10th title a Real reason to celebrate
IT WAS an impromptu celebration in the midst of a news conference.
Yet, the celebration by several Real Madrid players was in some ways fitting: It was the perfect ending to a bizarre but magical evening that had a miraculous goal, a memorable kiss and a rich finish from the sport's most expensive player as Real won the first intra-city Champions League final by beating Atletico Madrid, 4-1, after extra time.
"Real Madrid fans are extremely happy," coach Carlo Ancelotti said, "and that's why we are happy, too."
Real had finally claimed the club's coveted 10th European title - La Decima.
The swollen final score belied the drama. Atletico, the scrappy second team of the Spanish capital with a payroll about a quarter the size of their neighbours', was seconds away from winning their first Champions League trophy, only to have it ripped away when Sergio Ramos' desperate header found the corner of the net in the 93rd minute.
"I would have liked Ramos' goal a bit earlier," Real's president, Florentino Perez, said, "so as to avoid a heart attack."
Atletico manager Diego Simeone tried to rally his players after the letdown, screaming at them in the huddle before extra time.
But without their top attacker, Diego Costa, who was substituted after just nine minutes because of an injured hamstring, there was no way back for the red-and-white striped Rojiblancos, who were seeking an unlikely double after winning the Spanish league.
Real dominated the extra periods and, appropriately enough, it was Gareth Bale - who went to Real for a record US$124 million (S$155 million) transfer fee last summer - leaping to head home a rebound that sealed the victory for football's richest club and sent the fans behind the goal into hysterics.
"The price tag means nothing to me," said Bale. "I would have come here for a penny if it meant I could play in the big tournaments and win the big titles. It's unbelievable to lift this trophy - it will be a memory which will live with me forever."
Gabi, Atletico's captain said: "The equaliser was just tragic... We tried to keep fighting and battling, but they took advantage in extra time."
Much of Real's success in reaching the final had been down to Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored a record 17 goals in the tournament this year but, on Saturday, Atletico's stout defending mostly kept him from asserting himself.
Without Xabi Alonso, Real's indispensable midfielder who was suspended, Los Blancos lacked flow through the early part of the game.
"Sometimes you make mistakes; sometimes you do well," Real goalkeeper Iker Casillas, whose mistake helped Atletico take their lead, said. "I cannot complain as, despite my mistake, we did it in the end."
Marcelo added a third for Real and Ronaldo capped the game with an easy finish from the penalty spot.
"This is bigger than being world champions," Spain's Casillas said afterwards. "We have been waiting so long."