High-flying Atletico Madrid inspired by Diego Simeone's terror-victim approach

Apr 21 2014, 18:55 IST
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SummaryIf Atletico Madrid crown a remarkable season by winning La Liga, coach Diego Simeone and his players may remember March 29 and their 2-1 comeback victory at Athletic Bilbao as the moment they truly started to believe.

If Atletico Madrid crown a remarkable season by winning La Liga, coach Diego Simeone and his players may remember March 29 and their 2-1 comeback victory at Athletic Bilbao as the moment they truly started to believe.

The match at fourth-placed Bilbao's daunting San Mames arena was seen as one of Atletico Madrid's toughest of the season finale and failure would have severely dented their chances of beating Barcelona and Real Madrid to the title.

As part of their preparations for the crunch game in the Basque Country, Simeone decided to call in some outside help and invited a woman to speak to the players at the team hotel a few hours before kick-off who knows from the bitterest personal experience what it takes to triumph in adversity.

Irene Villa and her mother Maria, who worked for the Spanish police, were driving to school in Madrid in October 1991 when a bomb planted by Basque separatist group ETA exploded under their car. Irene, then aged 12, lost both her legs and three fingers of one hand and her mother a leg and an arm.

Now 35, married to Simeone's Argentine compatriot Juan Pablo Lauro and mother to an infant son, Irene has recovered from the trauma of the attack to carve out a successful career as a life coach and journalist.

She is also a Spanish para-alpine skiing champion and successful author whose latest book "It's never too late, princess" tells the story of six characters dealing with challenges such as disability, drug addiction and cancer.

"Simeone wanted to continue transmitting strength, motivation and dedication to his team," Villa said in an interview with Reuters as Atletico Madrid prepare to host Chelsea in the Champions League semi-finals on Tuesday.

"I think my story and my message were able to achieve all that," she added, describing herself as "happy, extrovert and someone who enjoys life to the full".

"It was an extra push for a team which is showing that there are no limits and that they know it can be done."

SPEAKING VOLUMES

Villa said she tried to communicate in her 40-minute presentation the importance of fighting, never giving up and having the confidence to know you can be the best.

"I told them the story of my (skiing) team ... of the difficulties of all kinds that we encountered at the start.

"And how after serious injuries and tumbles but with a lot of determination, training and preparation we achieved podium

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