Object of desire back in arms of first love

Real Madrid 4 Atletico Madrid 1

Having finally put Real Madrid’s name back on the European Cup, a serene Carlo Ancelotti put it into the club’s true terms.

“On my first day, when I went to the Santiago Bernabeu trophy room, I said to the president [Florentino Perez] that there was one trophy missing.”

Ancelotti has completed that job, delivered La Decima, and it’s difficult to think of a more complete victory in terms of the dimensions of their 4-1 win over Atletico Madrid on Saturday.

This, in so many ways, was the perfect 10th. The wait made it all the more wonderful for Real, the circumstances all the more special.

For a start, right at the death, there was the relief and release of Sergio Ramos’s stoppage-time equaliser.

It gave Real new life, and killed all of Atletico’s momentum.

From then, there was only one winner, but also one player who needed to score that key goal most.

Gareth Bale went some way to justifying his world-record transfer fee, and overcoming so many earlier misses, by heading in the decisive effort that finally put Real ahead. Marcelo made it 3-1 before the man that Bale succeeded as the world’s most expensive player, Cristiano Ronaldo, got his big goal on home soil.

Then, there was the significance of all that. The competition’s most successful ever club brought the trophy back to what they consider its rightful home, and against the side closest to home.

Perez looked on proudly. The Real Madrid president could finally say all that outlay was worth it, given how so many of his expensive stars had struck.

It was testament to Ancelotti’s ability to handle top players.

It also meant the Italian had his hands on a landmark third European Cup as a manager, finally becoming the figure to match Bob Paisley’s record.

On the pitch and off it, the emotions were clear. Iker Casillas said it was better than winning the World Cup. On 90 minutes, the goalkeeper had energetically grabbed Ramos and kissed him, fully aware of the importance and immortality of that equaliser. The two Real stalwarts were the last to leave the stadium mixed zone, but not until after Casillas had held up two hands to signify those 10 European Cups.

In the end, for all the emotion, it’s difficult not to distil it down to the numbers like that: a 12-year wait since Real’s ninth Champions League, over €1bn spent, three world transfer records... and one minute from painful failure.

That shows how close Atletico came, but also how far away Diego Simeone’s side really were.

The story of their season has been how they so admirably defied football’s economic realities. In winning the Spanish title, they spent so much energy, rather than money. It couldn’t continue indefinitely, despite Diego Godin’s opening goal. Real had that bit more.

In extreme circumstances like that, it’s difficult to put such a result down to any single factors. Had a bounce gone a different direction, or a ball gone another way, Atletico would be celebrating. Instead, the only issue that Simeone was lamenting was the gamble on Diego Costa, who went off injured after nine minutes.

The true consequence of that was that Atletico could really have done with that extra substitute as the extremities of the game sapped their energy.

“It was my responsibility to have [Diego Costa] play and obviously I made a mistake because I had to switch him as early as I did.”

Simeone, however, acknowledged Real deserved it late on, but it takes nothing from Atletico’s campaign.

“You have to look at it overall — Madrid were better in the second half, they kept us in our half and we couldn’t get out. Football is wonderful because of that. The supporters should be proud of an excellent season, they shouldn’t waste a single second being sad.”

Bale, by contrast, had wasted many a chance.

“A few thoughts crept into my mind,” he admitted later.

“It happens and sometimes you don’t get the rub of the green but you have to keep persisting, keep going and you may get that chance that will make the difference.

He added: “Thankfully, I was able to get that chance and I was able to take it.”

Ancelotti, meanwhile, insisted it was down to much more than the “rub of the green”.

“You can say I’m a lucky man in the end, or you can say that we tried to do everything until the last second of the game.”

Real certainly did try to do everything, but not just on this night in Lisbon.

It means, for now at least, they have achieved everything that has consumed the club for the past decade: La Decima.

REAL MADRID: Casillas 5; Carvajal 7, Varane 7, Ramos 9, Coentrao 6 (Marcelo 59; 8); Modric 8, Khedira 6 (Isco 59; 7), Di Maria 9; Bale 6, Benzema 5 (Morata 78; 6), Ronaldo 5.

ATLETICO MADRID: Courtois 7; Juanfran 7, Miranda 8, Godin 8, Filipe Luis 7 (Alderweireld 83; 6); Raul Garcia 7 (Sosa 66; 6); Tiago 7, Gabi 9, Koke 7; Diego Costa (Adrian 9; 7), Villa 8.

Ref: Bjorn Kuipers (Ned).

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