No matter what, next month’s final wasn’t going to be short of angles, with Real Madrid’s Tuesday win leaving the Merengues set to face either their crosstown rivals or the man who left the team last spring in this year’s UEFA Champions League final. After Wednesday’s result in London, however, the chance to claim at 10th European title at José Mourinho’s expense went by the wayside. Instead, the fifth meeting of the year between Madrid’s two biggest clubs will have the highest stakes. Three-and-a-half weeks from now in Lisbon, the Derbi Madrileño to end all derbis will decide this year’s European champion.
For Atlético, the game will be the team’s first final since 1974 – the only other time the Colchoneros played for the European Cup. That year Atleti were six minutes away from the title after Luis Aragones’ 114th minute goal gave Atlético a 1-0 lead over Bayern Munich in Brussels. Just before the final whistle, however, Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck’s equalizer forced the teams into a replay, which Bayern won 4-0 two days later. Whereas the Germans claimed their first title, the first of back-to-back European Cups, Atlético began a 40-year drought between finals appearances.
This year, Real Madrid has ended a drought of its own, albeit a much shorter one. The nine-time champions haven’t been to a final since Zinedine Zidane’s fablds volley against Bayer Leverkusen in 2002 helped put the team within one of its decima. The club hasn’t returned to the final since, giving fans 12 years to make a 10th European title into an obsession. Now, after three straight semifinal exits, Carlo Ancelotti has the Merengues within 90 minutes their decima, with only their crosstown rivals standing between them and Europe’s throne.
It’s a rivalry which, until last season, was one-sided, with El Real having gone 14 years without losing to what was Madrid’s second club. Since Diego Simeone took over in Dec. 2011, however, the rivalry’s become hotly contested. After losing his first three debris, Simeone has gone 2-1-2 (W-D-L) against the Merengues, with one of those victories coming in last year’s Copa del Rey final.
Next month, Simeone will look to replicate that feat, thought the will stakes be higher than that Spanish Cup. Europe will be on the line in a game where Atlético may hoping to claim a league-Europe double. For Real Madrid, a win would complete a double of its own, though Copa del Rey will pale in comparison a decima won against its crosstown rivals.