The last and arguably most prestigious trophy in European competition is up for grabs, as Real Madrid play Atletico Madrid – their nearest but far-from-dearest rival – in Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final at the Estadio da Luz, Lisbon, Portugal.
In a special preview of the game, TheCable spoke to Mutiu Adepoju (from his base in Spain) and Dimeji Lawal – two players who have played for Real Madrid B Team, two players who have experienced the city, two players who have experienced the rivalry between Los Blancos and Rojiblancos.
Mutiu Adepoju: Real Madrid B 65 (app) 27 (goals) 1989-1992
Adepoju joined Real Madrid Castilla (Real Madrid reserve team) alongside Dimeji Lawal and Christopher Ohenhen after the Flying Eagles of Nigeria won silver at the Saudi ’89 FIFA Under-20 World Cup.
When we came to Madrid in 1989 after the World Youth Championship, the city was growing. Madrid is one of the best cities one can think of staying in Europe. The city is expanding and the road network is better. But now, I live at Alicante – 420 kilometers from Madrid. It is in South East coast close to Valencia.
The rivalry is intensive but not as intensive as the one that exists between Real Madrid and Barcelona. The El Clasico is a lot bigger. Real and Atletico games rarely degenerate into a brawl unlike the El Clasico. I remember a game at Vicente Calderon where Atletico play their home games. It was in the 1990-91 season and Sa Pinto was in their side. Going into that game, the rivalry was immense. We won 2-1, but I was unable to score in the game. During my time, I didn’t experience racism in Madrid not even from Atletico fans except in some few games away from the city.
For this game, about 34,000 Real fans are travelling to Lisbon by road to keep a date with Saturday’s match. The expectations among the Real fans are high, because I was at the training ground when the team was leaving for Portugal.
As for Atletico, they just won La Liga, their first since 1996, and they are hoping to add the Champions League to it. It will be an exciting match.
It will be a very tough match, but Real Madrid will win. I am tipping them for La Decima – it is a major motivation. I am a fan of Real Madrid, because it was there I learnt everything about the game.
Dimeji Lawal: Real Madrid B 24 (app) 0 (goal) 1989-1991
Lawal moved to Spain at age 18, signed with Real Madrid, and would spend two seasons with the B team, one in the Segunda División and one in Segunda División B. He was never promoted to the main squad.
Madrid is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It is a cosmopolitan town with different people from all over the world living there. The people are welcoming and their night life is very interesting. They are very relaxed, free, easy-going and accommodating. The word for them is ámbiente!
An average Spaniard likes talking and that is why their language is easy to learn and understand. When they wake up by 7am, they go to tea or coffee shops for a drink, while some of them play blackjack as they are sipping their drink. At 9am, they go to their various work places. At 3pm, they observe two hours of siesta and eventually call it a day at 8pm. From then till early hours of the morning, it is partying and clubbing.
When I was in Madrid, I frequented the Central Park. It is an imposing park – a good relaxation spot, and a good tourist attraction.
Every game with Atletico was dicey. When Paulo Futre was playing for Atletico, he was the fastest player in La Liga. And anytime Real Madrid had a game with their neighbour, Real’s first team coach invited me to their training. They believed I played like Futre, so they paired me against their left-back so he could be fully prepared for the task of marking Futre during the derby.
After Saudi ’89, where we lost to Portugal in the final, majority of their players moved to Atletico while I, Mutiu Adepoju, and Chris Ohenhen moved to Real. The rival thus continued.
My most memorable derby was our 2-1 win at their home ground, Vicente Calderon in 1990-91 season. Before the game, we were promised a huge incentive, which really motivated us.
While in Madrid, I didn’t experience any form of racism from Real or Atletico fans. Most of the people were only curious about our skin colour and texture. Most times they touch my ears, hands, cheek to be sure of what they were seeing. They called us Moreno, which just meant ‘black’ and it had no racial undertone.
Current Spain manager was our coach in the B Team. He was like a father to all of us; he nurtured us. You can’t think of a better father-son relationship than the one between Vicente Del Bosque and his players.
It will be a cracker! Atletico claimed a first La Liga title since 1996 with a 1-1 draw at Barcelona last Saturday, and they have the chance to make it a memorable double. However, Atletico will face a Real side motivated by the prospect of winning Europe’s premier club competition for a 10th time.
It will be tough match but Real will win 3-1. They have Cristiano Ronaldo, who is the best player in the world. I am a fan of Real. I am proud of the club’s culture and love the fact that I came through the ranks there.
Efforts to get Chris Ohenhen to be part of this discussion proved futile.
This is the first European Cup final featuring two teams from the same city in the 59-year history of the competition, and the fifth final featuring two sides from the same country.
This is Madrid’s 13th European Cup final, their first since 2002, while Atletico find themselves in a continental cup final for only the second time in their history, their last being in the 1973/74 season.
Real coach, Carlo Ancelotti, is aiming for his third Champions League trophy as a coach, having won it twice with Italian side AC Milan in 2003 and 2007, after winning it as a player with the Rossoneri in 1989 and 1990.
The two Madrid rivals have only met once before in European competition, back in the 1959 semi-finals. Real won the home fixture 2-1 and Atletico won the reverse 1-0, resulting in a third-leg play-off at a neutral venue, which Los Blancos won 2-1.
Real and Atletico have met on 194 occasions in Spanish League and Cup games. The Galacticos lead with 102 wins compared to Atletico’s 46, with 46 draws.
This season, the Madrid duo have met on four occasions already. Real easily overcame their rivals in the Spanish Cup, winning the home leg 3-0 and the away fixture 2-0. However, the Galacticos could not overcome them in the League, losing 1-0 at the Bernabeu and drawing 2-2 at the Vicente Calderon.
Real Madrid’s run to the final
Galatasaray 1-6 Real Madrid
Real Madrid 4-0 Copenhagen
Real Madrid 2-1 Juventus
Juventus 2-2 Real Madrid
Real Madrid 4-1 Galatasaray
Copenhagen 0-2 Real Madrid
Schalke 1-6 Real Madrid
Real Madrid 3-1 Schalke
Real Madrid 3-0 Borussia Dortmund
Borussia Dortmund 2-0 Real Madrid
Real Madrid 1-0 Bayern Munich
Bayern Munich 0-4 Real Madrid
Atletico Madrid’s run to the final
Atletico Madrid 3-1 Zenit St. Petersburg
Porto 1-2 Atletico Madrid
Austria Wien 0-3 Atletico Madrid
Atletico Madrid 4-0 Austra Wien
Zenit St. Petersburg 1-1 Atletico Madrid
Atletico Madrid 2-0 Porto
AC Milan 0-1 Atletico Madrid
Atletico Madrid 4-1 AC Milan
Barcelona 1-1 Atletico Madrid
Atletico Madrid 1-0 Barcelona
Atletico Madrid 0-0 Chelsea
Chelsea 1-3 Atletico Madrid
La Décima’ is not an obsession, it is a great motivation. We have such a big opportunity to go down in the history of this club — Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti.
It’s the fruit of the labour that we’ve been doing for nearly three years. We responded well in the Europa League a year and a half ago, if I remember rightly. We still have the same humility, the same group ethic — Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone.
I hope the Portuguese supporters will be backing Real Madrid. I hope they become Madrid fans for me and Fabio Coentrao and Pepe. Supporters win games so I hope they are behind us — Cristiano Ronaldo, Real forward.
We were able to win at the Bernabeu and draw at the Calderon (in La Liga this season), but they eliminated us from the Copa (del Rey). It will be a very tight match where we will have to fight as if it were the last game of our lives. They (Real) are the favourites with such a large staff and all that money. But we will play with our humility, our heart, and our will. They have one of the best attackers that there is. The entire team will have to defend to death — Koke, Atletico midfielder.
I think a ‘Spanish final’ shows the development of Spanish football, the power which it has in the last years. It is going to be a nice and tough final against Atletico Madrid and we will try our best — Angel Di Maria, Real forward.
I will not prepare in some special way for Ronaldo. I do not have any fear for him. Of course, he is a great player, but I am a great goalkeeper as well… — Thibaut Courtois, Atletico goalkeeper.