For some, the abiding memory of the 2016 Champions League final between Real and Atletico Madrid will be Cristiano Ronaldo stripped to the waist, ecstatic in victory.
For others, it may be the image of Juanfran’s penalty striking the post, or the sight of Fernando Torres in tears, devastated as a chance to seal glory with his boyhood club slipped away in heartbreaking fashion.
Either way, in the aftermath of Atletico’s despair and Madrid’s joy at an 11th European Cup triumph, there is a sense Saturday’s San Siro showdown could be just the latest chapter in the tale of a fierce competitive battle that will run for many years to come.
But could it reach the point where the Madrid derby eclipses El Clasico?
Atletico had for so long lived in the shadow of their illustrious neighbours, but under Diego Simeone’s tutelage they have proved themselves to be on equal footing.
The gripping encounter in Milan was the second time these two clubs have contested the Champions League final in three seasons.
The match was further evidence of the city’s excellent record in this competition – Madrid has now contributed 17 finalists, one more than Milan.
Real fans are likely to always give El Clasico top billing, as will the rest of the world.
No club game has more global appeal, while there are deep-rooted cultural factors which lend added hype to Real’s rivalry with Barcelona.
But the relationship between the Madrid clubs is an altogether different one.
During two scorching days in Milan leading up to the final, supporters of both clubs mingled happily in the heart of the city, soaking up the electric atmosphere at the spectacular Piazza del Duomo, site of the fan festival.
Proudly displaying club colours, thousands crammed into the surrounding bars and plenty of alcohol was consumed, without the slightest hint of trouble, as the handful of police present in the square were content to lean back on the railings and enjoy a cigarette.
The two sets of fans – some of whom appeared to have travelled together – posed for photos and joined in chants, celebrating an all-Madrid final.
It seems impossible to imagine Madrid and Barca fans mixing so cordially, given the same circumstances.
Indeed, between Piazza del Duomo and Castello Sforzesco, a walkway displayed the badges of all clubs to have won the European Cup. Barca’s crest had been covered in Madrid stickers, and several fans stamped on it as they passed.
Yet at San Siro, amid the heat of a battle for one of football’s greatest prizes, there was no such animosity, even after a gut-wrenching loss for an Atletico side who must now carry the burden of two Champions League final losses to their rivals, when there was nothing to separate them over 90 minutes on both occasions.
As the clock ticked towards midnight, Atletico players stood in the half of the field closest to their own fans, heads bowed by the weight of another crushing disa
ppointment on the biggest of stages.
The likes of Luka Modric and Sergio Ramos – a pantomime villain for Atletico supporters – took time away from their celebrations to commiserate with their crestfallen opponents.
Atletico’s despair was no more evident than in the post-match mixed zone, with the majority of players shunning the media and quickly making their way to the team bus, scarcely averting their misty-eyed gaze from the floor.
But the sportsmanship of the Madrid players was a memorable image and a far cry from some of the ugly scenes that have marred Clasico encounters of recent past.
Barca are, of course, La Liga champions and remain a major force. But Real and Atletico look set to challenge the Catalan giants – and each other – for domestic and continental glory for some time yet.
The Madrid clubs’ rivalry may never be bigger than El Clasico. But it may just be better.
- Soccer News Like
- Be the first of your friends!