Real Madrid gun­ning for back-to-back ti­tles

De­fend­ing champs sur­vive Atletico’s spir­ited charge

Edmonton Journal - - SPORTS + WEATHER - TALES AZZONI

MADRID De­fend­ing cham­pion Real Madrid with­stood an early on­slaught by Atletico Madrid to reach a third Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal in four years de­spite a 2-1 loss to its city ri­val on Wed­nes­day.

Atletico, which trailed 3-0 af­ter the first leg, scored twice in the first 16 min­utes at the Vi­cente Calderon Sta­dium to move within a goal of send­ing the semi­fi­nal sec­ond leg into ex­tra time. But Fran­cisco “Isco” Alar­con net­ted a cru­cial away goal for Real Madrid be­fore half­time to se­cure a 4-2 vic­tory on ag­gre­gate and a spot in the fi­nal against Ju­ven­tus on June 3 in Cardiff.

“We knew we were go­ing to suf­fer, but we are ex­tremely happy to have made it to the fi­nal,” Madrid coach Zine­dine Zi­dane said.

“It’s been a very long road and it hasn’t been easy. And to do it for the sec­ond year in a row, we need to con­grat­u­late ev­ery­one in this club.”

Madrid will try to be­come the first team to win back-to-back ti­tles since the com­pe­ti­tion’s new for­mat was cre­ated in 1992. Madrid will be the first team to have a chance to de­fend its ti­tle since Manch­ester United made it to con­sec­u­tive fi­nals in 2008-09.

Atletico ends its Cham­pi­ons League cam­paign with­out a shot at the ti­tle and with its fourth straight elim­i­na­tion to its pow­er­ful Span­ish ri­val. Madrid beat Atletico in the fi­nal last year and in 2014, and also elim­i­nated the crosstown op­po­nent in the quar­ter-fi­nals in 2015.

Atletico kept its hopes alive on Wed­nes­day by scor­ing two early goals to ig­nite the crowd at the packed Calderon.

Saul Niguez net­ted the first goal with a header off a cor­ner in the 12th minute, and An­toine Griez­mann added to the lead four min­utes later by con­vert­ing a penalty kick af­ter Fer­nando Tor­res was fouled by de­fender Raphael Varane in­side the area.

Griez­mann, who had missed a penalty kick in last year’s fi­nal against Madrid, slipped slightly just as he was tak­ing the shot, and goal­keeper Key­lor Navas got his hand to the ball but was not able to fully de­flect it.

“They started strongly but even­tu­ally we were able to find our game,” Zi­dane said.

“In the sec­ond half we were much bet­ter.”

The goals left Atletico only one away from send­ing the match into ex­tra time, but Diego Sime­one’s team wasn’t able to keep pres­sur­ing as it did in the first min­utes of the game.

The match was even when Karim Ben­zema came up with a spec­tac­u­lar move to set up Isco’s goal.

The French striker was sur­rounded by three Atletico de­fend­ers by the end line, but found a way to get past all of them with a pair of quick touches. He sped into the area and sent a back­ward pass to Toni Kroos, whose shot was ini­tially saved by goal­keeper Jan Oblak, but Isco was nearby and picked up the re­bound to eas­ily score from close range.

“Af­ter the game I asked Ben­zema how he was able to do that, but he didn’t know ei­ther,” Zi­dane said.

The goal all but ended Atletico’s hopes of ad­vanc­ing and the sec­ond half was played at a much calmer pace, with few sig­nif­i­cant scor­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for both teams.

“This per­for­mance was the least that we could have done,” Atletico cap­tain Gabi said. “I thought we were ex­cel­lent in the first half. A mo­ment of ge­nius from Ben­zema ended our dream, but we never stopped fight­ing and I’m proud of ev­ery­one.”

Navas had two make two dif­fi­cult con­sec­u­tive saves in the 66th on a shot by Yan­nick Car­rasco and a header by Kevin Gameiro, and Cris­tiano Ron­aldo had a goal dis­al­lowed for off­side in the 69th.

It was a tense match early on, with players from both teams try­ing to pres­sure the ref­eree and com­plain­ing with each other.

Atletico, the third force in Span­ish soc­cer be­hind Madrid and Barcelona, was try­ing to win its first ti­tle and avenge the heart­break­ing losses to Madrid in a penalty shootout last year and af­ter ex­tra time in 2014. Atletico also lost the fi­nal in 1974 to Bay­ern Mu­nich.

Be­fore the game, Atletico fans dis­played huge ban­ners that read, “proud not to be like you,” a re­sponse to Madrid’s mes­sage be­fore the first leg. The ban­ners at the Bern­abeu last week read “tell me how it feels,” along with an image of the Cham­pi­ons League tro­phy and the words “Mi­lan” and “Lisbon,” the cities which hosted the fi­nals where Madrid beat Atletico in 2014 and 2016.

Atletico was up­set with those ban­ners and had been pro­vok­ing Madrid in the days be­fore Wed­nes­day’s game. The club sent a se­ries of tweets that praised its fans for hav­ing un­con­di­tional love for the team, de­spite the re­sults, ac­com­pa­nied by the hash­tag “they can’t un­der­stand.”

The Atletico crowd stayed cheer­ing their team long af­ter the fi­nal whis­tle. The players re­turned from the chang­ing rooms sev­eral min­utes af­ter the game to greet the fans. Coach Sime­one was loudly cheered. He was still ask­ing for the crowd’s sup­port in sec­ond-half stop­page time.

Madrid players also re­turned to thanks their own sup­port­ers, and many Atletico fans threw ob­jects to­ward them.

It was the fi­nal Euro­pean game at the Calderon be­fore Atletico moves into a new venue next sea­son.


Real Madrid’s Danilo, left, di­rects the ball away from Atletico’s Yan­nick Car­rasco dur­ing their Cham­pi­ons League semi­fi­nal sec­ond-leg match on Wed­nes­day at the Vi­cente Calderon Sta­dium. Madrid moves on to face Ju­ven­tus in the fi­nal de­spite the 2-1 loss...

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