57. Champions League Final pt.III: the match…

We left our intrepid hero having paid €320 outside Benfica‘s Estadio da Luz for a seat with the Atlético Madrid fans at the 2014 Champions League Final, and if you have forgotten how he got there, read up on the adventures so far here.

Now, for the match itself…

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I had missed the first ten minutes of the match, but once the green light on the stadium turnstile came on, I realised I had actually made it into probably the second-most desirable football match in the world.

My seat, naturally, was at the very top of the stadium, and I ran to it, risking a heart attack at the crucial moment.

I have been to Benfica’s Estadio da Luz, (Stadium of Light), over a dozen times since I arrived in Lisbon in December 2013, but today was something special. I was in the corner right next to the TV cameras, surrounded by the red and white stripes of Atlético Madrid, and facing a wall of white where the Real fans were sitting.

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The atmosphere was, as you can imagine, tense – I was sat with some rabid Atleti fans who refused to sit down, and some friendly German workers who had built the press box we were sitting below, but you could feel the nerves throughout the ground.

And then Diego Godín scored for Atéltico, and everyone in my half of the stadium went mad.

We danced, we hugged, we cheered.

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And for the next 54 minutes (plus injury time) the tension ratcheted up slowly as Atleti hung on, and I felt every second along with my adopted underdog brethren – cursing every Real dive, (although Atlético were throwing themselves around a fair bit, it has to be said), abusing every dubious refereeing decision, (of which there were one or two), and cringing with every stunning run, and subsequent miss from my favourite ex-Spurs player, Gareth Bale.

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On a night when local legend Ronaldo failed to live up to the hype of his homecoming, (he began his career up the road at Sporting Lisbon), Bale set himself up time after time, and time after time he poked the ball just wide. As 90minutes came and went, and the referee indicated five minutes of injury time, (five minutes?), Atleti fans dared to believe.

Real Madrid, featuring the most expensive player in the world, alongside the greatest player in the world, (this year at least), were on the verge of losing to a team which, three years ago, was going nowhere and had just lost to a third tier side in the cup when Diego Simeone joined them; a team which had beaten both them and my beloved Barça to the league title, the first team to do so in a decade, and the first team to even get within 17 points of the pair in the past five years; a team which had sold most of its star players over the last few seasons, and had lost more towards the end of a gruelling season when their squad depth couldn’t compare to the big boys.

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And then Sergio Ramos scored a 93rd minute equaliser and that, every single person in the stadium knew, be they Real or Atleti, fan or manager, was that.

Manchester United and Bayern München fans know how vital 3 minutes can be in a Champions League Cup Final, and now Atlético Madrid do, too.

But even worse than that: Atlético Madrid have played two Champions/European Cup finals in forty years, and they lost both of them by a combined total of around 139 seconds. Atleti were apparently ‘seven seconds’ from victory against Bayern Munich in 1974, when their goalkeeper, (father of Liverpool legend Pepe Reina), allegedly took off his gloves to give to a journalist as a souvenir before the final whistle..and promptly let in the equalising goal! This time there were 2 minutes and 12 seconds left of injury time, and they went on to lose the replay 4-0.

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The rest was almost a post-script. In the second half of extra time the Argentinian Ángel di María took advantage of his rivals’ exhaustion to fire in a shot which, after it was saved, my man Bale broke my heart by heading into an empty net, and Marcelo did the same minutes later, without the keeper being able to save this time. CR7 went back into my bad books, after years of working his way out of them since his Manchester United days, with his ridiculous topless posing after scoring a meaningless penalty, and the tears of the fans around me made me glad that this was only my team for the evening, in the same way I wouldn’t have felt quite the elation had ‘we’ won.

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It may not have been the highest quality match I had ever seen; some stars may have been missing; and the play may have been swallowed up by nerves at times; but from Simeone storming the pitch to remonstrate with Real players, to the Real fans celebrating late into the evening, this was a first Champions League Final I will never forget.

You can watch the highlights here…but I don’t recommend it, if you’re an Atleti fan.

If you enjoyed this, you can get much more by picking up my book: ‘Benfica to Brazil’ now available, online or in print, HERE!

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