REAL MADRID - ATLÉTICO
Casemiro is Real Madrid's European talisman
With the Brazilian in the squad, Real Madrid have never lost a European final and at 26, he has won four Champions League and two European Super Cups.
The key to Real Madrid's success in Europe in recent years? If you had 10 guesses, you still probably wouldn't get close to the answer. Apparently, it's Casemiro. The Brazilian is entering his fifth season with Real Madrid and his record is unblemished as he has never lost a single European final.
At 26 years of age, Casemiro has played in four Champions League finals and two European Super Cups with six winners' medals to show. He has the chance to play his third of the latter on Wednesday night against Atlético Madrid having returned from World Cup duty in time to make Julen Lopetegui's first squad in Tallinn.
The year Casemiro spent at Porto on loan, the Portuguese club made it to the quarter-final but were overwhelmed by Bayern Munich despite winning the first leg 3-1 with an excellent performance from Real Madrid's midfielder.
His first season in the capital of Spain was complicated, however, and despite los Blancos winning the Champions League final against Atlético Madrid in Lisbon, Casemiro didn't play in the game. He only started one game during that campaign against Galatasaray in the group stage.
After that season, he demanded a loan deal to play more minutes and to continue his development. After returning from Portugal he became an undisputed starter under Rafa Benitez first and then Zinedine Zidane. He was vital in the quarter-finals that year against Wolfsburg and in the first leg against Man City in the semi-final even though he missed the second leg with injury. His balance in the final against Atlético Madrid was key to his side lifting the trophy after extra-time.
At that stage, he had two Champions League titles but had not played in the Super Cup yet. He got his chance, however, playing the full 120 minutes against Sevilla as Real Madrid won 3-2 in extra-time.
He would miss four games in the group stages the year after but he returned, as good as ever, and could not be displaced in the knock-out stages. He scored, in fact, against Napoli first and then against Juventus in the final. It was a deflection but it was the kind of 'luck' that comes with hard work.
Casemiro played his second Super Cup and with thanks to the Brazilian getting them off the mark in the first half, they beat Manchester United 2-1.
During the 2017-18 season, he played in all 12 of Real Madrid's Champions League games and notched up 944 minutes in the proces; his most in a single European campaign. He scored against PSG too in Parc des Princes to put the game and the tie to bed as Real Madrid ran out 2-1 winners (5-2 on aggregate).
Zidane opted for Kovacic in the semi-final second leg against Bayern Munich but his absence was felt. At 2-2, the midfielder was called upon to give Real Madrid some much-needed defensive balance.
Every piece of Real Madrid's squad is important and during their recent dominance of Europe, that is obvious. But one player is ever constant and yet to lose a European final.
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