Madrid joy as ‘jinxed’ Atletico change luck


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The Independent Football

An internet montage of Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho with the latter saying to the former: “Come around my house and we’ll watch the Champions League final together” summed up the mood in the Spanish capital yesterday.

The departure of two of the world’s greatest managers over the past two years has not dimmed La Liga’s light; instead, Spanish football is shining brighter than ever. Real Madrid had reached the final without Mourinho and even with Guardiola and his all-conquering Barcelona side long gone, Spain still had two teams in the final.

There was special pride in Madrid as they woke up to the prospect of the first-ever Champions League final between two teams from the same city. This is the capital that has twice been overlooked as Olympic hosts. Its capacity for putting on a sporting celebration has never been in doubt and yesterday when the Atletico players touched down at 5.30am at Barajas airport it felt as though the 2,000 supporters who watched them win 3-1 at Chelsea had flown back just before them to welcome them off the plane.

“Madrid in heaven” ran the front page of Diario AS and Marca jumped to the inevitable conclusion of this year’s Champions League – there will be “Spanish Champions”.

The Atletico coach, Diego Simeone, had spoken of “three big teams and one small team out to annoy the others,” ahead of the semi-final draw. It was his very own version of Mourinho’s “little horse in the three-horse title race” and it proved to be true. Atletico were back in a European Cup final for the first time since they lost 40 years ago to Bayern Munich  4-0 in a replay in Brussels, having been moments from winning the original game 1-0 before a late equaliser.

They have long since been known as the jinxed team of Madrid. Their famous advertising campaign in which a young boy asks his father: “Dad, why do we support Atletico?” demonstrates their traditional sense of disappointment, but Simeone has blown away that mood.

“This team is his work of art” said AS, claiming Simeone had won the tactical battle against Mourinho. It praised the back four that has not lost a game all season when it has been together and Thibaut Courtois, the goalkeeper borrowed from Chelsea whose save from John Terry when the score was 1-1 proved crucial, was called the main author of his parent club’s downfall.

Mourinho was criticised for not greeting Courtois in the tunnel before the game, though clearly if he had it would have been interpreted as an attempt at mind games.

There were endless replays on television of Arda Turan’s goal, the strike from Adrian Lopez – his first in 21 games – and those 75 seconds when Diego Costa struggled with the penalty spot before dispatching the kick.

The only people in Madrid not entirely satisfied were the Real players, who wanted to face their former coach Mourinho in the final and even had their “preening themselves in the mirror” celebrations at the ready in response to his comments about their vanity in Esquire two months ago.