Madrid rivals return to Champions League final
ABS-CBN Sports on May 06, 2016 07:56 AM
Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo gestures during the Champions League semifinal second leg soccer match between Real Madrid and Manchester City at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Wednesday May 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Paul White)
TALES AZZONI, AP Sports Writer
MADRID (AP) — One city, two rivals — for the biggest prize in club soccer.
Real Madrid, now coached by Zinedine Zidane, and Atletico Madrid, led by Diego Simeone, will meet on May 28 in the Champions League final for the second time in three seasons.
"There are no favorites," said Zidane, a Champions League winner with Madrid in 2002. "We both deserve to be there. We know we will have a complicated match on May 28."
Eleven-time champion Real Madrid reached the final for 14th time on Wednesday with a 1-0 aggregate win over Manchester City, while Atletico eliminated Bayern Munich on Tuesday on away goals to reach its third final.
Atletico was on its way to its first European Cup title until the final minutes of the final in Lisbon two years ago. Madrid equalized late and eventually clinched the title in extra time, winning 4-1.
Atletico also was minutes away from victory in the 1974 final, when it conceded late and eventually lost to Bayern Munich.
But since the arrival of Simeone, the former defensive midfielder who brought in hard-working players who passionately abide to his team-first attitude, Atletico has become a force.
"We try to play with our own characteristics, with the style that we are able and allowed to play and with the players we have," the Argentine coach said. "Now we have the chance to win the final as well and we'll prepare as well as possible to see if we can do that."
A Champions League title would help Atletico establish itself as top European contender even though it doesn't carry the same financial clout as Europe's top teams. Atletico eliminated AC Milan, Barcelona and Chelsea when it made it to the final in 2014, and this year it got past PSV Eindhoven and again Barcelona before beating Bayern Munich.
"It's not a coincidence that we are doing so well," Simeone said. "We have developed as a team. Now we have a lot of young players and it's about the club. The players have adapted to the team. We love the way we play."
Real Madrid, on the other hand, is a perennial champion rich in tradition and with enough money to sign nearly every big star on the market. Its revenues are said to be nearly twice as big as Atletico's.
Madrid also has a much bigger fan base. The "madridistas," more accustomed to glory, are known for being among the most demanding in soccer.
While games at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium many times can be compared to a fashion show, there is no fancy atmosphere at Atletico's run-down Vicente Calderon, where the "colchoneros" mainly come from Madrid's working classes.
"Atletico have shown what it is to be a big team and they have our full respect," Real Madrid defender Marcelo said.
With the rivalry reaching the European level again, Madrid's streets have been filled with fans proudly sporting each team's jerseys, and the Champions League rematch was virtually the only thing making headlines in sports pages across the city.
Atletico and Real Madrid have played twice this season, both times in the Spanish league. The teams drew 1-1 at the Calderon in October and Atletico won at the Bernabeu 1-0 in February.
Real Madrid hasn't beaten its rival in six league games.
"It's two years since we played them in the final and we know how difficult it was," Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric said. "We can expect the same kind of game, and hopefully the same result."
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni