MADRID (AP) - In four days, Real Madrid has the chance to satisfy an obsession that has eluded them for 12 years.
Madrid plays city rival Atletico Madrid in the Champions League final on Saturday, when a victory in Lisbon would provide the Spanish giant with its record 10th European Cup - or “La Decima” as it is known in Spanish.
It’s been a long wait since Zinedine Zidane scored one of football’s iconic goals to lead Madrid to its ninth title, such that even Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti noted upon his arrival in the Spanish capital: “You could taste the desire to win ‘La Decima’ in the air.”
“I remember that after we won the ninth (European Cup) that the next day we were already being asked about the 10th,” said Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas, who is the only player on the team to have played in the Glasgow final, a 2-1 victory over Bayer Leverkusen.
Madrid was doing its best to avoid terming its infatuation with perhaps the most important trophy in club football an obsessive affair, despite the very make-up of the club being shaped by it.
“It’s not an obsession, it’s a great motivation,” Ancelotti said on Tuesday. “We have a great opportunity to get into the history books of this club. It’s not an obsession but an opportunity.”
Madrid’s recent record in Europe’s top competition has only bred further impatience to increase its record trophy tally, which led FIFA to bestow it with the title of top club of the 20th century. Madrid won the European Cup six times between 1955 and ‘66, including a record five consecutive titles.
It took 32 years to win the seventh in 1998, which not only provided liberation but led to returned success in the competition.
But following the ninth cup win in 2002, Madrid went seven straight seasons without advancing from the first knockout stage despite president Florentino Perez’s enormous spending on the likes of Brazil striker Ronaldo, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The arrival of coach Jose Mourinho in 2010/11 reversed that trend with Madrid reaching the semifinals for three straight years. But never the final, until now.
“In the last couple of years we’ve played well in this competition and we are always just one step away, so I think our fans deserve to experience this, reaching a final after 12 years,” said Madrid defender Sergio Ramos. “To feel pressure would be a problem. You have to go out convinced that you can win it.”
Normally teams only produce T-shirts to commemorate final triumphs. Not Madrid, which felt such a release following the semifinal victory against Bayern that it had one ready for the players at the whistle reading “Now for the 10th!”
Now, a first final between clubs from the same city stands in the way as Atletico comes off winning its first Spanish league for 18 years with an opportunity to win its first European Cup 40 years on from its lone appearance in a final.
“La Decima is the trophy all Madridistas want,” Cristiano Ronaldo said in reference to Madrid supporters.