• UEFA Champions League – Atletico Madrid 2 (Niguez 12’, Griezmann 16’), Real Madrid 1 (Isco 42’)
GAME RECAP IN A SENTENCE
Real Madrid weathered a thunderous, early storm from Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon to eliminate their bitter city rivals and move one step closer to repeating as European champions.
THE MAIN STORY
In last week’s 3-0 win in the opening leg of the semifinals, we witnessed a typical Real Madrid performance, with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring a hat trick as los blancos’ dynamic attack poured on the style to vanquish Atletico in convincing fashion. Wednesday night’s return match at the Vicente Calderon was something else entirely. We saw a different Real Madrid; a gritty, grinding side that can get down and dirty, and do whatever it takes to earn the necessary result. On a night when Ronaldo was largely anonymous, it was Real’s character that saw them advance to their second consecutive Champions League final.
When Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak made a fantastic save to rob Casemiro of a sure goal from close range in the opening minutes, you had the sense that this was going to another one of those evenings when Real runs rampant. But it was Atletico who quickly took charge of the proceedings, with Saúl Ñíguez’s soaring header off a corner kick and Antoine Griezmann’s converted penalty giving the home side a commanding lead after 16 minutes. The Calderon was rocking, and a second leg that was thought to be over before a ball had even been kicked suddenly had meaning.
Real, though, dug in, and they began to take dictate the pace of the match as Atletico took its pedal off the gas to catch its breath, no longer needing to go for the jugular and instead playing the long game. Isco began to pull the strings in midfield for the visitors, and Real grew in confidence as the Calderon heaved with excitement before being silenced just before halftime. Karim Benzema’s outstanding play along the end-line eventually resulted in Isco turning in a rebound from in close, a goal that turned the game and series on its head. It was all over at that point. There was no way back for Atletico, brushed aside by an intelligent and pragmatic Real that kept its composure when the momentum was overwhelmingly going against them.
41’ GOAL! Atletico Madrid 2-1 Real Madrid: Up 2-0 after a pair of early goals, Atletico was cruising and looked to be headed into the halftime break with a major advantage. Karim Benzema, though, came up with a brilliant individual effort in setting up Isco’s vital goal for Real. The Frenchman held up the ball and then skillfully slipped past three Atletico players – including the over-committed Diego Godin – along the end-line before cutting a pass back to Toni Kroos. The German’s shot was stopped by Jan Oblak, but the Atletico ‘keeper had no chance on Isco’s rebound attempt inside the six-yard box. From being one goal away to tying the aggregate series to suddenly needing three to win it, Atletico’s fortunes – not to mention the complexion of the match – instantly changed with Isco’s goal.
Will Real Madrid be able to breach Juventus’ defence? Real Madrid on Wednesday’s equaled Bayern Munich’s record as the team from one of the top five European League with the longest scoring run in all competitions: 61 consecutive games. In this season’s Champions League, los blancos tallied 16 times in the group stage before going on to score another 16 in the knockout rounds. But Juventus will be Real’s toughest test to date when they meet in the final on June 3 in Cardiff. The Italians have kept nine clean sheets in 12 Champions League games en route, conceding just three goals, and only one from open play. Can Cristiano Ronaldo and his cohorts find a way to unlock a stout Juventus defence quarterbacked by Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, two of the best defenders in the world?
Wednesday’s derby match marked the end of an era, as it was the final European match to be played at Estadio Vicente Calderon – Atletico is preparing to leave their venerable home next season for a new 70,000-seat stadium. What a shame. The Calderon is one of world soccer’s iconic cathedrals, a venue that is renowned for its loud and boisterous supporters, and for being an incredibly intimidating place for opposing teams.
It’s hard to think of Atletico without also thinking of the Calderon, and vice versa – the two are intertwined, inextricably linked. They cannot be separated. Even when Atletico does move into the Estadio La Peineta, near the city’s Barajas airport, over 20 kilometres away from their current home on the banks of the Rio Manzanares, the Calderon will always remain their spiritual home.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Isco, Real Madrid: The attacking midfielder scored the goal that ended up killing off Atletico Madrid’s hopes, tilting the aggregate series in Real Madrid’s favour just before halftime. More than that, Isco bossed the centre of the park, getting more and more of the ball after scoring to control the game. Elegant in possession and tireless in his work rate, Isco was the driving force behind Real on this night.