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Spain currently the legitimate ruler of European club football


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MILAN, ITALY - MAY 28: Real Madrid players pose with the Champions League trophy
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MILAN, ITALY - MAY 28: Real Madrid players pose with the Champions League trophyMatthias HangstGetty Images

I naturally think of a Champions League final as being something more than a battle for bragging rights by football fans in Madrid. But Real and Atlético - the latter who unfortunately prevailed over Bayern Munich in the semi-finals - really did deserve this year's matchup. And so it came to a repeat of the final in Lisbon in 2014, where the match also went into extra time. Then, however, Real wrapped things up in overtime.

This time around the match was equally dramatic, and reminded me of the legendary final of 1974 in Brussels, when we at Bayern Munich faced Atlético. It stood 0-0 after regulation time, and in extra time we were almost down and out after Atlético scored. But then came a powerful, desperation shot by Bayern's mighty fullback Georg "Katsche" Schwarzenbeck to tie the score in literally the very last minute. Back then there was no penalty shoot-out. Instead, the same two teams faced each other two days later, on the same field. Bayern clearly won that one, 4-0.

Barcelona and Sevilla

What with FC Barcelona having won the Champions League last year, and FC Sevilla just now winning the second main international title, the Europea League, I think one can clearly conclude that Spain currently rules European club football. The only clubs that can be seen as keeping pace are Bundesliga champs Bayern and runner-up Borussia Dortmund. Possibly also Juventus Turin. In any event one can conclude that the huge amount of money pouring down on the English clubs has not produced any turnaround.

I felt a bit sorry for the players in the Real-Atlético final. Toward the end, more than just of few of them were running "on fumes" - nothing left in the tank. In Spain, with its league of 20 teams, a lot is demanded of the players anyway. Then there are the national cup matches and the international competitions. And on Saturday night, on top of it all, the match went into 30-minute extra time - and then a penalty shootout.

Under such circumstances a player must find that something extra in himself - a player like Gareth Bale. It almost hurt to watch him as, plagued by cramps, he hobbled to the spot. But then he converted his penalty with authority.

Deserved Real Madrid victory

In my view, Real Madrid deserved this victory that for a long time appeared to be hanging by a thread. In the past, Cristiano Ronaldo would never have thought about going back to help out the defence. But now this is part of his duties at Real, just as it is for other forwards, be they Bale, Karim Benzema or some other offensive player.

Diego Llorente (L) and Alvaro Morata of Spain compete for the ball during training session on May 28, 2016 in Schruns, Austria. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Diego Llorente (L) and Alvaro Morata of Spain compete for the ball during training session on May 28, 2016 in Schruns, Austria. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)David RamosGetty Images

All the same, I hope that next year we won't see another all-city affair for the Champions League final. Maybe Bayern's new coach, Carlo Ancelotti, will succeed in leading Munich there. He last succeeded in 2014 with Real Madrid. Altogether, as trainer he has already won the Champions League three times - not a bad omen, I feel.

Spain one of the favourites for EURO 2016

Most of the players who stood on the pitch in Milan won't be getting any rest. In two weeks' time the European Championships start, and Spain, as the title-holders, will be having a say in how that turns out. For me there are three favourites: reigning World Cup champions Germany, tournament host France, and Spain as defending European title-holder.

Spain no longer has Xavi - Xavier Hernandez - and trainer Vicente del Bosque is also dispensing with the services of such old "war horses" as Fernando Torres and Diego Costa. The coach is trying to rejuvenate his side while maintaining a high quality level. In Saúl Niguez of Atletico he has a dangerous striker, just 21 years of age. He really damaged Bayern in Madrid with his a superb solo-run and goal. And the 24-year-old Lucas Vasquez also, coming in as a substitute for Real in the Champions League final, presented his credentials. He was the first up at the penalty spot and coolly converted his shot, as if nothing was more at stake than a friendly match.

France have home advantage

The French should be able to feed off of their home-field advantage during the championships. And, they can avail themselves of Antoine Griezman, who has developed into a world-class player at Atlético. The 25-year-old Frenchman scored the 1-1 equaliser against Bayern in the return match in Munich, virtually knocking the Bavarians out. Many strikers are afraid of going in one-on-one against goalie Manual Neuer - but not Griezman.

Germany - always a threat

This leaves the Germans. Trainer Joachim Loew also is bringing in new players. In the Bundesliga, many young players are maturing and showing that they have the potential for greatness in them. Rarely can a trainer draw on such a huge reservoir of talent.

But besides these three top favourites there are a few other countries that may be good for a surprise. Belgium, for example. It consists not only of Kevin de Bruyne, but also can call on the terrifically impressive Yannick Carrasco, who scored Atlético's equaliser against Real. And then, of course, there are the Italians. They may no longer have the great playmaker Andrea Pirlo or the unpredictable striker Mario Balotelli, but at tournament time you always have to reckon with Italy.


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