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From Bale and Benzema to El Niño's farewell


Real Madrid turned out in Vila-Real with a side that hinted towards Kiev except between the sticks, where Zinedine Zidane elected to play his son Luca, a surprising decision and one that in my opinion was unjust. Doubtless Zidane Jr has a bright future as a keeper and there is little wrong with a father seeing the virtues of his offspring, but there is something that grates about a decision like that. Not in terms of ensuring nothing untoward befell Keylor Navas ahead of the Champions League final, which is perfectly understandable, but it was perhaps unfair to expect Luca to make such a significant jump up. When the hour of truth arrived he didn’t have a lot to do in reality, he made one excellent save, conceded two goals and was grateful to Sergio Ramos for clearing another off the line. Luca cannot be faulted for anything that transpired in the Cerámica, but neither can such a sudden exposure to the top level be entirely justified either.

The rest of Zidane’s line-up had the air of a starting XI for Liverpool, with Gareth Bale in place of Karim Benzema. And there is the primary doubt ahead of Kiev. Benzema is an exquisite player who is the perfect foil for Cristiano Ronaldo but Bale is in exceptional form and is finding the net regularly. The Welshman scored the opener after 10 minutes and Ronaldo followed him in short order, burying a fine header just after the half-hour mark. Madrid played a splendid first 45 minutes, switched on, plugged in and deserving of their two-goal lead. In the second half Luka Modric and Ronaldo made way for Lucas Vázquez and Benzema, but the eventual result was no fault of the substitutes, more a general drop in interest levels that coincided with resurgence from Villarreal, who were greatly improved by their own substitutions. The home side deserved their point after leveling the game at 2-2 after the visitors approached the second half wearing kid gloves.

It was a result that ensured Atlético will finish as runners-up in LaLiga, adding a little more merriment to the fiesta that will take place at the Metropolitano today. The Europa League and Liga Iberdrola trophies will be paraded by the men’s and women’s teams and the fans will say farewell to Fernando Torres, almost 17 years to the day since he made his debut. It will be a glorious afternoon for Atlético’s new stadium, which lacks the history of the Calderón even if Diego Simeone’s side have wasted little time in writing their new home into the Rojiblanco annals. The children that will head to the Metropolitano today clasping their parents’ hands to witness El Niño’s final game will remember the occasion forever. This new arena, which to many still smells too fresh for comfort, is writing its own history now.