Real Madrid reach Champions League final despite defeat by Atlético

Real Madrid beat their fierce rivals Atlético Madrid 4-2 on aggregate after losing the second leg of the Champions League last-four tie 2-1 and will play Juventus in the final

As expected it will be Real Madrid who travel to Cardiff to play Juventus in yet another Champions League final, their third in four years. An entertaining and occasionally wild 2-1 defeat by Atlético Madrid at the Vicente Calderón sealed a 4-2 victory over two legs, although Diego Simeone’s men will again wonder what might have been had they played with the same fearlessness at the Bernabéu.

At the final whistle, as the stadium was drenched in violent spring thunderstorms and Simeone appeared to beat his chest and roar at the crowd, it was hard not to feel the sense of a wider ending, too. There is no real indication that Simeone will leave Atlético. But there was still a feeling of something shifting here, of a farewell to all that for a glorious mini era that has been defined by these wild European nights at the Calderón and a series of glorious misses at the sharp end of this competition.

Elite football is all about seizing these moments and Real have the chance to become the first team to retain the Champions League. It is a fine achievement in its own right, not least when at times these Merengues can look like an Eton mess of a team, as they did in the opening 20 minutes.

Atlético had begun with genuine fury, swarming through the back of the Real midfield in an early surge that bought two goals and dragged the tie back to 3-2 on aggregate.

Somehow Real always seemed to have another gear, that familiar neighbourly upper hand. Plus, for all the glitz there is a hard, tempered steel to this team of serial winners, who stood firm where others might have been blown away in that early onslaught. At times they looked untroubled in the second half as Luka Modric and Isco set the tempo.

This match had been billed as a kind of pre-farewell to Atlético’s crumbling home of the last half-century, a stadium of weird craning angles, excitingly open to the suburban skyline. Before kick-off the streets outside were surging with a red and white sea of chanting, horn-parping fans, and there was a great crackle of electricity as the teams emerged on to that square of scrubby lime green. There is one more Madrid derby to come but this was the last real gala occasion at the Calderón, a balmy, thunderous New Orleans-style street funeral after a fond 50 years.

This was also supposed to be a semi-dead rubber, Cristiano Ronaldo having taken his axe to the tie at the Bernabéu with that combination-punch hat-trick. But from the start there was a sense of something slightly chaotic in the air as Simeone began with Fernando Torres up front alongside Antoine Griezmann, a sign of the need to chase this game from the first whistle.

As Real kicked off Simeone was out pacing his rectangle in weird black plastic overcoat and skinny slacks, urging his team forward. To huge roars Real’s Sergio Ramos was upended and Luka Modric bundled. Torres drew a sharp near-post save from Keylor Navas. At the other end Jan Oblak plunged spectacularly to claw away a header from Casemiro.

It was raw, guttural stuff, Atlético pressing hard for an early goal that duly arrived in the 12th minute, Saúl Ňíguez hanging above the defence and bulleting a header home from a right-wing corner. The stadium, which was already in a state of eruption, erupted a little further as Koke gestured to the main stand for more noise, more heart.

Isco scores for Real Madrid, who were 2-0 down to Atlético after 16 minutes.
Isco scores for Real Madrid, who were 2-0 down to Atlético after 16 minutes. Photograph: Gerard Julien/AFP/Getty Images

Then: sensation. With red and white shirts swarming through the Real defence Torres fell over the outstretched leg of Raphaël Varane inside the box. The referee, Cuneyt Cakir, pointed to the spot. After an anxious hush Griezmann tucked it away with just enough power to beat Navas’s clawing hand. With 16 minutes gone the tie was there for the taking, all the momentum with an Atlético team who were not just resuscitated at 3-2 down but zinging with life.

No doubt with a killer away goal in mind, Real had been sucked into playing the counterpuncher’s game, committing men forward then finding themselves hit on the break. Steadily they settled, Modric seeing more of the ball and dragging his team back on to an even keel. Pressure began to grow at the other end as Atlético drew a breath. At which point Real scored, silencing the Calderón with half-time looming.

The goal came from a quick Ronaldo throw-in, one of only 26 passes he attempted all night, fewer than Navas in goal. It was made by some supreme footwork from Karim Benzema by the touchline, zigzagging past both centre-backs and José Giménez in a tiny space and cutting back for Toni Kroos to shoot. Isco poked in the rebound after Oblak had  saved.

And so for all their energy Atlético were right back where they started against these most slippery of uptown neighbours, once again needing to score three goals. The second half began with an intake of breath, Real dominating possession for a while. Navas produced a wonderful double save on 66 minutes. Both teams might have scored again as the game opened up but over two legs this was at every stage Real’s tie. They will travel to Cardiff with an eye on making further history.


Barney Ronay at the Vincente Calderón

The GuardianTramp

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