Gareth Bale scored the winner to lead Real Madrid to a 4-1 win in extra time and their fabled “decima” on Saturday night, stunning Atletico in extra-time of the UEFA Champions League final with a fierce header that ended a dozen years of frustration. The $130 million man earned every penny of that transfer fee, tucking home the goal off a kick save from Atleti keeper Thibaut Courtois in the 111th minute.
Marcelo would add the insurance with three minutes to play to seal the victory, sending the Real players coursing off the bench and onto the field; Diego Godin would concede a penalty at the death that Cristiano Ronaldo calmly stroked home. Sadly, that sent the game into farce as an ugly dustup had Atletico manager Diego Simeone on the field and sent off by referee Bjorn Kuipers.
The result meant that Carlo Ancelotti became just the second man after Liverpool’s Bob Paisley to lift three European Cups. And this win had eerie shades other history as well, namely the 1973-1974 European Cup final: back then, Bayern stunned Atletico deep in extra-time to take the European Cup to a replay, which Bayern handily won. There are no replays any more, and on Saturday, in extra-time no less, Atleti simply ran out of gas.
As then, so here did Real Madrid need stoppage-time just to get back into the match after Atletico seized the lead behind a header from Diego Godin in the 36th minute. But Sergio Ramos played hero, heading home in the fourth minute of stoppage time off a corner from Luka Modric to keep Real’s dream alive — and dash Atleti’s hopes.
Carlo Ancelotti, had warned this Champions League coup would not be won by individuals at a press conference on Friday. He was wrong: his galacticos swarmed Atletico late and changed the tone here, with Bale supplying a magnificent capper.
The opening half saw Atleti in control, ably choking off Real’s line of supply and a hobbled Cristiano Ronaldo staying too far back to influence much of the play. With Juanfran, Diego Godin, Filipe Luis harrying Angel di Maria and Bale into irrelevance, Luka Modric was left to chase the play, which he was only able to do in fits and starts.
Bale actually looked like a bust for a time, muffing the best chance of the first half for Real in epic fashion. Pouncing on a loose ball at midfield coughed up by Tiago, the Welshman had keeper Thibaut Courtois fully committed and all the net to shoot at. He didn’t come close, missing wide to the left, and was left with his head in his hands on the turf.
But if the vaunted “BBC” combination couldn’t catch fire, it was Atletico who seemed to suffer the more grievous blow early on. Simeone gambled that Diego Costa could make a miracle recovery from a hamstring tear — a gamble that backfired spectacularly when the striker had to be yanked for Adrian after only nine minutes.
Yet Atletico, if anything, seemed to grow stronger despite Costa’s loss, especially as the half ground on, and the play became chippier. Real Madrid had few answers in midfield for Gabi and Koke, and when Adrian and David Villa started to get on the ball, they left Sergio Ramos and Sami Khedira very frustrated indeed. And Adrian? He started to look like the $100 million man, relentless and predatory.
When Godin, Atletico’s La Liga hero last weekend, scored the opener on a truly bizarre play, Ancelotti must have been wondering why he kept faith with Iker Casillas for the match. Casillas has not been the league starter for Real all season and he showed why with a bad gaffe.
Off a corner lofted in by Gabi, the ball was slapped back out by Sergio Ramos, with Casillas chasing the play. That was a mistake; Juanfran simply lofted the ball over forcing the keeper to backheel in desperation, and Godin outjumped the defender to head it home. Casillas got a mitt to it as it just nicked the line, but he could only palm it onto the boots of the onrushing Godin. In any case, the goal had been given. It was a dreadful error from the veteran — and more proof that his time at the top may be up.
If the first half had been tough on Real, the back half of the game became explosive Ateltico became increasingly ragged. First, Ronaldo had a free kick that seemed to take a slight nick off the top of the wall brilliantly stopped by Courtois, only to see the ensuing corner kick set up for a header. It went wide.
Marcelo and Isco were thrown on as Ancelotti tried to replicate the last league match contested between the two teams — a 2-2 draw made possible by that same double-sub. It proved to be a game-changer as Isco took the match by the scruff. Atletico were pressed back, back, back, but Real continued to squander chances. Bale was in twice, and twice he snapped his shots wide. Godin, able at both ends, denied Isco with a brilliant steal with ten to play to preserve the lead.
When the goal came, it was hardly unexpected. Courtois had been heroic, but he simply could not handle Ramos’s header. Modric popped in a perfect cross that was well-met and Courtois was a fraction behind the play as the back powered the ball into the net. It was a harbinger of things to come, and a hurdle that the previously unbeaten Atletico could not overcome.
The game saw a strange preamble as ten protestors holding Greenpeace banners made their way to the stadium roof, staging what was apparently an protest against Champions League sponsor Gazprom. Greenpeace later issued a prepared statement saying the protest was over the company’s plans to drill in the Artic Circle. The protestors were arrested.