On Saturday, Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid will face off in the first Champions League final to feature two teams from the same city. But before the excitement in Lisbon kicks off, let’s review some of the most memorable moments of the 2013-2014 UEFA Champions League tournament.
Zlatan Ibrahimović puts four past Anderlecht
Ibra’s not going to the World Cup, so the least we can do is talk up his genius here. The world was reminded of the wonder that is Zlatan on October 24, when PSG paid a visit to Anderlecht. Ibrahimović’s first was a simple tap in. Five minutes later, he followed it up with a fantastic backheel, completely confusing the Anderlecht defender attempting to take the ball off him. Next came a powerful, swerving shot to the top corner, completing his hat-trick within 18 minutes. Edinson Cavani scored a fourth for the visitors, but that only seemed to irritate Ibra, who followed up by nodding the ball to his feet, only to volley into the back of the net.
Watch. Just watch.
A heated finish in the Group of Death
Borussia Dortmund, Arsenal and Napoli were all drawn into the same group, along with Marseille. Going into the final game, the standings were such that it was impossible to determine who would move on to the knockout round. Napoli had the lowest chance: they needed to beat Arsenal, and hope that Marseille could salvage a point. And, up until the 85th minute, it looked like the partenopei were about to make their dreams come true. They were up 1-0, while Dortmund were even in France. Then Kevin Großkreutz scored. Napoli needed two goals to progress. They managed a second, but couldn’t find a third. With all teams finishing on 12 points, and even on head-t0-head, Dortmund’s and Arsenal’s superior goal differences sent Napoli into Europa League.
Martin Demichelis becomes a scapegoat
Manchester City just can’t catch a break in the Champions League, can they? Even on points with Bayern Munich in the group stage, they fell into the second slot, setting up a meeting with Barcelona. But this season’s Barcelona side showed certain signs of weakness, and it seemed as though City could make it through to the next round.
Then Martin Demichelis happened. The Argentine, whose signing only Manuel Pellegrini could understand, lunged in with a horrific late challenge on Lionel Messi. Out came the red card, in went Messi’s resulting strike. City went on to lose 2-0 at the Etihad, then 2-1 in Barcelona, ending their quest for the quadruple.
Olympiakos make things interesting against Manchester United
By the time the knockout stages rolled around, United’s domestic campaign was already in tatters. They’d been knocked out of the Capital One Cup by Sunderland, out of the FA Cup by Swansea City. Last year’s title winners looked to have no hope at repeating the feat, or, in fact, even qualifying for the Champions League. Unless, of course, they won it all.
And when they got drawn against Olympiakos, the idea that United could turn things around and make a miraculous run for the Champions League trophy didn’t seem all that far-fetched. Except Manchester United were dreadful in Greece. Olympiakos won 2-0 and while United managed to come back to progress to the next round, they were easily defeated by Bayern Munich.
That goal from that man
Javier Pastore’s been eclipsed at PSG, but for a few minutes back in April, he was a hero. With 90 minutes played, the hosts were up 2-1, and Chelsea fans were feeling rather confident. After all, they’d be taking an away goal back to Stamford Bridge, and the Blues could easily overcome the goal disadvantage. Then came Pastore. Thrown on with just five minutes left, the attacker turned the Chelsea defense inside out, snaking through the blue shirts to dink in PSG’s third.
Of course, this subheading could also be applied to the second leg. Chelsea desperately needed a second goal, so José Mourinho put on…Demba Ba. He silenced his skeptics with a goal in the 87th minute, stretching out his leg to slot the ball home. The Blues were on to the next round.
Unbeaten Atlético hold fast to make the final
It’s not often a team makes it to the final without losing a match – points can be lost in the group stages, or a side can lose one leg of a knockout game, only to win decisively in the other. The last time it happened was in 2008, when Manchester United lifted the trophy in Moscow. Now, it’s Atléti’s turn to shine. The first leg of their semi-final against Chelsea finished in predictable fashion for two sides that really commit to defending: a goalless draw. But those expecting to see more of the same at Stamford Bridge were sorely disappointed (or perhaps thrilled). It was Fernando Torres that scored first, but Mourinho’s game plan fell to pieces once Adrián scored. Atlético put in two more in the second half, setting up this infamous Madrid Derby in Lisbon.
Real Madrid dismantles Bayern Munich
Many believed that los merengues could hang with Bayern Munich, but few thought they’d beat the Bavarians so decisively. Real had edged a 1-0 victory in Madrid, making the game at the Allianz anyone’s for the taking. And Sergio Ramos seized the moment. The defender had his side up 2-0 by the 20th minute, taking advantage of Bayern’s poor defending on set pieces. Then Cristiano Ronaldo scored in, bagging his own brace to give Real the 5-0 aggregate victory.
Suddenly, la decima was again within Real Madrid’s grasp. But they’ll have to get past their city rivals to grab their tenth European Cup…
The saga continues on Saturday.