MADRID (AP) Surrounded by fans and holding a microphone in his hand, Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos joined the Santiago Bernabeu faithful in song: ”Kings of Europe. We are the kings of Europe.”
There is still one more Champions League match to go, but Madrid certainly has a claim to that throne.
”We are happy, and for good reason,” Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said. ”It’s not normal to make it to the final in three consecutive seasons. Definitely it’s not normal. But here we are again, and we will try to defend our title any way we can.”
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Two-time defending champion Madrid reached yet another Champions League final by eliminating Bayern Munich in the semifinals. It will be the team’s fourth appearance in the final in the last five years.
Already a 12-time champion, Madrid will now try to become the first team to win three consecutive titles in the current Champions League format. Last season, it became the first to win two in a row.
”It’s not about this team, it’s about this club,” Zidane said. ”It has a long history, one that started a very long time ago. And now we are adding another chapter to it. Others have done it before us, and now it’s our time to do it.”
Zidane was still a player when he helped Madrid win its ninth Champions League title in 2002, but after that the club went more than a decade without even making it to the final. It wasn’t until Carlo Ancelotti took over that Madrid returned to glory in 2014, and then Zidane – in his first head-coaching job – led the team to consecutive trophies in 2016 and 2017.
”What we have is this never-give-up attitude,” Zidane said. ”Even when facing significant difficulties, as it happened against a great rival like Bayern. We keep believing and we keep fighting, and that’s how we reach our goals.”
Madrid has become the first team to twice play in three straight finals in the top European club competition. It first did it when it won five straight titles when the competition started from 1956-60. Its other trophies came in 1966, 1998 and 2000.
AC Milan is the team closest to Madrid in European titles with seven. Ajax (1971-73) and Bayern (1974-76) are the only other teams besides Madrid to have won with three consecutive trophies.
It hasn’t been an easy path to the final for Madrid this season. After eliminating Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16, it nearly squandered a 3-0 lead against Juventus in the quarterfinals. And on Tuesday it came very close to relinquishing a 2-1 advantage against Bayern.
”We’ve beaten three enormous teams,” Zidane said. ”You are not going to do that without suffering. We need to be very happy with what we’ve done.”
Madrid conceded early against Bayern, just like it did against Juventus, but Karim Benzema scored twice – including after an embarrassing mistake by Bayern goalkeeper Sven Ulreich – and the hosts held on after James Rodriguez left the Germans a goal away from avoiding their third consecutive elimination against the Spanish powerhouse.
”It’s not easy to get to four finals in five years,” Madrid midfielder Luka Modric said. ”We are very happy because we are doing incredible things, it’s amazing. We are one step away and I hope we can get our hands on another trophy.”
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