Saturday
October 25, 2014

UEFA Champions League Final preview

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Madrid teams play for trophy

Atlético Madrid''s striker Diego Costa. Real Madrid''s Cristiano Ronaldo.

Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid meet in the first Champions League final that is also a city derby, as both are looking to close their seasons with a double.

LISBON, Portugal — There will be little love between neighbours when Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid play in the Champions League final today.

The Spanish teams make up the first Champions League final between city rivals in history, with the match to be played in nearby Lisbon.

Real Madrid is the competition’s most successful club and bidding to end a 12-year wait for “La Décima” — its 10th European Cup title. But Atlético is proving to be quite a spoiler this season, winning the Spanish league title over Barcelona last weekend and now one win away from completing the greatest season in the club’s 111-year history.

Cristiano Ronaldo is expected to return from injury to play today. Diego Costa and Arda Turán trained normally yesterday, boosting their chances of being able to play.

Ronaldo has been burdened by leg injuries over the past two months but said Tuesday he would be available to play in his first Champions League final for Madrid. Costa has also endured leg setbacks and, after hobbling off against Barcelona on Saturday, sought treatment from a specialist in Belgrade using horse placenta.

Ronaldo’s return will bolster Madrid’s already potent attack with Gareth Bale set to start. But striker Karim Benzeman appears to be doubtful with a hamstring injury. Madrid centre back Pepe is also a game-time decision.

Xabi Alonso’s absence deals an important blow to Madrid’s midfield. The Spain international has been one of Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti’s most important players this season, but a yellow card in the semifinal win over Bayern Munich has left him suspended.

Either Sami Khedira, Asier Illarramendi or Casamiro is likely to fill the void and take responsibility for opening up Madrid’s attack and breaking up Atlético’s buildups.

Illaramendi is the natural successor to Alonso, but he has had a nervy debut season at Madrid.

“It will be a very equal match and I imagine the midfield will be determinant in setting up play,” Atlético coach Diego Simeone said.

Not only will David Villa’s goal-scoring prowess make up for Diego Costa’s absence, but the Spain striker’s experience should prove invaluable to an Atlético team short of Champions League experience.

Villa is the only regular in the squad who has played in a Champions League final before, scoring in Barcelona’s 3-1 triumph over Manchester United at Wembley Stadium in 2011.

Costa’s absence could also bolster Villa’s hopes of playing for Spain at the World Cup.

Madrid can count on more experience as Ronaldo won the title while at Manchester United and goalkeeper Iker Casillas was part of Madrid’s winning teams in 2000 and 2002.

Madrid can also draw on the experience of assistant coach Zinedine Zidane, who scored an iconic goal in Madrid’s 2-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen in its last Champions League final appearance.

Today’s match represents the most important Madrid derby after 194 league and Spanish Cup games.

Real Madrid has the advantage with 102 victories to Atlético’s 46. Diego Simeone’s team only ended a 14-year winless run against Madrid in all competitions last season when it won the King’s Cup at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.

Atlético has won and drawn the two league encounters since, while Madrid easily won a pair of King’s Cup matches against Atlético en route to the domestic cup title.

The pair have met in the European Cup once before — in 1959, when Madrid needed a replay to emerge victorious.

AP

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