached boiling point on 26 minutes when a Real counter-attack saw Raúl García hack down Ángel di María outside the Atlético box. The former got a yellow card as players from both sides squared up to each other. The resulting free-kick from Cristiano Ronaldo was easily saved by Thibaut Courtois.
Sloppy play from Tiago saw Real’s Gareth Bale pick up the ball just inside the Atlético half, but after a threatening run the Welshman fired wide when she should have hit the target. However, it was Atlético who took the lead in the 36th minute following a mistake by Real goalkeeper Iker Casillas. An out-swinging corner was cleared and immediately headed back into the danger zone. Casillas completely misjudged the flight of the ball and allowed Diego Godín, who was facing his own goal, to head past him.
Real had history against them as only twice in the history of the Champions League had a side come from behind to win the title. Furthermore, no side had scored two goals against Atlético in the tournament this season. Atlético could have gone two up in the 41st minute but López could only head a corner over the bar.
In the second half, Atlético maintained their tight marking of Ronaldo, Bale and Luka Modrić, before an attractive slalom run by di Maria not long after the break saw the Argentine brought down by Miranda to give Real a free-kick outside the box. However, Ronaldo’s free-kick was punched over by Courtois.
Real’s Isco could have leveled in the 67th minute but he only managed to screw his shot wide from the edge of the box. Bale had another chance to level in the last quarter of an hour but instead of squaring after a run, he opted to shoot and was wide of the target. Try as Real did, they remained defensive, looking to pick off their Madrid rivals and La Liga champions Atlético on the break.
However, semi-final Real got what they needed and indeed deserved. Sergio Ramos headed home a Modrić corner to equalize in the 93rd minute. Atlético boss Diego Simeone walked off the pitch remonstrating with the officials for adding the last minute of injury time, before calling his players over for the team talk. The match went to extra-time and Real could smell blood in the opening minutes. Attack after attack, Los Merengues looked like the only team capable of scoring but Atlético continued to stifle their rivals’ creative impulse. A nervous first 15 minutes for both sides pointed toward a penalty shoot-out for the all Madrid final.
In the second period of extra-time, the Atlético players looked tired and kept looking for free-kicks for a break in the play. Yet their opponents had the opposite philosophy. A great run and shot from di Maria was pawed away only for Bale to head home from close range. Real put the match beyond doubt as substitute Marcelo ran at a tired opposition defense to fire home and make it 3-1. Ronaldo then made it a fairytale ending by netting a last minute penalty. Simeone was given a red card in the dying minutes after a row with Real’s Raphaël Varane. The cup goes back to the white side of Madrid. Real Madrid now have three more European Cups than AC Milan and twice as many as any other team.
Commentary by Robert Shepherd