Finalmente! Thirteen years after securing their ninth Champions League title, Real Madrid achieve a historic La Decima, with a 4-1 victory over inner city rivals, Atletico Madrid. Goals from Sergio Ramos, Gareth Bale, Marcelo and Cristiano Ronaldo earned Carlo Ancelotti’s men a place in Real Madrid folklore.
Inside the first ten minutes, Atletico Madrid were expectedly forced to take off Diego Costa for Adrian. The Spanish forward, who suffered a hamstring injury last week, looked sheepish on the ball early on, and was rightfully replaced by Simeone.
In truth however, neither side benefit nor regressed after this substitution, as the Lisbon audience were subjected to an incredibly tentative opening thirty minutes. Atleti effectively nullified the threat of their inner city rivals by narrowing the midfield, and pressing in numbers in the defensive third.
However, after an impressive opening thirty minutes defensively, a stray pass from Tiago almost cost Simeone’s men the stalemate. Gareth Bale latched onto the ball before rounding Tiago and Gabi and proceeding into the penalty area. The world record signing however, pulled his subsequent shot just wide of the left post.
Atletico Madrid, somewhat against the run of play, took the lead on the thirty fifth minute through Diego Godin. After a corner kick, the ball was cleared only as far as Juanfran, who volleyed the ball back into the danger area. With the Real Madrid defence struggling to push up, and Casillas unnecessarily rushing out to clear the ball, Godin rose highest on the penalty spot to loop the ball over the head of the Real Madrid captain, and into the empty net.
After the goal, Atletico Madrid took the initiative, and almost doubled their lead through substitute, Adrian. The Spanish forward beat his marker, Sergio Ramos, to the ball, before heading the ball just over the crossbar.
With truncheons, shields, gauntlets, and greaves, Atletico Madrid out-battled their rivals in the first half. Simeone’s men played an archaic, but extremely effective, brand of football, with their defence not unwilling to nullify the Real Madrid attack via the darker arts of defending. However this is not to underestimate Atleti’s tactical nous. The decision to flood the midfield by pushing the wide players infield proved to be a masterstroke by the Argentine coach, as without the calming influence of Xabi Alonso in the middle of the park, the Los Blancos midfield struggled to move the ball quickly enough to bypass this congested area.
At the start of the second half, with La Decima dream under threat, Real Madrid began to push forward with more intensity. Los Blancos had three chances in quick succession, all of which fell to Ronaldo, who was unable to convert. However, these were promising signs for Carlo Ancelotti, who, sensing his side were in the ascendency, replaced the ineffective duo of Coentrao and Khedira with Marcelo and Isco.
Real Madrid came close to levelling the game on the hour mark. Sergio Ramos’ dangerous cross into the six yard box caught the Atleti defence uncharacteristically flat footed. However Ronaldo, and subsequently Benzema, found the cross to be just out of reach and the ball spun clear of Courtois’ goal.
Pressure on the Atleti backline increased as their Madrid rivals sped up their attacking movements in the final third. After a quick exchange of passes just outside the penalty area, Bale latched onto the ball before pulling a left footed shot wide of the post. The right midfielder had another great chance moments later, however after comfortably beating Godin for pace on the right flank, the right winger was unable to get the ball out of his feet inside the penalty area, and his effort hit the side netting.
In the final ten minutes Real Madrid lay siege upon Atletico, who were forced to build trenches upon the 18 yard line. Miranda, and Juanfran had to make goal saving clearances in quick succession as Marcelo, and subsequently Morata, looked almost certain to give their La Decima searching club a vital leveller.
Real Madrid finally got their deserved equaliser in stoppage time when Sergio Ramos, from a Modric corner kick, headed the ball into the bottom left hand corner. The semi final hero’s header was sublime, and arguably no more than Los Blancos deserved.
With Atletico Madrid looking visibly exhausted both mentally and physically, going into extra time there seemed to be only one team that could go on to grab the winner.
Extra time proved to be a karma copy of the final moments of normal time, as Real Madrid continued to strain themselves offensively in search of La Decima.
In the dying embers of the game, with just ten minutes of extra time remaining, Gareth Bale cemented his place in Real Madrid folklore, with the goal that won the tenth Champions League title. After an exceptional run from Angel Di Maria on the left flank, culminated in a shot on goal from the 10 yards, Courtois’ subsequent save looped into the path of Bale, who from six yards, headed the ball into the empty Atleti net.
Atletico Madrid were forced forward at the end of extra time in the hope of scoring an elusive equaliser, Simeone’s men conceded a further two goals at the end of the game. Marcelo secured victory with a wicked left footed strike which slipped under the body of Courtois. Ronaldo grabbed his side’s fourth goal with a penalty kick just moments later.
Years of searching for the mananger, and players which could deliver La Decima has finally ended. The qualty of the likes of Bale and Sergio Ramos shone through in the dying embers of the game, to give Real Madrid their greatest ever victory.