Real Madrid finally brought twelve years of hurt to a dramatic conclusion to lift La Decima, the club’s tenth European Cup, with an extra-time victory over neighbors and La Liga winners Atlético. Captain Diego Godín had given Atleti a first half lead following a mistake from Iker Casillas, but Sergio Ramos’ last-gasp header took the game into extra time, with Gareth Bale, Marcelo and Cristiano Ronaldo scoring in the final ten minutes to ensure the trophy, which had become a club obsession, would return to the Santiago Bernabeu.
Much of the pre-match discussion revolved around the fitness of Atlético pair Diego Costa and Arda Turan, and though the lustrously bearded Turkish midfielder saw his hopes dashed as he was forced to sit in the reserves, Costa had apparently shown enough in training to make the starting eleven. Real were at full strength with Bale and Ronaldo both starting and cup goalkeeper Casillas taking his place in between the posts. In the 201st meeting between the sides, it was fitting that both captains were Madrid-born. Gabi won the toss for Los Rojiblancos, with the Lisbon neutrals happy to welcome back returning heroes Ronaldo and Luis Figo, who paraded the trophy before the game.
The first half was, for all intents and purposes, a dull affair, but the game’s first defining moment came just nine minutes into the game. Costa was clearly performing well below his best and Simeone’s gamble had not paid off; the Brazilian-turned-Spaniard motioned for a substitution, and he was replaced by Adrián. The Atlético defense were clearly throwing their weight about whenever Ronaldo had himself on the ball, but their pressing was admirable throughout. No Real player had a second on the ball to think or to slow the pace down, and as a result many good opportunities to get forward were wasted with hopeful long balls floating meekly into the arms of Thibaut Courtois.
With half an hour played, the atmosphere inside the Estádio da Luz threatened to boil over after Ángel Di María stormed forwards with Raúl García happy to take the yellow card for the team, scything the Argentine down from behind. It was the first of twelve yellow cards in the match, but Ronaldo fired the free kick low and hard, straight at Courtois. Atlético had their first real chance just a few moments later as a mishit shot bobbled around the area before an attempted clearance hit a Real player and found its way back into the box. From the resulting counterattack, Bale found himself through on goal but tapped his shot wide under pressure from Miranda. The Welshman clearly deliberated too long over his options with Ronaldo lurking to his left and the goal gaping.
It was to prove a costly miss, as after 35 minutes, Atlético took the lead. A corner was not decisively cleared and when it came back in, Casillas made a fatal error, choosing to come and collect the ball before deciding against it, leaving himself in no man’s land. Diego Godín, the man who scored the equalizer against Barcelona the previous week to win them the Spanish league title, could hardly believe his look as his backwards header looped over the keeper and just over the line. Casillas had never lost to Atlético in 26 matches beforehand, but he could not backpedal fast enough to claw the ball away from danger. Both sides continued to press with neither having any really meaningful possession, and at the halfway mark it was Atlético who held a slender lead.
The second half began in a similar vein to the first, with García sending an ambitious half volley well over from the edge of the box and Miranda receiving a yellow card for halting another fantastic Di María run on the edge of the area. Ronaldo’s free kick was deflected then tipped over by a composed Courtois, and from the two resulting corners came two more Ronaldo half-chances, neither of which he was able to convert.
Atlético had a spell of pressure around the hour mark, with Adrián having two efforts blocked by last ditch tackles. It was a spell which prompted Carlo Ancelotti to make the first substitutions of the match, with Isco and Marcelo replacing Sami Khedira and Fábio Coentrão – clearly, attack was now the order of the day. A Ramos cross failed to find either Ronaldo or Benzema with a decisive touch, before Simeone brought on winger José Sosa , sensing an opportunity to deliver a knockout blow with the Real flanks exposed to counter attack.
Isco dragged a shot wide from inside the D, Di María failed to apply a finish after some clever interplay with Marcelo and Bale hit wide from the edge of the area having been teed up by Ronaldo, but Atlético continued to threaten and a Sosa cross was inches away from the boot of David Villa. The veteran striker found himself with Casillas on the end of his boot instead of the ball, and picked up a yellow card for his troubles.
Juanfran became the third player to be booked for bringing down the excellent Di María, before Bale missed what looked like the decisive chance of the game. Released down the right flank, he cut inside before weakly rolling the ball wide of the near post with the laces of his right boot. Ronaldo and Benzema were both screaming to be played in for a tap-in inside the area, but it was to conclude a frustrating night for the Frenchman, who was replaced by Alvaro Morata. A sublime mid-air touch and pirouette from Isco came to nothing, stopped again by the imperious Godín.
Simeone continued to stir the crowd up as Ronaldo’s header was volleyed away from the forehead of Marcelo by Juanfran and Sosa shot straight at Casillas, but Real had their salvation three minutes into the allocated five of stoppage time. A packed penalty area was enough to turn away waves of pressure from Los Blancos, but the Atlético wall finally crumbled when a Luka Modrić corner was met by the head of Sergio Ramos.
The defender, who had scored twice in the semi-final demolition of Bayern Munich at the Allianz, guided a powerful header through the crowd and across the goalkeeper into the bottom left corner of the net. Atlético players were in tears on the sidelines, with shades of 1974 coming back to haunt the club. That was their only previous European Cup Final, when a stoppage-time goal from Bayern Munich center-half Hans-Georg Schwarezenbeck took the final to a replay, where they were beaten 4-0. There was to be no late winner, and the 2014 Champions League Final went to extra time. Casillas was visibly emotional, thanking Ramos for maintaining his saintly reputation with a heartfelt embrace.
Marcelo and Raphaël Varane both had chances in the first half of extra time before Ronaldo’s free kick was deflected away by the arm of Juanfran, with Godín missing the chance to be a hero once more by heading Gabi’s free kick into the arms of a grateful Casillas.
On the 110th minute, however, the game took its next twist. Di María surged forward once again and managed to evade the challenges of three Atlético defenders who would have been quite happy to take the card and free kick. His shot was excellently saved by the outstretched leg of Courtois but it ballooned up in the air towards the far post, where Bale was on hand to leap and head the ball into the top right corner. His €91million transfer fee was paid back with interest, and name was written firmly alongside Real greats and galacticos of the past. Zinedine Zidane, the last man to win the trophy for Real, applauded from the dugout.
However, the game was far from over. Casillas threatened to make another costly blunder, missing his punch but seeing Tiago fire over the bar with men on the line ready to block his shot, and Ronaldo slipped inside the area with a chance to finish the game.
With two minutes of the game to play, though, it was all over. Influential substitute Marcelo jogged through the center of the pitch and no Atlético players seemingly had the energy to try to stop him. He fired a low shot under the hand of Courtois, and the victory was sealed.
Ronaldo added insult to injury with a powerful late penalty having been tripped by Gabi to score his 17th goal in 11 Champions League games this season, but there were ugly scenes before the final whistle as Simeone was on the pitch disputing the nature of Varane’s celebrations. It was an undignified end to a stellar season for Atlético and their manager, and although he disappeared down the tunnel he returned for the full-time whistle. The 4-1 scoreline flattered Real but nobody could begrudge them their victory, as La Decima was finally brought home.
It was Casillas who lifted the trophy but Di María who took the man of the match award, with Bale saying that the experience “will live with me forever.” Carlo Ancelotti finds himself with a degree of job security having completed a cup double (Bale scoring the winner in both finals) but it remains to be seen what will become of Atlético. They enjoyed a similar season to last year’s underdogs Borussia Dortmund, but the defeated finalists saw their best players poached and their title ambitions obliterated. With Diego Costa rumored to be bound for Stamford Bridge, it is not impossible that the same fate could await them. Ahead of the World Cup, however, Spain’s finest look as formidable as ever.