KEIR RADNEDGE in MILAN: Sixty years ago the first European Cup Final was staged in the old Parc des Princes in Paris. So much has changed since then. Football is almost a different game. Even the name of the competition has evolved into the UEFA Champions League.
At least one common denominator has survived: the presence of Real Madrid.
Six decades on the Blanco were back on stage in search of a record-extending 11th cup triumph. The event continued to break barriers. Never before had two clubs from the same country – let alone the same city – lined up against each other in the final. Yet now it was Real against Atletico de Madrid, repeating the final from Lisbon two years ago.
Atletico did not want a repeat. Two years ago they led until stoppage time, conceded an equaliser and lost 4-1 after extra time. If anything it was the bitterness of that memory, the imperative for vengeance, which set them up as narrow favourites.
The balance between the clubs appeared so delicate. Some 11 of the 18 players in Real’s Lisbon winners were present and correct; only six remained from Atletico’s squad. But the determination and intensity remained.
Both goalkeepers had changed. Real’s veteran Iker Casillas was heading towards a fade-out while Atletico’s Thibaut Courtois had been only on loan from Chelsea. Real imported Costa Rican World Cup hero Keylor Navas while Atletico had paid Benfica $16m for Slovenian Jan Oblak.
In defence Real missed injured Raphael Varane while Atletico had replaced Internazionale-bound Joao Miranda. Real had made the more changes in midfield with Argentina’s Angel Di Maria, Spain’s Xabi Alonso and Germany’s Sami Khedira all moving on. Real had a new anchor man in Brazilian Casemiro and a new German in Toni Kroos. If Real were to win he would become the 18th player to land the Champions Cup with two clubs – and the first German.
As for Atletico side, Simeone had repaired serious injury to Tiago with Augusto Fernandez and the transfer of Raul Garcia with the exiting young Saul Niguez. Up front Atletico’s loss of Diego Costa had been covered by the experience of Fernando Torres and explosion of Frenchman Antoine Griezmann. Real remained loyal to the BBC: Bale, Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo.
On the bench Atletico were driven on by Diego Simeone, in his fifth season with the club. Real had a novice coach . . . but some novice, in the person of Zinedine Zidane, assistant to Carlo Ancelotti in Lisbon and promoted in midseason after the dismissal of Rafa Benitez.
If Real were to win he would become the seventh man to win as both player and then coach.
Let battle commence.
Real Madrid: Navas – Carvajal, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Marcelo – Modric, Casemiro, Kroos – Bale, Bezema, Ronaldo.
Atletico Madrid: Oblak – Juanfran, Savic, Godin, Filipe Luis – Saul Niguez, Gabi, Fernandez, Koke – Torres, Griezmann.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg (England).