Yet there was also spontaneous applause at the end from the loud, boisterous supporters of Atlético Madrid and only the flint-hearted could possibly not sympathise with Diego Simeone’s team. They gave everything, as they always do, before that brutal climax when Lucas Vázquez, Marcelo, Gareth Bale, Sergio Ramos and, finally, Ronaldo all converted their penalties into the same corner. Antoine Griezmann, Gabi and Saúl Ñíguez matched them for Atlético but Juanfran’s effort came back off the post and, ultimately, it did not matter that Ronaldo had played poorly. His shirt was off, the muscles were flexed and Atlético’s players were down on their knees just as they had been in Lisbon two years ago.
The deja vu will stab at Atlético when they look back at Griezmann missing a penalty early in a second half that saw Yannick Carrasco, a substitute, change the course of the match with his ability to take on Real’s defenders and the goal that took the game to extra time.
Before kick-off the giant banner on Curva Sud read: “Tus Valores Nos Hacen Creer.” It translates as “Your values make us believe”, and those values are the type that every football club should want: the desire to stretch every sinew, a refusal to bend for anybody and an exceptional form of togetherness. Yet maybe it was also the case, with Simeone charging around on the touchline, that Atlético’s players were too pumped up in those early stages when tackles started flying, their opponents took command and it quickly became apparent that the biggest night of Mark Clattenburg’s refereeing career was going to be a challenge, to say the least.
Simeone’s team might be streetwise but it was naive of them to concede so many free-kicks in those early exchanges, or at least give players such as Gareth Bale the opportunity to exaggerate challenges in dangerous areas. It was fast and frenetic and perhaps Atlético needed someone to put their foot on the ball and take a little sting out of the occasion. Real were almost ahead in the fifth minute when Bale swung one free-kick into the six-yard area and Jan Oblak saved from point-blank range as Karim Benzema and Casemiro lunged at the ball.
Atlético were making life unnecessarily difficult for themselves and, with a quarter of an hour played, Juanfran committed another foul on the other side. Toni Kroos is a master in these positions when it comes to getting the balance right between the angle of the cross and the speed at which the ball is sent over. This one was a beauty. Bale applied the headed flick-on and Ramos was following in to clip the ball past Oblak with a slight yet decisive touch off his left boot.
Ramos was directly in front of Atlético’s goalkeeper when he applied the final touch and the slow-motion replays confirmed that Clattenburg’s assistant, Simon Beck, ought to have raised his flag to disallow the goal.
The offside went unpunished and, for all their competitive courage, it took a while for Simeone’s players to shake their heads clear.
Bale, in particular, looked determined from the start to leave a favourable impression on the final, causing all sorts of problems with his directness and long, leggy stride. Benzema was leading the line impressively and, however strong the suspicion that Cristiano Ronaldo might not be at the maximum point of fitness, Zidane must have been encouraged by the way his team were stretching their opponents.
Atlético needed more from their front players and, however galling it was for them to see Griezmann’s penalty go to waste, at least it reminded them that the lead was only fragile and they still had the ability to trouble the Real defence. Clattenburg probably got this one right, though it was equally true that Fernando Torres deliberately jutted out his left foot to make absolutely sure Pepe collided with him. In Spain, it would be regarded as a certain spot-kick; in England, perhaps less so. All that can really be said for certain is that it was a wild effort from Griezmann. The ball cracked off the crossbar and the banks of red and white supporters behind the goal howled with anguish.
Another side might have wilted but Atlético had finally found some momentum to their forward play. Shortly afterwards, Stefan Savic prodded the ball wide from a position where a more rehearsed finisher would have been expected to score. Then it was Saúl Ñíguez’s turn with a hooked shot and, for the first time, Zidane might have been alarmed about the direction of the game.
On 79 minutes, Gabi dinked a delicate little up-and-under into Juanfran’s path. The cross was delivered beautifully, volleyed across the line of the six-yard area, and Carrasco was the quickest to react, rifling his shot high into the net before running to his girlfriend on the front row and – possibly a first for the European Cup – celebrating with a smooch.
BREAKING: Real Madrid win the Champions League as Ronaldo decides penalty shootout Reviewed by Link Naija on 16:32:00 Rating: