Plenty of players ready to shine in Champions League final
ABS-CBN Sports on May 26, 2016 10:01 PM
FILE - In this April 27, 2016, file photo, Atletico's Fernando Torres reacts during the Champions League 1st leg semifinal soccer match between Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid, Spain . Spain coach Vicente del Bosque left strikers Diego Costa and Fernando Torres off his preliminary list for the European Championship on Tuesday, May 17, 2016. Del Bosque said he left Diego Costa off because of uncertainty with his fitness following a series of injuries, and that Torres didn't make it even though he was among the players considered for the tournament. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, File)
TALES AZZONI, AP Sports Writer
MADRID (AP) — Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid are filled with players who are in top form ahead of Saturday's Champions League final.
Cristiano Ronaldo will be attracting most of the attention as he tries to win his second European trophy with Madrid, but plenty of his teammates and many of his opponents with Atletico have shown they are capable of breaking through with a great performance in the biggest game of the season.
Here's a look at some of the players who could shine in the final in Milan:
A veteran of three World Cups and three European Championships, Fernando Torres is used to the big stage. He scored a goal in the final both times that Spain won the European title, in 2008 and 2012. The 32-year-old Atletico striker finished the season well and scored goals in the last two league games.
"I have ahead of me the most important games I will play in my life," Torres said.
Gareth Bale has yet to score in this season's Champions League but thrived in the final stages of the Spanish league, scoring four goals in the final four matches as Cristiano Ronaldo was sidelined because of an injury. Bale proved to be decisive in the previous finals he played with Real Madrid, scoring when the team won the Champions League, the Copa del Rey and the Club World Cup in 2014.
"I don't know what the secret to it is," Bale said. "In a final everyone looks to give the best of themselves and I hope on Saturday I can get a goal and it's enough to win the title."
France forward Antoine Griezmann is enjoying his best season and has scored seven of Atletico's 16 goals in this season's Champions League, including three in the team's last three matches. He scored both goals in the win over defending champion Barcelona in the second leg of the quarterfinals, and the decisive one that allowed his team to advance past Bayern Munich in the semifinals.
"I've had a great season and hopefully it'll end on a high note," Griezmann said.
The striker has had a lackluster season marked by off-the-field issues but remains one of Real Madrid's most dangerous players. He is the team's second-best scorer in the Champions League with eight goals, behind Ronaldo's 16. Benzema also finished just behind Ronaldo as the team's best scorer in Spanish league.
Youngster Saul Niguez has been one of Atletico's surprises this season. The 21-year-old midfielder scored a remarkable goal in Atletico's 1-0 victory over Bayern Munich in the first leg of the semifinals. Thanks to his recent performances, Niguez earned a spot in Spain's preliminary squad for the European Championship in France, being picked instead of veterans such as Torres and Diego Costa.
Like Atletico's Niguez, Vazquez has just been called up for Spain's national team thanks to a solid season with Real Madrid. The 24-year-old forward, a product of Madrid's youth squads, got several chances as a starter during the final part of the season and capitalized on them by playing well and scoring goals.
"It's a source of pride and an honor to be representing the academy in a Champions League final," he said. "This is the top club competition and you've just got to reproduce the form you've shown during the rest of the year."
The players who got to shine when Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid met in the Champions League final two seasons ago were not forwards. Defender Diego Godin netted Atletico's goal in the first half and central defender Sergio Ramos equalized in second-half injury time to send the game into extra time, when Real Madrid won 4-1. Others who could be decisive on Saturday include left backs Marcelo of Real Madrid and Filipe Luis of Atletico, as well as midfielders Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez of Real Madrid and Jorge "Koke" Resurreccion and Gabi Fernandez of Atletico.
"We are preparing to play against a great team," Godin said. "We are confident we will be able to do a good job against them."
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/tales-azzoni