May the fourth be with them
Can Atletico end the Real Madrid hoodoo after three failed attempts?
|REAL MADRID||ATLETICO MADRID|
In recent seasons, Atletico Madrid have trumped illustrious giants of the European game past and present, beating AC Milan, Chelsea, Juventus, Bayern Munich and twice knocking out Barcelona.
However, a Champions League triumph continues to elude Diego Simeone's men, no thanks to city rivals Real Madrid.
Now, for the fourth year running, the Rojiblancos' illustrious neighbours block their path to European glory.
Real host Atletico in the first leg of the semi-finals tomorrow morning (Singapore time), having beaten them 5-3 on penalties in last year's final and 4-1 in extra time in the 2014 showpiece when defender Sergio Ramos' 93rd-minute equaliser denied Atletico a first Champions League crown.
Former Real striker Javier Hernandez was Atletico's scourge in the 2014/15 season, scoring the only goal in a two-legged quarter-final.
Atletico have shaken off their inferiority complex against Real in every other competition under Simeone, beating them twice in the Copa del Rey and winning four of their last eight league derbies, but not in Europe's elite arena.
Atletico defender Jose Gimenez, who will miss tomorrow morning's match through injury, said that his team are determined to set the record straight.
"We are hungry for success," said the 22-year-old Uruguayan. "Our desire to keep on growing, fighting and competing remains the same, whatever tournament we're in.
"We are a very competitive team on every front, regardless of whether it's a friendly or a Champions League game.
"That's the most important thing. We keep improving that desire to compete so we can achieve the goals we set at the beginning of the season."
While Atletico are waiting to win the European Cup for the first time, Real want a 12th triumph to become the first team to retain the trophy in the Champions League era.
The winners of the two-legged tie will face Monaco or Juventus, who play each other on Thursday morning.
Real coach Zinedine Zidane said yesterday that their recent Champions League record over Atletico is of no advantage to his side for the first leg tomorrow morning.
"What happened in the past is in the past, we can't rely on that now," said Zidane.
"It has been positive for us, but now, it is a completely different tie and they will be doing their utmost to go through as well.
"The extra motivation comes from it being a Champions League semi-final."
Gareth Bale and Pepe are expected to miss the clash through injury, but Atletico have more injury worries with defenders Gimenez, Juanfran and Sime Vrsaljko sidelined.
Simeone, however, is boosted by the return of France striker Kevin Gameiro, who scored twice in a 5-0 thrashing of Las Palmas in his first start for six weeks last Saturday.
Zidane is expecting another tight battle between the two most consistent sides in the Champions League over the past four years.
"In the past four or five years, they have been a very good side that have improved every year," said the Frenchman.
"They always give us a hard game. The strength they have is that they never give up, no matter what happens.
"They fight, battle, they know their strengths and use them as best they can." - WIRE SERVICES