Real Madrid finally lifted their seemingly elusive tenth European Cup ( La Décima ) in their extremely distinguished history on Saturday by defeating crosstown rivals Club Atlético de Madrid 4-1 after extra time in a highly entertaining and intense UEFA Champions League final in Lisbon. Los Blancos (The Whites) or Los Merengues ( The Meringues) as a result, punched their ticket to represent Europe at the 2014 FIFA Club World Cup Morocco, while Atlético , also losing finalists in the 1974 final, still await their very first European title ( La Primero ).
The result of the epic final was very harsh on Los Colchoneros (The Mattressers), as it did not reflect the true nature of the awe-inspiring clash between the two sides who knew each other so well from their four past meetings this season. Madrid had to fight until the very end of regulation time (93rd minute) when Sergio Ramos’ perfect header found the back of the net to keep their golden target alive, following a Diego Godín intelligent goal with 36 minutes gone on the clock. Gareth Bale (110th minute), Marcelo (118th minute) and Cristiano Ronaldo (119th minute
) put the game beyond their neighbors in extra time.
The real game-changing point perhaps could have been when the recovering Diego Costa had to go off the field after just nine minutes of action. That tactically poor early substitution later did not allow Diego Simeone to replace defender Juanfran, who had to finish the game fatigued and did not have what it took to prevent Ángel Di Maria from dashing past him to set up the goal that put Madrid in the lead for the first time. GhanaFans.com now takes you through all the key highlights of the 2013/14 Champions League season.
Madrid had heavily invested in players for the past 12 years in order to help them clinch their ever elusive tenth European Cup, ever since Zinedine Zidane’s impeccable volley against Bayer Leverkusen in 2001 to claim their ninth title. Having lost in the semi-final stage of the competition against Robert Lewandowski’s Dortmund last season, they made a major statement under manager Carlo Ancelotti this campaign, after finding their drive and restoring confidence in their ability on the pitch. Ancelotti’s charges made a perfect start to the knockout phase, wiping out Germany’s Schalke 9-2 on aggregate, and then went on to get revenge against Dortmund by defeating them 3-2 over two legs before recording their most impressive all round outing of this term – a 4-0 away win against defending champions Bayern Munich. In spite of two key defensive players Pepe and Xabi Alonso not featuring in the final, Madrid eventually found their spark when it mattered most. On the contrary, this must have been one of the cruelest losses for Atlético, as Simeone’s men appeared to be both physically and mentally tired during extra time, following a tremendous season in Europe in which they had overthrown AC Milan, Barcelona and Chelsea.
Country Representation and Nature of the 2013/2014 Campaign
This year featured eight different countries just like last year but the only difference this term was that five of them had just one representative each: France, Turkey, Italy, Greece, and Russia. On the other hand, Spain fielded their three best sides, whereas England and Germany could boast of four teams each. Nonetheless, the sides from the Bundesliga and English Premier League started to fall out along the journey, with only champions Bayern and the champions the year before Chelsea standing as the only survivors. In the case of Spain, Barça got knocked out in an intense all-Liga quarter-final with Atlético as the two remaining sides from the Spanish capital marched on the semi-finals then eventually to the final.
The Shocking Results
Having landed the Bundesliga title in as early as March, Bayern looked to be in unwavering form as the tournament progressed. The German and European champions were still in contention for a berth in the final after the first leg of their semi-final clash against Madrid, surviving 1-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu and needing to overturn the deficit at the Allianz Arena. The comeback the Bavarians expected never materialized, and they were trounced 4-0, marking their heaviest home loss in the history of European competition. According to the history books, the Germans had never been defeated by more than two goals in 399 games in Europe in their backyard prior to this meeting.
Italian champions Juventus were booted out of the competition in the group phase although they made it into the Champions League after claiming back-to-back Serie A titles; Antonio Conte’s side gave up crucial away games against Copenhagen and Galatasaray and had to finish the group in third place. Benfica experienced a comparable ordeal, and they went on to beat La Vecchia Signora (The Old Lady) -as Juventus are also known- in the UEFA Europa League semi-finals before succumbing to Sevilla on penalties in the grand finale.
Dortmund and Arsenal made it to the knockout phase by way of their better head-to-head records, as they amassed the same number of points as Napoli in their section. Their Italians bowed out of the competition despite earning six more points than Zenit St Petersburg, who surprisingly progressed from Group G with just six points to their name.
Cristiano Ronaldo registered his name in the Champions League record books by hitting 17 goals in the season-long campaign, surpassing Lionel Messi’s personal best by three goals (14).
Uruguayan defender Diego Godín turned out to be the improbable performer for Atlético. He stood resolute at the back line, and also played a major role at the attacking front, banging in the goal that secured Simeone’s charges their La Liga title away at Barcelona’s Camp Nou in addition to his clever header in what came agonizingly close to landing Atlético’s their first European title against city rivals Madrid in the Champions League final.
Zlatan Ibrahimović was the goal machine yet again for Paris Saint-Germain as the Swedish captain registered 10 goals to his name to aid the French club book their place in the quarter-finals. The top striker finished with the best goals-per-minutes ratio in this season’s competition, shooting up to double figures in just 670 minutes on the field of play.
Gareth Bale finally justified his rather expensive price tag after struggling to live up to expectations during the season. He certainly wrote his name in the history books as well after heading in the decisive goal that not only got Madrid in the lead but also helped realized the Décima dream.
Chelsea’s long unbeaten run at home in the first round of the competition was snapped on the very first day of the competition, as they lost 2-1 to Swiss side Basel on September 18. The Blues ended their previous 29 meetings at Stamford Bridge undefeated during the group stage.
Los Blancos goalkeeper Iker Casillas has now impressively triumphed in 10 out of the 12 finals he has featured in long and ever flourishing career.
Did you know?
362 - This season’s goal tally in 125 matches played in the Champions League, with the goal per game average standing at 2.896. Out of that total, 150 hit the back of the net before half-time and 209 were struck in the second period, bearing also in mind that 18 goals were registered in added time of the second half and 3 during extra time.
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