Tonight’s Champions League final is perfectly poised to be a memorable encounter for so many reasons – and regardless of who wins the game.
The obvious rivalry between cross-town foes Atlético and Real Madrid adds to the occasion.
The Estadio Vicente Calderón side have long been in their illustrious rivals’ shadows; but no more as Los Rojiblancos have shown this term that they have what it takes to go toe-to-toe with anyone in Spain or Europe.
Carlo Ancelotti’s men have a fantastic opportunity to win the much-anticipated Décima; their tenth European crown and one that has been in the hearts and minds of the Los Blancos faithful since their last triumph in 2002.
For Atleti, a momentous and unlikely La Liga triumph, capped off by a sterling display at Camp Nou on the last day of the campaign, means Diego Simeone’s charges have the chance for an unbelievable double.
Those factors in themselves make this game in Lisbon a fascinating encounter, but the most interesting thing about the actual fixture is the polar opposite in approach and style.
The Estadio Santiago Bernabéu side has long been given the Galácticos tag and the current crop thoroughly deserve it. With the white attack led by the world’s most expensive player in the form of Gareth Bale and the current Ballon d’Or holder Cristiano Ronaldo, Real can never be written off.
Although the absence of Xabi Alonso through suspension will be a blow given that he is the man that has steered their ship for so long, pound-for-pound comparing the Real men with their opposite numbers on paper would suggest that the Décima is a massive possibility.
The likes of Luka Modrić, Ángel di María, Karim Benzema and Sergio Ramos are all world-class international stars – with multi-million dollar price tags and reputations much superior to that of their Atlético equivalents.
Atlético’s two most talented and dangerous attacking players, Diego Costa and Arda Turan, both picked up injuries against Barcelona last weekend – widening the scope of individualism and star factor between the two sides.
Both have been declared fit and returned to training on Thursday; how much of a role they play is another matter.
However, for the underdog side it would just be typical if they beat their renowned and ‘superior’ opponents without their two biggest names.
Atlético have shown an unbelievable team spirit since Simeone took over at the club, and their togetherness, work ethic and will-to-win has been the reason why they are the new Spanish champions.
The fact that the eventual champions came from 1-0 down, without Costa and Turan, to dominate the second half against Barcelona on away soil and claim the draw they needed is a fine example of the type of team and squad that Los Rojiblancos have become.
The game will be played in stages, with Madrid likely to have the bulk of possession but not much time while on the ball. Atleti will hassle and harry from the front, while posing a real threat on the counter-attack and from set pieces.
Looking at the respective managers is another real example of experience, calibre and status against grit, passion and a no-fear approach.
He has had a warchest to spend to finetune his squad and resources much superior to that of his opposite number.
Cholo Simeone on the other hand had no right to even get the Atlético job, never mind excel.
With coaching periods in his homeland with Racing, River Plate, San Lorenzo and Estudiantes, and a mediocre short-lived period at modest Catania in Italy, it was his reputation as a player and memories of him acting as an Atletico stalwart on the pitch that landed him the Vicente Calderón job.
Since taking over from Gregorio Manzano in 2011, Atlético have been on the upward spiral, with his man management and fiery demeanour the driving force behind the club’s success.
If Real Madrid win the Champions League tonight, arguably the world’s most historic club should be celebrated as the global game’s most successful.
If it is Atlético that lift the trophy, it marks a new force in the European game and a heartwarming story of the most unlikely of underdogs becoming an inspiration to every football club in Europe.