By Aristo Dotse/Soccernet newspaper
Until recently, the European Cup or UEFA Champions League had never seen two teams from Madrid square off but Real and their less illustrious city rivals Atletico meet again, for the fourth time in the Champions League, as they battle for a place in this year’s final in the Welsh capital of Cardiff on June 3.
Their semi-final clash, the first leg which takes place at Real’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium on Tuesday night, is the first time ever they are meeting at this stage, after two final meetings and a quarter-final tie.
On all three earlier meetings, Real – record 11-time European Cup winners and masters of the European game –showed their superiority over their Atletico neighbours in prevailing on each occasion, winning the final in 2014 and last year, and the quarter-final of 2015.
Meanwhile, Atletico Madrid, who have become a force to reckon with in both Spain and Europe in the last five years, especially under their hard-nut Argentine coach Deigo Simeone in the last three years, have been a serious thorn in the flesh of Real in domestic football. They have only lost twice to Real in 90 minutes in 13 meetings since their 2014 final, winning five times.
But when it had mattered most, they have always fallen short on the European stage, either being unlucky or losing undeservedly, especially in the 2014 final when Real’s last-minute equaliser ensured Sergio Ramos and company went on in extra-time to lift Real’s much-awaited 10th European Cup trophy.
Last year’s final, in which Atletico did well to cancel out Ramos’s early goal for Real but went on to lose on penalties after Antoinne Griezmann’s regulation time penalty miss, was also another cruel loss for Simeone’s side in a game they quite dominated and should have won in 90 minutes.
Thus, as Real manager Zinedine Zidane – who masterminded Real’s victory last year to become one of the few to win the European Cup as players and coaches – acknowledges in the pre-match press conference, revenge is high on the agenda for Atletico as they come face-to-face again with their city rivals in their remarkable Champions League campaign of recent years. This remarkable campaign includes two-quarter-final victories over the almighty FC Barcelona, in 2014 and 2016, and a semi-final elimination of another European heavyweight in FC Bayern Munich last year.
Atletico, who recently went to the home of Real to hold them to a draw in La Liga following their 3-0 first round home defeat, will be looking to take inspiration from those famous wins over Barca and Bayern in the fight against Real in this semi-final clash, which will be tough and fierce like the two finals they have been involved in recently.
Credit: Soccernet newspaper