Real claim a tenth title as late flourish sinks Atletico
Real Madrid 4 Atletico Madrid 1 (After extra time)
Published 25/05/2014 | 02:30
At the final whistle, the first person to embrace Gareth Bale was Cristiano Ronaldo. They danced, they waved their shirts and they caught their breath.
Real Madrid's long, obsessive wait for La Decima was over. And yet, in that wild, eccentric finale there was something happening at the other end of the pitch, too. Atletico's supporters had broken into spontaneous applause for their team as soon as Bale put Carlo Ancelotti's team into the lead and they carried on clapping even as the game ran away from them and the score started to feel like a deception.
Diego Simeone's team had given everything and it is just a pity that he lost the plot after Ronaldo put in the penalty that completed the scoring.
His players had chased and harried and, until that dramatic late flurry of goals, they had refused to let the Ballon d'Or winner show himself to be the single most important occupant of this football pitch.
Bale could be forgiven for thinking it never gets better than this and perhaps he is right. His header arrived five minutes into the second half of extra time and, briefly, it had looked like being the game's decisive moment. Instead, what followed was extraordinarily harsh on Atletico.
First, Marcelo made it 3-1 with a left-foot drive that went under Thibaut Courtois's body. Ronaldo, perhaps inevitably, had the final word and Simeone was so incensed when Raphael Varane kicked the ball towards their dugout he was on the pitch to confront the defender.
Simeone was shown a red card and ordered to the stands but, all the same, it was difficult not to pity Atletico. They lost Diego Costa to a recurrence of his hamstring troubles early in the match and, after taking the lead via Diego Godin's header it needed a Sergio Ramos's header three minutes into stoppage time to take the game into extra time.
Costa had lasted only eight minutes and really should not have been involved at all bearing in mind it was only a week ago that he felt that familiar sharp pain at the back of his leg. And yet, in another sense, the fact he was on the pitch at all said so much about his club. A gamble?
Undoubtedly. Reckless? Quite possibly. Yet it also typified the togetherness of Atletico that he was even willing to take the chance when the World Cup is looming.
Without their most formidable striker, Atletico had found it difficult to trouble the opposition defence before the goal. Yet they had swiftly set about displaying the qualities that had taken them to the Spanish title: quick to the ball, playing with structure and organisation, and absolutely determined to restrict the blur of movement, speed and skill that is Ronaldo. "Nuestra Forma De Vida" read the huge banner that was unveiled among the Atletico supporters before kick-off. It translates as "our way of life" and Atletico, with great conviction, chased everything. What a revealing statistic at half-time that Koke, Gabi, Tiago and Raul Garcia had all run further than any of Ancelotti's players.
There was only one occasion in the opening 45 minutes when the most parsimonious defence in Spanish football looked vulnerable and that was the chance that fell to Bale after 32 minutes. Tiago's pass was sloppy and suddenly Bale had the ball at his feet and was picking up speed, extending those powerful limbs. Ronaldo was to his right but the defence had opened up and, briefly, there was the sense that Bale could be on the cusp of scoring a goal of acceleration and raw power. Miranda's challenge did just enough to put him off and Bale was down, on his haunches, with both hands to his head. He knew how costly that miss could be.
Within four minutes, Atletico had taken the lead. Godin had been their scorer at Barcelona last weekend, too, with the goal that clinched the championship. This time, it originated from a corner. Varane headed the ball away but Juanfran turned it back into the penalty area and Iker Casillas really should not have left his goal-line. He did and it left him stranded as Godin beat Sami Khedira to the ball and sent a looping header backwards and over Real's goalkeeper. Casillas scrambled back, desperately trying to claw the ball away, but just ended up in the net with the ball.
Simeone had set up his team in a way that prevented Real justifying Pep Guardiola's description of them as the most formidable counter-attacking side on the planet. They cut out space, their full-backs did not stray forward and the mistake from Tiago felt like an affront to their entire strategy. If needed, they also had a cynical edge. Angel di Maria's running with the ball was often Real's most potent threat. One charge through midfield ended with him being chopped down by Garcia. When Di Maria did the same again after the break, Miranda's challenge brought another yellow card from the pocket of the Dutch referee. Ronaldo had sent the first free-kick straight into the arms of Courtois. His second attempt took a deflection and was looping into the goal before the goalkeeper jutted out one of his long arms.
Shortly afterwards, Ronaldo could not make a solid connection with the ball after one of his prodigious penalty-box leaps. Yet Real, by the midway point of the second half, had still not attacked with any great fluency or penetration. Bale was struggling to make any real impact and, after 73 minutes, drilled another presentable opportunity wide. Ronaldo went looking for the ball in areas of the pitch that could not particularly hurt his opponents.
It was not until the last 10 minutes of normal time that Ancelotti's men started to attack with sustained menace. Luka Modric swung the ball over from the right and Ramos had timed his run perfectly, flashing his header to the right of Courtois. Bale's header came from another of Di Maria's runs and everything for Atletico quickly unravelled.
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