“Penalty shootouts are football&’s version of the lottery, for anyone can win.” This famous quote of the beautiful game was proved truer than ever as Real Madrid edged Atletico Madrid 6-4 (5-3 on penalties) in the Champions League Final at the historic San Siro in Milan to win the 11th European title on Saturday night.
The world was watching, and Real delivered on their promise to make an unprecedented win and further cemented their status as the world&’s number one football club.
Cristiano Ronaldo got to do his in-famous shirtless celebration as he kicked in the winning penalty, and won his second continental crown with Los Blancos.
One has to feel for Atletico Madrid though, as they were better than Madrid for most parts of the game,. They missed a penalty in regulation time to finish second against their bitter rivals in the biggest stage in club football for a second time.
Sergio Ramos opened the scoring for Madrid as early as the 15th minute, getting the slightest of touches to Gareth Bale&’s back-header from a Toni Kroos set-piece.
A silly challenge by Juanfran on Gareth Bale, led to the free-kick, and Real took full advantage by getting the extremely important opener.
Jan Oblak is a fine young goalkeeper, but the manner of the goal will surely be a major source of disappointment for the Slovenian.
Those expecting a rout of sorts were in for a major disappointment, as Atletico rallied bravely, playing a very positive style of football as they looked to get back into the game.
Real were in control for the first quarter of the game. Although slowly but surely, Atletico started to fashion chances as the game wore on.
Bale, the world&’s most expensive player, gave a good account of himself, a perpetual nuisance for the Atletico back-line as they struggled to cope with his long strides. His free-kick in the initial stages had created a clear goal-scoring opportunity for Casemiro, but the defensive midfielder&’s shot was straight at Oblak who made a crucial save with his legs to keep his side in contention.
Casemiro might not be the first name that comes to mind when you think of Real, but he justified his selection with an excellent display, constantly harassing the Atletico midfield with his superb pressing, winning the ball back in some key areas.
Atletico&’s talismanic forward Antoine Griezmann was lively, as his deft touches enabled him to get a few shots on target, but Keylor Navas in the Real goal was more than equal to the task each time.
Half-time came and whatever Diego Simeone told his troops clearly worked as did his inspired substitution, bringing on winger Yannick Carrasco for midfielder Augusto Fernandez at the interval.
Atletico were dominating possession quite surprisingly, patiently creating chances while Real were content to sit deep and hit them on the counter.
Still, Atletico got the dream start as Griezmann&’s smart pass found Fernando Torres in the box, who was promptly fouled by Pepe. Refree Mark Clattenburg had no hesitation in pointing to the spot, despite their being minimal contact.
Griezmann, who has been brilliant this season, smacked his spot-kick against the bar however, as Real were let off with a reprieve.
A key turning point in the game came when Dani Carvajal had to be forced off, and was replaced by Danilo. The Brazilian looked rusty from the moment he stepped on the pitch, and was shown a clean set of heels by Carrasco on mutiple occasions almost every time the Belgian winger got the ball.
Real, while being starved of possession, were dangerous on the counter and should have scored a second in the 70th minute when Karim Benzema shot straight at Jan Oblak despite having the option to square to an unmarked Ronaldo.
They had yet another golden chance when first Ronaldo, and then Bale had the goal at the mercy, but thanks to some brave Atletico defending, both forwards were denied in a spectacular manner.
And they paid for their profligacy just moments later, as Gabi gave a delightful chipped ball to an over-lapping Juanfran,whose first time volley-cross was met gratefully by Carrasco as Atletico drew level in the 80th minute.
Showing great desire to get ahead of his marker, the Belgian forward was deservedly on the scoresheet.
From then on, it was more of a heavyweight bout, with both teams tiring as the game went into extra-time. Wary of over-committing players, the Madrid sides played it safe for the most part, going forward only when they deemed it safe.
Half-chances were being missed by the dozen, as fatigue set in and despite both manager coaxing their players for one last hurrah, the game went to penalties, the dread of any footballer.
Real shot first, with Lucas Vasquez opening the scoring for his side while Griezmann made amends for his earlier miss by calmly slotting his side&’s penalty.
Neither goalkeeper was able to make a save, until Atletico&’s Juanfran missed his side&’s fourth kick. Real players had been spot-on with their penalties, as the pressure clearly got the better of the Spanish full-back.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man, and Ronaldo made no mistake from the spot to seal his second Champions League title with the club. The Portuguese captain had been on the periphery of the game, but with one swing of his right boot, wrote himself into the history books yet again.
It has been a remarkable year for Real Madrid, as they were in crisis mode in January, sacking manager Rafael Benitez and bringing in the inexperienced Zinedine Zidane for the remainder of the season.
‘Zizou’ has answered his critics in emphatic style, as not many can claim to have won the Champions League both as a player and a manager. Comparisons with the likes of Pep Guardiola are inevitable as he joins an elite list of coaches to have won club football&’s biggest price in their first year itself.
Diego Simeone can hold his head high though, despite coming second best to his beloved Atletico&’s rivals for the second time in three years. His players gave it their all, and his tactics almost paid off handsomely, only for lady luck to play spoilsport.
Meanwhile the party starts in Madrid, and it will take a while for ‘Undecima’ to sink in, and rightly so, for it is an extraordinary achievement to have won 11 titles in arguably the toughest fooballing competion in the world.