Champions League draw: Real Madrid have a new club to fear among Europe's elite, their neighbours Atletico Madrid
The draw for the Champions League final four will be made on Friday
Friday 11 April 2014
On Thursday morning Madrid was a city not only baking in the hot Spring sunshine but bathing in Champions League glory, too.
The side from the Spanish capital that has won European football’s biggest prize more than any other will wait with well-known patience to see who they will face in the semi-finals of this year’s competition. Real Madrid has nine neatly polished European trophies taking pride of place in the Santiago Bernabeu and Los Blancos edged closer to their sought-after ‘Decima’ with a nail-biting 3-2 aggregate victory over last season’s finalists Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday night.
The celebrations were relatively muted amongst Madridistas, however, despite reaching the last-four stage for the fourth straight year. The semi-finals are usually the least the club’s demanding fans expect from their squad of stars, granted, but that aside a 2-0 defeat against a Dortmund side hit by injuries and out-of-form in the Bundesliga has brought about some cause for concern after Carlo Ancelotti’s men were billed as favourites alongside Bayern Munich just weeks ago.
Read more: Champions League semi-final draw LIVE
The capital club were somewhat fortunate in their progression and failed to cement the belief held by some that this is the year for ‘La Decima’. Goals from Gareth Bale, Isco and Cristiano Ronaldo saw the damage done at the Bernabeu in the first leg but Jurgen Klopp’s side were ever-so-close to producing one of the biggest comebacks in the competitions history in midweek. Marco Reus scored twice in the first half to leave Madridistas needing new nails post-match after Henrikh Mkhitaryan hit the post and Iker Casillas pulled off a string of important saves to eventually help his side through.
There were celebrations, but they were short-lived. There were certainly no champagne corks popping just yet. This is Real Madrid, a club with high expectations and those expectations usually amount to winning the Champions League year after year. This year is no different.
Instead, most of the Champions League bathing was being done in the red and white half of the city, mainly down by the Manzanares river that runs to the south of Madrid and alongside Atletico Madrid’s Vicente Calderon stadium.
Atleti are hoping to move to a brand-new stadium in the coming seasons but on Wednesday night their famous old home base enjoyed one of its greatest nights. Koke’s fifth-minute goal had Diego Simeone’s side 2-1 up on aggregate against Barcelona and that’s the way it stayed to see Barca crash out and Los Colchoneros deservedly progress to the semi-finals of the competition for the first time in 40 years.
This time the parties were hard and long into the night. The Calderon was bouncing for the whole 90 minutes and it didn’t stop. There will have been some sore heads on Thursday morning but there will have been no regrets. While progression to this stage is the minimum requirement for their more illustrious neighbours, this is special for all clad in red and white. It was special for the players and it was special for Simeone, a manager whose stock cannot get much higher.
This is a club seemingly heading nowhere before the Argentine returned. Now they top La Liga and are three matches away from becoming European champions. There are ifs and buts, and boy are they big ones, but Atleti have risen not only as pests to the usual Spanish duopoly of Barca and Real but as genuine contenders to cement a place amongst European football’s elite - if that has not already been achieved with their success so far this term.
Atleti have not lost to either Barca or Madrid in their three league meetings this season, a key reason why they’re leading the charge with just a matter of matches left, one of which is at the Camp Nou on the last day of the season, with the only blemish coming in a Copa del Rey defeat against Ancelotti’s men over two legs. That’s why Los Blancos will not want to pull their neighbours out of the hat when the semi-final draw takes place on Friday, and nor will Atleti be keen to see Real’s name in the next round despite their success this season.
Holders Bayern Munich and Chelsea, finalists two seasons ago and with former Madrid manager Jose Mourinho at the helm, will also enter the pot but there is somewhat of a fear from all over the Spanish capital that Atleti and Real will meet. It will mean city representation in the final in Lisbon but it’s not a match many want.
For starters the clubs have already had enough of each other this season. Atleti won 1-0 at the Bernabeu to end a long-standing winless run in La Liga and took a point in a 2-2 draw in the reverse fixture. Victory for Real over two legs in a Copa del Rey semi-final was marred by off-the-pitch incidents of Cristiano Ronaldo being struck by a lighter and racist abuse hurled at Madrid full-back Marcelo by Atleti fans. The head-to-heads have not reached the intense levels of the 2011 series of matches between Barca and Real and Pep Guardiola and Mourinho but they have not been too far off.
For Atleti fans, too, there’s a sense that although they are now in with a real chance of becoming European champions, this run is still an experience, an experience to be cherished and an experience that would rather see champions Bayern, or former holders Chelsea, arrive at the Calderon than face Madrid again.
In the north of Madrid the feeling is mutual. While there may be an outward confidence, built over years of being the city’s to dog, that Los Blancos will still topple Atleti, inwardly Madridistas know how tough the task will be to see off Simeone’s troops. The Argentine has enjoyed success over his near-neighbours, something which started with hope and then saw Atleti win last season’s Copa del Rey against Madrid in their own back yard. This season the trend continued with another victory at the Bernabeu, courtesy of a sole Diego Costa goal, following by a statement at the Calderon.
With the sun shining on the Spanish capital, and its two clubs, on Thursday morning the tourists that packed in Plaza Mayor and Sol were having their pictures taken with famous characters such as Bart Simpson and Micky Mouse clad in the red and white of Atletico, and not the usual white of Madrid. It may be foolish to imply a changing of the guards in Madrid but the city now boasts two world-class clubs, and not just the one that usually makes the tourist brochures and ‘things to do’.
Lisbon is 630km away from Madrid and an hour-and-a-half by plane, but Portugal’s capital will be bracing itself for an invasion from the capital of it’s neighbour country when the final is held in Benfica’s Estadio da Luz. Bayern and Chelsea will have plenty to say about that, of course, but Madrid has a new team to fear amongst Europe’s elite, and long may that continue.
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