Villaflor: Other Madrid pulls of the improbable

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Thursday, May 1, 2014


SO the Uefa Champions League Final in Lisbon, Portugal will be a “derby,” the first time in the history of the tournament that clubs from the same city will be contesting the championship.

But that is not what’s surprising about the final on May 24. The real news is how one of the contenders, from out of nowhere, made it this far. And I’m talking about the other Madrid club, of course, the overachieving Atletico Madrid of manager Diego Simone.

And the manner with which they achieved this feat has just been impressive. At this
level, being finalists is already something to celebrate, but doing so at the expense of two recent former champions makes it even more remarkable.

First, Atletico edged fellow La Liga contenders FC Barcelona, champions of 2011, 2-1 on aggregate during the quarterfinals. And then in the semifinals, they scalped Chelsea, champions of 2012.

Yesterday, playing the second leg away in Stamford Bridge, Los Rojiblancos manhandled Jose Mourinho’s Blues 3-1, following a scoreless first leg.

While the Blues drew first blood on the 36th minute courtesy of Fernando Torres, but it was nearly all Atletico from then on, as Adrian Lopez pulled made it even right before half time. After the break, Atletico pulled away when Diego converted a penalty on the 60th minute, and Arda Turan sealed the win and a slot in the finals on the 71st minute.

Even at the start of the knock out stage, few would have given Atletico a second look.

Everyone was looking at a final among Europe’s traditional powerhouses: Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and the unpredictable Chelsea under Mourinho.

Carlo Ancelotti’s Real, of course, thrashed Pep Guardiola’s Bayern in the other semifinal, 4-0, which the Los Blancos made look so easy against the defending champions. Yet that shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering the firepower Real has at its disposal, big guns that Ancelotti exploited to the hilt.

In contrast, Atletico almost has not recognizable name, with the exception of David Villa, who wasn’t even used in the game. And their star striker Diego Costa might even be confused with his namesakes, their more popular manager Diego Simone, or worse the defender Diego Godin.

Because of its low key status, Atletico Madrid doesn’t play like a giant club.

Instead, it plays like a giant-slaying club that no doubt now strikes fear in the heart of European royalty Real Madrid.

Last March, I wrote why Atletico is the club to watch in this season’s Champions League, and now all of us know why.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on May 02, 2014.

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