Atleti

Diego Simeone like a god to Atlético Madrid players

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If Real Madrid’s pursuit of la decima is the storyline for los merengues, than certainly the narrative for Atlético Madrid must be the rise of coach Diego Simeone.

Last weekend, a 1-1 draw with Barcelona secured the La Liga title for Atléti. It’s their first domestic championship since 1995-1996, and the first time a club other than Real or Barcelona have won since Valencia claimed the title in 2003-2004.

Much credit must be given to Simeone. Cholo, a former Atléti player, spent five years managing in Argentina before joining the club in 2011. Since then, he’s secured the Europa League trophy, the Supercopa, the Copa del Rey and now the La Liga title. Impressive, considering he’s had just three seasons.

(READ MORE: PREVIEWING THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL)

And, of course, he’s done it all on a limited budget – unlike that megarich club across the city, who’ve spent billions in pursuit of their tenth European cup. The club spent around $53m this season to bring in 20 players, while earning around $118m – much of that from the sale of Radamel Falcao. David Villa cost around $3m. In total, Atlético spent around $7m in 2012-2013, scouting out bargains and finding talented players to bring in on loan.

Midfielder Tiago joined Atléti in January of 2010, originally on loan from Juventus. Gregorio Manzano was in charge then, and Tiago has noticed quite a change since Simeone came on board:

I think for us, for all the club, he’s like a God. He arrived to the club and changed everything. What he says comes true. If he asks him to jump from a bridge, we jump. I think he knows a lot of football. We as a group follow him, and we’re very proud to have him as a coach.

Describing a coach as god-like is about the highest praise you can give. But will Simeone live up to the hype? In just a few hours, his side take on the million-dollar stars of rivals Real. If Atlético Madrid beat them in the final, perhaps the entire squad will wind up jumping off a bridge.

(Hopefully into a big pile of fluffy feathers, though, because it’s always nice to watch a team upsetting the established order)

Ancelotti: Entire Real Madrid season spent in pursuit of Champions League final

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After a long, winding road, which for some teams began way back in July, the day has finally come. It’s the day of the Champions League final! And if you’re not excited, well, you’re probably jaded by life in general.

This year’s UEFA Champions League final has already made history: it’s the first time two teams from the same city will meet in the final game of the tournament. Today in Lisbon, Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid will play out the 265th edition of El Derbi madrileño on one of the world’s biggest stages. 

(READ MORE: PREVIEWING LISBON’S MADRID DERBY)

But for one side, the stakes are even higher than usual. Real Madrid are fighting to win their 10th European Cup, a trophy they’ve been striving for since 2002, when Zinedine Zidane put in a spectacular goal to ensure los merengues triumphed over Bayer Leverkusen.

Twelve years have passed since Real Madrid made it to the final. But they arrive in Lisbon not on the back of a bout of good luck, but because reaching the final has been their goal the entire season. Carlo Ancelotti said on Friday,

We began the season thinking in this objective, to reach this final, to win ‘La Decima.’ We have achieved that. For all madridistas, tomorrow is a special day. Everyone knows the importance of this competition for Real Madrid, and my job is to do the best. I said that on first day I came here, I would do the best I could to win this competition, and we are very close.

Close, perhaps, but that tenth trophy isn’t in hand yet. And considering their opponents won La Liga this season, Real can’t be expecting that their crowning will be a mere formality.

Ronaldo, Costa racing to be fit for Champions League final

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Barely 24 hours remain before the UEFA Champions League final kicks off in Lisbon, Portugal – but we still don’t know whether two of its biggest stars will take the field. Both Cristiano Ronaldo, for Real Madrid, and Diego Costa, for Atlético, face a race against time to be fit for one of the year’s biggest events.

Last weekend, Carlo Ancelotti assured fans that Ronaldo would be fit to play a starring role in the Champions League final. The Real manager insisted keeping the forward out of the final match of the La Liga season was purely precautionary, and he’d certainly be playing in a match that mattered.

Yet Ronaldo’s first appearance at training occurred on Thursday, but, in another precautionary move, his role was limited. But despite the nagging issues, Real’s top scorer is expected to start on Saturday night.

It’s less clear whether Diego Costa will have any role for Atlético. The forward is included in Diego Simone’s 22-man-squad, but after being diagnosed with a hamstring tear, few people expected he’d see the field in Lisbon.

However, Atléti’s top scorer may be ready to play on Saturday. The club sent their star to Belgrade earlier in the week, to receive treatment involving ointment made of horse placenta. Skeptics can chuckle, but Diego Costa was back in training on Thursday.

Neutrals would, of course, love to see both play the majority of the Final. Worries remain, however, over the possibility of more significant injury occurring if they’re rushed back too quickly. And with the World Cup approaching quickly, both Spain and Portugal will be watching nervously, hoping they won’t need to make last-minute adjustments to their plans for Brazil.

Ronaldo, Benzema available for the Champions League final

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Before World Cup madness well and truly begins, there’s one more major event on the soccer calendar: the Champions League final. It’s set for next Saturday, May 24, when Lisbon temporarily becomes the capital of Spain. Atlético Madrid, who clinched the La Liga title this weekend, take on Real Madrid, who lifted the Copa del Rey last month.

And good news: Cristiano Ronaldo is expected to be available to help Real in their pursuit of the décima.

Even before Saturday’s games had finished, fans were starting to worry about how next week’s Champions League final would play out. Ronaldo was set to start for Real against Espanyol, but left the warm-up due to tightness in his leg. Then, in the 67th minute, Álvaro Morata replaced Karim Benzema due to the latter’s injury. Morata wound up scoring two goals inside five minutes, but concerns remained: how would Real Madrid fare without their top two scorers, who have put in 48 between them?

No need to worry, says Carlo Ancelotti. Real’s boss confirmed that the decision to have Ronaldo sit out the win over Espanyol was purely precautionary. Had the match meant anything – if, say, los blancos were still in the title race – of course the star would have played. He’ll be available for the game in Lisbon.

As for Benzema, he’s a go as well. Ancelotti stated the forward had a “twinge” but he’d be able to play in the final.

What’s still uncertain is whether Atleti star Diego Costa will be available to give his side a boost. The forward was in tears after having to come off injured, less than fifteen minutes into Saturday’s title decider. He appeared to have aggravated his ongoing hamstring injury, but there’s no word yet from the club as to whether he’ll play a part next weekend.

Further allegations of racism hit Spanish football

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On Sunday, Levante beat Atlético Madrid 2-0. The result put a slight dent in Atleti’s title hopes, as the side, who are currently top with 88 points, are now just three points clear of Barcelona. They have a six-point lead over Real Madrid, but their city rivals have two games in hand.

As you might imagine, tensions were running a bit high when, after the final whistle, Pape Diop ran over to the visiting fans and began to dance in front of them. It appeared he was taunting the Atleti supporters after their side had lost. Plenty were outraged at what looked to be a classless display from the midfielder.

Now it seems that Diop’s dance was in response to racist abuse he’d received from some of the fans. According to the player, he’d been the target of monkey gestures. He performed the dance, he says, to downplay their actions:

Just last week, Dani Alves provided the world with a unique response to racism. After a Villarreal fan threw a banana at the Barcelona player, the defender picked it up and ate it. Alves said“We have suffered this in Spain for some time. You have to take it with a dose of humor.”

Of course, players are free to respond to racists incidents with humor, dancing or other light-hearted approaches. But many fans, both in Spain and throughout the world, are asking when something will be done to rid the soccer of the racism that continues to plague the sport.