MADRID, May 5, (RTRS): As soon as the final whistle confirmed Real Madrid’s berth in the Champions League final against local rivals Atletico with a 1-0 aggregate victory over Manchester City on Wednesday, memories of 2014’s all-Spanish final came flooding back.
Sergio Ramos headed in a 93rd-minute equaliser in Lisbon to crush Atletico’s dreams of a first ever continental crown and put Real on their way to a 4-1 extra time victory that sealed ‘La Decima’, the 10th European Cup they had coveted for so long.
“It’s another final and it’s taken a lot to get there but we’ve proven we know how to win it and we’re going to try and do it again,” Ramos said, looking ahead to the May 28 showdown in Milan.
Having barely had time to digest their narrow win over Manuel Pellegrini’s side, Real’s euphoric fans gleefully recalled that late show in Lisbon, chanting: “Atletico, tell me how it felt to lose the final”.
Gareth Bale, who forced the Fernando own goal that decided Wednesday’s semi-final tie and who put Madrid 2-1 up against Atletico in Lisbon, offered a more cautious message.
“It’s great to be in the final again but there’s another game to go against a very difficult and stubborn Atletico Madrid team,” the Welshman said.
“We know it’s going to be another difficult game, it always is against them.”
Since breaking Atletico hearts in Lisbon, Real have faced their local rivals 10 times and won just once, Javier Hernandez’s late goal knocking Diego Simeone’s side out of the Champions League in last season’s quarter-finals.
Before Simeone took over at Atletico in 2011, Madrid derbies were regarded as foregone conclusions, with the Rojiblancos last beating Real in 1999.
Real fans revelled in their neighbours’ suffering, producing a banner before one game bearing the message “Wanted: a dignified rival for a decent derby. Apply here”.
Guided by the inspirational Simeone, Atletico broke the stranglehold in the most fitting of places, the 2013 King’s Cup final at the Bernabeu.
Real have not beaten Atletico in the league since 2013 and were thrashed 4-0 last season at the Vicente Calderon, and lost 1-0 to them at home this term.
“It’s a final, there are no favourites,” Cristiano Ronaldo said. “We meet again. A final with Atletico is always special.”
Midfielder Luka Modric also expects another tough encounter.
“We played against them two years ago and we remember how difficult it was,” the Croatian said.
“We expect the same game and I hope we get the same result.”
Exactly four months after succeeding Rafael Benitez and inheriting a Real Madrid side on the brink of institutional crisis, Zinedine Zidane completed the team’s revival by guiding them past Manchester City to the Champions League final.
As Real’s players celebrated reaching a second Champions League final in three years on Wednesday, it was easy to forget the chaotic season the club has endured.
The club sensationally failed to sign David de Gea on transfer deadline day in August due to an administration error, and were further embarrassed in December when thrown out of the King’s Cup for fielding an ineligible player against Cadiz.
There were also disappointments on the pitch under Benitez, culminating in a 4-0 humiliation at home to rivals Barcelona and sparking calls for president Florentino Perez to resign.
Although Real remain third in La Liga, the same position when Zidane arrived, the Frenchman has quelled the protests and cut the gap with leaders Barcelona to a single point.
Madrid are also in their best domestic form of the season, winning 10 league games in a row and there is an undeniable sense the players enjoy a tighter bond than under Benitez.
“Zidane is doing a great job. He’s helping us and we are helping him,” said Ronaldo.
“I admire him as a coach and a person, I hope he continues coaching us. We’ve always been behind Zidane because he is a humble person who likes to listen, and that always makes things easier.”
Former ‘Galactico’ Zidane heaped praise on his players but said they had not produced the most convincing performance in edging past City 1-0 in the second leg clash.
The 1-0 aggregate result, after last week’s goalless first leg stalemate, set up a mouthwatering final on May 28 against city neighbours Atletico Madrid, who they beat to lift their 10th European crown in 2014.
“City made things difficult for us but we’re happy to be in the final. We didn’t concede many chances but the result shows we found it difficult,” the 43-year-old said.
“We kept suffering until the end.
“I’m very happy with everything that has happened to me, I’m the coach of this team so I must have done something right but it’s not just me, it’s down to everyone who works with me and the most important ones are the players.”