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Champions League: Atlético three games from the Holy Grail


Atlético Madrid president Enrique Cerezo told AS yesterday that football owes Los Rojiblancos a European Cup. It’s hard to disagree, having seen what happened to them in Brussels against Bayern Munich in 1974, and more recently against Real Madrid in Lisbon in 2014 and in Milan in 2016. Football owes Atlético the trophy, but it certainly can’t be counted on to right that wrong. Football is blind, indifferent, merciless; it’s like history, which rolls on and on and doesn’t look back, doesn’t dwell on justice or injustice. That said, history also has a habit of offering up an opportunity for revenge every so often. The passing of the centuries has thrown up an endless number of peoples who have overcome an unhappy past.

The gods have always kept the trophy out of Atlético's reach

As Atlético go to Lisbon, it feels like a good time to think about what they’ve been through. They’ve made it to Portugal in a manner true to their style, having faced almighty obstacles. They’ve had to beat the reigning champions, Liverpool, twice, and have had a close escape from the clutches of the coronavirus, which has, however, deprived them of Sime Vrsaljko and Ángel Correa. Having got to the Portuguese capital, they take on RB Leipzig, who are new to the latter stages of the Champions League. The city of Bach, Wagner and Mendelssohn has built a fine football team that now stands in the way of Atlético’s pursuit of the Holy Grail, which the mischievous gods of the game always seem to keep just out of their reach.

Atlético must cast aside their long-held sense of fatalism

If only Gárate had got tighter on Schwarzenbeck in '74; if only there’d been less added time in Lisbon; if only the assistant referee in Milan had seen that Sergio Ramos was offside; if only Diego Simeone had been braver when Madrid were on the ropes; if only Juanfran hadn’t missed from the spot… As that old bolero goes: “Every time I ask you how, and when, and where, you always answer, ‘Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps’.” No, football is cruel and pitiless, and feels no debt towards Atleti. They'll have to wrest the trophy from its grasp with all their might, forgetting that sense of fatalism that has for so long accompanied them. As Luis Aragonés would say: they must win, win and win again. Today, Tuesday and Sunday week.