Filed under: 2013-14 UEFA Champions League final, 2014 World Cup draw, Chivas USA purchased by MLS, ESPN 30 for 30 Soccer Stories, Julian Green, Klinsmann contract extension, Offside, Steve Cherundolo, U.S. vs. Mexico, Uncategorized, USA's Group of Death, World Cup tickets hot in U.S. | Tags: AC Milan, Adrian Lopez, Arda Turan, Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich, Benfica, Borussia Dortmund, Chelsea, Cristiano Ronaldo, Diego Costa, Estadio de Luz, European Champions Cup, FC Barcelona, Juventus, Lisbon, London, Luzhniki Stadium, Manchester United, Moscow, Old Trafford, Paris, Real Madrid, Sergio Ramos, Stade de France, Stamford Bridge, Super Bowl, UEFA Champions League, Valencia, Wembley Stadium
Atletico Madrid, behind goals by Adrian Lopez, Diego Costa and Arda Turan, recovered from a scoreless draw at home in the first leg to pound Chelsea, 3-1, at Stamford Bridge to win its UEFA Champions League semifinal series, setting up an all-Spanish final May 24 in Lisbon.
The victory comes a day after Real Madrid humbled defending champ Bayern Munich, 4-0, on a pair of goals each by Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo and won its home-and-home set by a 5-0 aggregate.
The final, at Benfica’s massive Estadio de Luz, will mark the first time that teams from the same city have met for Europe’s biggest club prize. Since the European Champions’ Cup became the UEFA Champions League in 1992, four finals have pitted clubs from the same country: 2000, Real Madrid 3, Valencia 0, at the Stade de France outside Paris; 2003, AC Milan 0, Juventus 0 (Milan on PKs), at Old Trafford in Manchester; 2008, Manchester United 1, Chelsea 1 (United on PKs) at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium; and 2013, Bayern Munich 2, Borussia Dortmund 1, at Wembley Stadium in London.
Real Madrid, a finalist for the 13th time, will be seeking an unprecedented 11th European champions title. Atletico, which last appeared in a final 40 years ago–losing to Bayern Munich–will be playing in its second final. [April 30]
Comment: Like Spanish soccer? You’d better.
(Full disclosure: This writer likes Spanish soccer.)
This derby showdown–to be played more than 300 miles from Madrid–will be the fifth this season for the two teams, and the sixth since Atletico defeated Real in last May’s Copa del Rey final, ending a 14-year, 25-match winless streak against its rival. In La Liga, Atletico, the current frontrunner, won at Real, 1-0, in September and tied at home, 1-1, last month; Real swept their Copa matches in February by an overall 5-0.
It raises the question, what will this grand finale prove?
Sometimes, these things work. Last year’s UEFA Champions League final was an entertaining advertisement for German soccer. But for those who want to see a real contrast in styles, a meeting of sides that don’t know one another too well, it often does not.
There’s no going back to the days when the European Champions’ Cup was true to its name and involved only defending league champions. This year’s competition was open to a whopping 76 clubs, including a handful from the more powerful nations who dazzled the soccer world the previous season by finishing fourth in their league. Of course, this is about money–lots of it. Clubs that qualified for the group stage automatically pocketed $11.9 million; maximum points in the group would bring in another $8.3 million. The payout for an appearance in the knockout rounds began at $4.8 million. As for the final, one of the Madrids will walk home with an additional $14.5 million. And the public doesn’t seem put off by a same-country final: Bayern Munich-Borussia Dortmund last year attracted a global television audience of 360 million–better than three Super Bowls.
But from a sporting perspective, the UEFA has both turned its prime club championship into the impossible dream for dozens of its member associations and reduced its secondary competition–once known as the UEFA Cup and now known as the Europa League–into an afterthought for all but the most ardent fans.
As for the “champion” credentials of this year’s two finalists, Real Madrid qualified for the 2013-14 Champions League by finishing second to FC Barcelona a year ago, a whopping 15 points off the pace; Atletico was third, a dot in the rear-view mirror at 24 points back.
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