This was the collision between hope and weight of history. As usual, inertia won.
Saturday’s (largely dreary) Champions League final between Madrid’s arch-enemies came down to a staring contest.
On one side, the club looking for its tenth European title (Real). On the other, the one seeking an entire change to its long history as a lovable loser (Atletico).
It ended exactly as you’d expect – with Cristiano Ronaldo tearing off his shirt after a superfluous penalty, prompting Atletico manager Diego Simeone to storm onto the field looking for a fistfight.
The 4-1 Real victory did not tell the story of a game fraught with tension, if little else.
The story coming out of this will be Ronaldo, the world’s best player and its poorest sportsman. There is no profound moment he cannot ruin with his preening.
Atletico led through much of the game after a brutal first-half error by Real goalkeeper Iker Casillas. The fifteen-year veteran was caught betwixt and between on a languorous, headed ball, and caught out for a goal by Diego Godin.
For long stretches, that looked like it would be it.
But this is Atletico – a club defined by failure and chances slipped away.
As they had in 1974, Atletico found a way to give it up. In this case, it was a 93rd-minute header off a corner by Sergio Ramos. Ramos’s distinction, aside from being good at football, is that he is almost as hateable as Ronaldo.
At that moment, after two hours of tedium, you already knew how it was going to end. The guy sitting beside me at the bar jumped up so alarmedly, arms extended, that he hit me in the face.
“I have a friendly bet on this,” he explained apologetically.
“Well. For money.”
He did buy me a beer.
In added extra time, Real began to press. Welshman Gareth Bale, the world’s most expensive player, provided the second goal on an awkward header. He’d spent most of the game playing as if he’d screwed on the wrong feet in the morning. But with that tally, he underwrote his more than $100-million fee.
Ten minutes later, Brazilian Marcelo – a late sub and the game’s top performer – scored.
With it already decided, Ronaldo stormed into the area and was brought down by the presumptive hero, Godin. A penalty.
After slotting it, Simeone came streaking out onto the field, looking for a fight.
This was as it should be.
It adds to Atletico’s long history of feeling aggrieved. They should have won this game, but did little in it to win themselves any new fans. Shades of ’74.
Real proved they are simply too deep to be overcome.
Most importantly, Ronaldo set the tone for the upcoming World Cup. His peacocking will carry many scribblers through to Brazil. It helps that he’s also incredibly good at his job.