KEIR RADNEDGE in MILAN —- Cristiano Ronaldo, largely anonymous throughout the entire two hours of the Champions League Final then stepped up like the winner he is to roll home to decisive shootout kick which brought Real Madrid their record-extending 11th cup at the expense of bitterly luckless neighbours Atletico.
At one point Real had appeared capable of winning comfortably within the 90 minutes after an early strike from skipper Sergio Ramos. But Atletico chased them down relentlessly, should have levelled 90 seconds into the second half when Antoine Griezmann missed a penalty then deservedly forced extra time though Belgian substitute Yannick Carrasco.
For long stretches Atletico were the better team and Real looked almost out on their feet. But with no more goals English referee Mark Clattenburg took the teams into a shootout which saw seven perfect kicks before Atletico’s Juanfran scuffed his effort against a post. Cue Ronaldo to win it.
Alicia Keys had kicked off the pre-proceedings with a rendition of This Girl is on Fire, as if urging the two teams to stage fireworks rather than the cautiously smouldering approach which is the tendency for major finals when so much is at stake amid so much hype generated.
The stage was well set. This was the first time clubs from the same country – never mind city – had clashed in the final for a second time.
Real had never lost overall to Atletico in their three previous meetings in European club football’s elite competition though they had never, oddly, ever won in the Stadio Meazza against either hosts Milan or Internazionale.
Real did their best to meet Ms Keys’s demand and Atletico were lucky as early as the the sixth minute. Gareth Bale, tripped, curled the free kick to the fringe of the goal area and Casemiro’s flick ricocheted back out into play off keeper Jan Oblak’s legs.
In training the previous day Real had worked hard on free kick delivery and they reaped a deserved reward after 15 minutes. This time an angled delivery from wide on the left from Toni Kroos was followed into the box by a posse of white shirts, Bale applied a touch and Ramos finished it off.
The urgency dropped out of Real’s game after the goal, dangerously, riskily, and Atletico took advantage to press higher up the pitch and play themselves into the game at last.
There was no instant reward. Juanfran lashed one shot high over the bar then Antoine Griezmann’s first effort of the evening was easily caught, high, by Keylor Navas. The Frenchman’s second effort, shortly before the break, skidded just wide of the Costa Rican’s right-hand upright.
But these should have been jolts for Real, to remind them there was a long way to go even if their neat inter-passing had cost Atletico heavily in terms of spent, pursuing energy.
Coach Zinedine Zidane certainly read the message. He paced up and down in front of his technical area, one moment clapping his hands, then pointing this way and that. His every step and gesture expressed irritated frustration at being chained to a dotted white line rather than roaming free across the pitch as in days of yore.
His fears proved justified little minute into the second half when Pepe pushed Fernando Torres in the back to concede a penalty. Navas was shown a yellow card for some time-wasting gamesmanship but it had the desired effect as Griezmann thumped his kick against the bar. The ball bounced down in front of goal and away to safety.
This was the second time in the season that Griezmann had fluffed a penalty against Navas.
More drama followed when Dani Carvajal was injurd and had to be substituted in the Real defence by Danilo. Atletico had already made their own first change, bringing on Carrasco at the interval for Augusto Fernandez but that was deliberate and aggressively tactical.
This was the exact reverse of events in Lisbon two years earlier when Atletico had scored early and Real had been forced to chase the game. The diffrerence was that Atletico were not as well-equipped in attack as had been Real.
Yet the chances were coming. Simeone waved his arms over his head, Jurgen Klopp-style, urging Atletico’s fans to raise the noise level behind the goal which the Colchoneroes were attacking.
Dejan Savic jabbed wide from close range after a corner then Saul Niguez was narrowly off target.
Pervsersely it was Real who drew a litle extra energy from the tension, gaining some respite by camping for a while in Atletico territory.
Suddenly there were glimpses of Bale’s pace and Ronaldo’s trickery. Luca Modric popped the perfect angled pass into Benzema’s stride but the Frenchman, one and one with Oblak, drove his shot straight at the keeper.
Clearly the closing stages would be hectic. Atletico were conceding space dangerously at the back. Benzema and Ronaldo should have done better with only Oblak to beat then a Bale effort was cleared off the line by Juanfran.
Atletico, with proof now that lady luck was with you, charged back down to the other end of the pitch and scored at last. Carrasco steered home Juanfran’s volleyed cross for an equaliser they well deserved.
Atletico’ hero ran off the pitch for an embrace from his girlfriend, a former Miss Belgium, who released him in time so he could help Atletico take the final, again, into extra time.
Weary Real were now playing largely from memory, supported by the fresh legs of young subs Lucas Vazquez and Isco. As extra time ran on even Atletico’s battling stalwarts began to fail and Filipe Luis and Koke both had to stagger out of the increasingly fragmented stalemate.
Real Madrid: Navas – Carvajal (Danilo 51), Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo – Modric, Casemiro, Kroos (Isco 71) – Bale, Benzema (Lucas Vazquez 76), Ronaldo. Coach: Zidane.
Atletico Madrid: Oblak – Juanfran, Savic, Godin, Filipe Luis (Lucas Hernandez 107) – Saul Niguez, Fernandez (Carrasco 46), Gabi, Koke (Partey 116) – Griezmann, Torres. Coach: Simeone.
Referee: Clattenburg (England).
Penalties (Real first): Lucas Vazquez 1-0, Griezmann 1-1; Marcelo 2-1, Gabi 2-2; Bale 3-2, Saul Niguez 3-3; Sergio Ramos 4-3, Juanfran hits post; Ronaldo 5-3.
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