Sunday 29 May 2016, 22:01

Real Madrid conquer Europe once more

In the 61st edition of Europe's biggest club competition, it was Real Madrid that emerged victorious, winning the title for the 11th time by beating city rivals Atletico Madrid 5-3 on penalties after a pulsating 1-1 draw. Netting the clinching spot-kick was Cristiano Ronaldo, who held his nerve to score his side's fifth penalty after Juanfran hit the post with Atletico's fourth.

The final, the competition's third all-Spanish affair and the second all-Madrid decider following the 2014 showpiece, was even more dramatic than two years ago in Lisbon. Once again Sergio Ramos was on the scoresheet, this time to put Madrid ahead, while Antoine Griezmann fired a penalty off the bar before Atleti sub Yannick Carrasco took the game into extra time. An epic match featured spells of dominance by both Blancos and Rojiblancos, exhausted players on both sides and two strikes against the woodwork that tipped the outcome in Los Merengues' favour: the missed penalties by Griezmann and Juanfran.

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane, in the role for less than six months, thus became only the seventh man to win the title as a player and head coach. What is more, he can point to the unique feat of scoring the winner when Los Madridistas won the trophy for the ninth time; being the assistant coach when they won the tenth and now head coach for No11.

The champions   Madrid reached the knockout stages under Zizou's predecessor Rafa Benitez, having finished first in a group containing Paris Saint-Germain, Shakhtar Donetsk and Malmo. The iconic ex-France star now in command, they overcame Roma, Wolfsburg (overturning a 2-0 first-leg away defeat) and a Manchester City outfit led by former Merengue supremo Manuel Pellegrini.

And while a touch of good fortune might have gone Keylor Navas' way in the final, the Costa Rica keeper was clearly one of the team's main men throughout their campaign. The Tico shotstopper conceded just six goals (an average of 0.46 per game), a superior record to his PSV Eindhoven counterpart Jeroen Zoet (six goals, but an average of 0.6) and Atleti custodian Jan Oblak (eight and 0.62).

Key points  The competition's top scorer's honours went to 16-goal Cristiano Ronaldo, who fell just one short of the record he himself set in the 2013/14 edition. This was the fifth time the Portuguese has finished as the Champions League's leading marksman, after 2007/8 (eight goals), 2012/13 (12 goals), 2013/14 (17 goals) and 2014/15 (ten goals, level with Lionel Messi and Neymar).

The most prolific team, however, were Bayern Munich (30 goals), though despite an attack featuring Robert Lewandoswki (nine goals) and Thomas Muller (eight), they were ousted by Atletico in the last four.

Meanwhile, Spain's dominance of the European club football scene continued, with glory in the Champions League and Europa League (won by Sevilla) again going to Liga clubs. Three Spanish teams reached the Champions League quarter-finals, a feat repeated for the past four seasons, the last three of which ended in victory for a Spanish club. This season's last eight line-up also contained two German teams and one each from France, Portugal and England.

Following his ‘partido a partido’ (one game at a time) philosophy, El Cholo Simeone guided Los Colchoneros to the final after successive eliminations of Dutch champions PSV, Spanish champions Barcelona and German champs Bayern. And though the excellence at the back of Oblak and his defenders was decisive, the goals, assists and teamwork of the likes of Griezmann and Saul Niguez also proved crucial.

Holders Barça, for their part, stayed true to their style and only fell behind Pep Guardiola's Bayern (67 per cent average possession) in their reluctance to part with the ball (65 per cent). Even so, it was not enough for either to take the trophy.

The stat  130 km - Simeone's coaching philosophy, dubbed Cholismo by fans and media, and which revolves around a hard-working and committed team that prefers to dominate space rather than possession, is illustrated by an overwhelming statistic. A look at the list of players which have covered most ground this campaign features six Atleti stars in the top ten, led by captain Gabi's 149km. Indeed, the only five to break the 130km mark are Rojiblancos: Gabi, Griezmann, Koke, Saul and Juanfran.

Did you know...?  Keylor Navas kept a clean sheet in nine of his 11 appearances in this edition, conceding goals in only three encounters: against Wolfsburg (two) and Atletico (one).

What they said… "I had a vision. I had the feeling that I was going to score the winning goal and I told Zizou: 'put me down as the fifth taker because I'm going to score the winner'. And that's what happened." Cristiano Ronaldo on the clinching penalty.

“For Atletico to have reached two finals in three seasons is fantastic, but I'm not happy with that. To lose two finals is a failure.” Diego Simeone, speaking after the final.