Decimals to Decima: Triumph for Real Madrid

New York Times Posted online: Monday, May 26, 2014 at 0000 hrs
Lisbon : Real Madrid Manager Carlo Ancelotti was in the midst of giving a calm, measured response to a question about his team’s tactics when the door to the news conference room burst open. Suddenly, seven of Ancelotti’s players were on the dais with him, jumping around, singing and spraying Champagne.

Ancelotti laughed. In some ways it was fitting: A news conference invasion was the perfect ending to a bizarre but magical evening that had a miraculous goal, a memorable kiss and a rich finish from the sport’s most expensive player as Real Madrid won the first intracity Champions League final by beating Atlético Madrid, 4-1, after extra time.

“Real Madrid fans are extremely happy,” Ancelotti said, “and that’s why we are happy, too.”

Even a placid Italian like Ancelotti would acknowledge that was putting it lightly. At the final whistle, while his Real teammates skipped around the field, Gareth Bale put his hands to his face as if in disbelief. He was surely not alone — the twists and curves at the Estadio da Luz on Saturday came so fast as to be unbelievable, with Bale’s goal in the 110th minute allowing Real to finally claim the club’s coveted 10th European title — La Decima.

The swollen final score belied the drama. Atlético, the scrappy second team of the Spanish capital with a payroll about a quarter the size of its neighbour’s, was seconds away from winning its first Champions League trophy only to have it ripped away when Sergio Ramos’s desperate header found the corner of the net in the 93rd minute.

Sweat, warmth and kisses

Moments later, at the end of regulation, Real goalkeeper Iker Casillas — whose mistake had helped Atlético take its lead — wrapped his arms around Ramos and kissed his sweaty cheek.

During a television interview after the match, Ramos said that Casillas told him, “You are the chief,” including an expletive for emphasis. “I would have liked Ramos’s goal a bit earlier,” Real’s president, Florentino Pérez, said, “so as to avoid a heart attack.”

Atlético Manager Diego Simeone tried to rally his players after the letdown, screaming at them in the huddle before extra time. But without their top attacker, Diego Costa, who was replaced after just nine minutes because of an injured hamstring, there was no way back for the red-and-white-striped Rojiblancos, who were seeking an unlikely double after winning the Spanish league.

Real dominated the extra periods, and appropriately enough it was Bale — who went to Real for a record $124 million transfer fee last summer — leaping to head home a rebound that sealed the victory for soccer’s richest club and sent the fans behind the goal into hysterics.

Real’s victory capped a fevered few weeks in Madrid, where the match was a citywide obsession. Marca, one of two sports newspapers based in Madrid, proclaimed the game to be an “eternal” battle.

Fans of Atlético and Real turned Lisbon into a mixture of stripes and solids by Friday night. It was estimated that some 15,000 cars and 600 buses — carrying as many as 90,000 people — made the 385-mile trip between the Iberian capitals.

Historic, either way

The Atlético fans seemed determined to enjoy themselves. This was only the club’s second appearance in a European Cup final, and the last one, in 1974, was largely forgettable as the team was blasted by Bayern Munich, 4-0, in a replay after blowing a one-goal lead with six minutes to play in the first game. The shock of losing the title in such a wrenching way led Atlético fans to give themselves the downcast nickname of Pupas, or jinxed ones. After Saturday’s finish, that name figures to stick for a while longer.

Real, on the other hand, has had a fascination — some would call it a damaging obsession — with the Champions League since the club won three titles from 1998 to 2002. Over the next 12 years, it spent well over $1 billion on players even as it failed to reach another European final until this year.

This season, however, Ancelotti — who won two previous Champions League titles with A.C. Milan and became just the second manager to win three titles — mixed and matched his lineups enough to overcome inconsistency in the league and push Real back to the final.

Much of that success was led by Cristiano Ronaldo (he scored a record 17 goals in the tournament this year), but on Saturday, Atlético’s stout defending mostly kept him from asserting himself. Without Xabi Alonso, Real’s indispensable midfielder, who was suspended, Los Blancos lacked flow through the early part of the game.

Bale, too, struggled early on and wasted several chances, including one in the 32nd minute when he badly skewed a shot wide after making an impressive run from midfield. That miss looked worse when Atlético responded by taking the lead after Casillas was caught in no man’s land following an Atlético corner kick, allowing Godin’s header to loop over him and bounce so, so, slowly over the goal line.

“Sometimes you make mistakes; sometimes you do well,” Casillas said. “I cannot complain, as despite my mistake, we did it in the end...This is bigger than being world champions.”

— New York Times