Atletico Confront Real Madrid In Champions League Final

Media shorthand would portray the UEFA Champions League Final in Lisbon as a confrontation between Cristiano Ronaldo and Diego Simeone; combat between a super-gifted player and a super-motivated coach.
Real Madrid Vs Atletico de Madrid, a unique derby of derbies in the history of European club competition, presents a challenge to the fans in one city but also a teasing test for the imminent World Cup.
Can July in Maracana provide a match-up as exciting in prospect in this one? If Brazil are in ‘their’ World Cup Final then a processional crowning will be in sight; if they are not then the atmosphere will be devoid of local passion. Maybe a ‘final loser’ either way.
So tomorrow in the Estadio do Benfica is not only a mano a mano between two of the major personalities of the European game on and off the pitch, it is also set up as a weapon in the Club Vs Country battle.
This contest has been running almost as long as national team football itself. Now, with the enormous investment being ploughed into the great clubs, it has new intensity.
The clubs are winning: national teams can play only on dates approved by the clubs; players are released only in return for guaranteed insurance cover; players go to the World Cup only in exchange for daily ‘compensation’ payments to their clubs.
Certainly the World Cup has a status beyond just about any other sporting event but, over the next years, the clubs will press their demands for it (and FIFA) to dance to their tune.
Already one factor is established: the quality of football on view in the Champions League is superior to the standard at the World Cup.
This is logical. Long gone are the days when national team players represented the cream of one nation’s league tournament. The major World Cup protagonists in Brazil will look largely to the clubs of western Europe to find their players.
The highest standards of ‘real’ international football are represented by the cosmopolitan giants of the Champions League, which talks back to events in Lisbon.
Real Madrid boast a legacy of class, historical achievement at home and abroad and a decades-long chain of the game’s finest players represented in this day and age by Ronaldo, Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Angel Di Maria, Karim Benzema and many others.
Gareth Bale, as this past season’s new boy, may not be up there with the legends of old – Di Stefano, Puskas, Gento, Santamaria & co, but he will be there if Madrid win tomorrow because victory will represent fulfillment of the aching ambition of the Decima, the 10th European Cup.
Atletico represent the underdog in achievement terms. They have never won the Champions League Cup; they have represented merely a temporary happy perch for the likes of Vava, Joaquin Peiro, Fernando Torres and Radamel Falcao and even Diego Costa is apparently Chelsea-bound.
But underdogs can bite and Atletico snap with the sharpest of teeth which Simeone generated as a player with Argentina and in Spain and Italy.
They proved the point in seeing off both Real and Barcelona to triumph in La Liga, their first league title in 16 years.
Two ends of the spectrum: Real the high-spending upper class, Atletico a socialist revolution on footballing legs, meticulously constructed with a street-wise use of loan and player investment systems; no loan has been more important than that of Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois from Chelsea.
UEFA’s French president Michel Platini may have egalitarian concerns about both clubs as Real and Atletico reprise a European Cup meeting from the early, more romantic days of the competition. That was in the semi-finals in 1959.

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