Champions League final 2014: Thibault Courtois ready for pinnacle moment of his three-year stay with Atletico Madrid

Goalkeeper has been on loan from Chelsea since 2011 and will start the Champions League final on Saturday when they Atletico meet Real Madrid

The Champions League final with local rivals Real Madrid is set to be the pinnacle of Thibaut Courtois' extraordinary career with Atletico Madrid.

The Belgian goalkeeper joined Los Rojiblancos in 2011 from Chelsea on a loan deal that was only supposed to last 12 months.

Courtois came to Atletico to fill the void left by David de Gea, who had just left his boyhood club to join Manchester United, but proved to be just as popular as the Spaniard, winning the Europa League in his first season as Atletico eased past Athletic Bilbao in the final in Bucharest, winning 3-0. Chelsea agreed to extend the youngster's stay in Madrid that summer, and then watched in awe as Courtois and Atletico thrashed the Londoners 4-1 in Monaco to win the Uefa Super Cup.

Eight months later, Courtois was Atletico's saviour in the 2013 Copa del Rey final against Real Madrid. He made three vital saves in an enthralling 2-1 win after extra time at the Bernabeu, prompting the then Madrid coach Jose Mourinho to remark that "St Mary was behind the goal".

Chelsea agreed to let Courtois' adventure in Madrid continue, allowing the goalkeeper, by now Belgium's undisputed number one, to compete in the Champions League for the first time. Just as with every other challenge the goalkeeper has met in his short but eventful career, Courtois exceeded expectations, conceding just six goals on the way to the final, fewer than any other goalkeeper.

The Belgian came to his side's rescue in the first leg of the quarter final tie with Barcelona, making crucial saves from Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta to keep the score 1-1, his side progressing to the final four thanks to a 1-0 win in the return leg.

That set up another encounter with Chelsea, and weeks of speculation about whether Courtois would be allowed to face his parent club. He did, and as fate would have it, the colossal stopper produced an extraordinary save in the second leg at Stamford Bridge to prevent John Terry giving Chelsea the lead. Just a few minutes later, Diego Costa scored from the penalty spot to put Atletico on the way to their first European Cup final in 40 years.

Courtois and Atletico now head to Portugal as Spanish champions after clinching the Primera Division title on the final day of the season at the Nou Camp.

"When I joined three years ago I was not sure I would stay three years," Courtois admitted to reporters after winning the league.

"I stayed one year and said I would see. We won the Europa League, the Super Cup and then the next year it was the Copa del Rey and now the title. It was unthinkable to achieve all of those things."

The 22-year-old Courtois has been instrumental to those achievements.

Team-mate Tiago Mendes said: "Even though he's just a boy, when you are on the pitch and you look behind and see him, you feel so much security. He's an outstanding goalkeeper. For me he's the best in the world right now."

The final in Lisbon could well be Courtois' last hurrah for Atletico.

His loan agreement with the Spanish club ends this summer, and with Chelsea number one Petr Cech requiring surgery on a dislocated shoulder, Mourinho is expected to recall Courtois to the club that signed him from Genk for £7 million.

Courtois has remained tight-lipped about his future, saying he will only announce whether he stays in Madrid for another year or heads to Stamford Bridge after the Champions League final.

But he admitted his departure from the Calderon will be heart-wrenching when it arrives.

"The day I leave Atletico I'll miss the fans so much," he told reporters.

"The love they've given me has been immense."

PA

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Chelsea are interested in loaning out Romelu Lukaku to Everton again next season
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series