It’s a momentous occasion for soccer, whatever happens during the game itself, but as a neutral and a lover of the underdog, it would be fitting to see Atletico Madrid lift their first ever Champions League title at the San Siro on May 28. Here’s why I will be rooting for the red and whites against Los Blancos in the Champions League Final.
First and foremost, before I get some stinging abuse from Real Madrid fans claiming their team plays the game the right way and deserves to win the Champions League this year, I simply ask you to hear me out. Come 2:45 p.m. EST on May 28, I will be sounding the drum for Diego Simeone‘s Atletico Madrid as they aim to topple their more successful cross-city rivals and upset the odds. And there’s plenty of reasons why my heart belongs to Atletico for this HUGE game.
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I start with Diego, arguably the most passionate soccer coach in the world, who seems to put as much effort on the touchline as his team does on the field. You almost feel like he’s dying to get on the pitch as he watches from the dugout, kicking every ball, trying to win every header and celebrating each goal like it’s the last one his team will ever score. He’s a winner, and aside from his eccentrics, his management style needs to be applauded. He has made this Atletico team the hardest to beat in world soccer, they are incredibly organized and rarely concede a goal. In fact, in their last 21 Champions League games they’ve kept the opposition out 15 times. An astonishing statistic that highlights their defensive prowess.
They’ve also been the perennial underdog during this year’s tournament. After coming through their group in first place, Atletico has quietly gone about their business overcoming the odds in the knockout stages. After a penalty shoot-out win over PSV Eindhoven, they had to outwit their La Liga rivals Barcelona, somehow managing to limit Lionel Messi and co. to just two goals over the two legs. Then, they edged out Bayern Munich on the away goals rule, showing real guts and determination to beat a team who was expected to reach the Champions League Final. Diego’s heroic players put their bodies on the line to block every shot the Germans fired at their goal. The Argentinian coach once said in a post-game interview,”I want to thank the mothers of these players because they gave birth to them with balls this big.” Boy, was he right that night!
Atletico and Real have found themselves at this stage before, of course. The teams from the Spanish capital fought out the 2014 Champions League Final, as Cristiano Ronaldo and his band of merry men aimed to make history for Real in becoming the first team to reach double-figure Champions League wins. Ultimately they won the game 4-1 after extra-time, but they were given a mighty scare doing it. Atletico lead all the way until 90-seconds from the end, when Sergio Ramos leveled the score up with a dramatic 93rd minute header. It was heartbreaking for Diego’s boys, who during regulation time were, in my opinion, the better side. But still, it wasn’t to be and Real won “La Decima” with three more goals in overtime.
It’s become very fashionable to bash Atletico for their style of play. Yes, they’re aggressive and may be a little over-zealous with their tackles, committing the odd tactical foul to get themselves out of danger. And, at times, they could be accused of playing too defensively during games. But you have to do whatever it takes to win the game, and when you consider the riches of the teams they’ve faced like Barcelona or Bayern, and the attacking talent they boast, Atletico can’t go toe-to-toe with giants of the soccer game because they would be humiliated. They have to be clever and pick them off on the counter attack, while relying on their defense to soak up the opposition’s attacks. It’s a tactical masterstroke, a cunning game of chess and you can’t play that way if you’re not a good team yourself. It’s understated, but it works. And it’s that clever approach I appreciate far more than a cavalier all-out attack tactic, if I’m being honest.
HollywoodLifers, who will you be rooting for in the Champions League Final? Real or Atletico? Tell us what you think the score will be below!