Football

Pressure on Simeone to outdo Zidane, says Gary Lim

The heat is on the Atletico coach, who will be desperate to outduel the French rookie

FINAL

REAL MADRID v 
ATLETICO MADRID


(Sunday, 2.40am, StarHub TV Ch 212 
& Singtel TV Ch 112)

One has a score to settle.

The other has a point to prove.

At the San Siro on Sunday morning (Singapore time), there will be no love lost between Diego Simeone and Zinedine Zidane, two club icons battling it out for European club football's greatest prize.

In the eyes of the romantics, this Atletico Madrid battle with Real Madrid is a fitting finale to a Champions League campaign as it features a rivalry steeped in history.

Only events of recent past will bother Simeone.

The ghosts of Lisbon 2014 must still haunt him.

The Atletico coach had his fingers on the trophy, only for Real to cruelly snatch it away at the death.

Atletico led 1-0 in the final two years ago until Sergio Ramos equalised for Real in the 93rd minute. The Galacticos went on to win 4-1 in extra time.

Simeone says revenge is not on his mind, though, preferring to describe this final as an "opportunity".

He may cut a cool figure in public, but there is no denying his ferocious desire to set things right.

This time, he will be better prepared, wiser to the intricacies of the grand European stage.

Atletico may not be the favourites in this encounter, but in the dug-out, Simeone has the edge over his opposite number.

He has the experience.

His managerial career began a decade ago, and the moment he joined Atletico in 2011, Simeone started to make waves, leading them on a meteoric rise that took them to the very top.

In his first season, he guided them to Europa League triumph and, by the third campaign, he shattered the Barcelona-Real Madrid stranglehold on the La Liga title.

Such achievements cemented his position as one of the finest tacticians and motivators around.

In his time at Atletico, for whom he also enjoyed two playing stints, the Argentinian firebrand moulded a talented side that flourished because of superb teamwork, work ethic, organisation and incredible fighting spirit.

EXPERIENCED

Unlike two years ago when he was matched up against Carlo Ancelotti, Simeone, 46, will now be the more established figure on the two benches.

The pressure will be on the man who once described his style as "holding a knife between his teeth", because he will not want to suffer against an upstart that is Zidane.

Zidane will stroll onto the San Siro pitch without any baggage.

He goes into the biggest game of his short managerial career knowing that he has already surpassed expectations.

As far as rookie seasons go, the 43-year-old Frenchman isn't faring badly at all.

He was parachuted in from the 
B team to take over from Rafael Benitez halfway through the season, at a point when Real were third in the table and four points off the top.

He eventually helped the team to the La Liga runners-up spot, one point behind champions Barcelona.

He ended up accumulating more points over the first 20 league games than any other coach in Real's history - 17 wins, two draws and one loss.

He is now only one step away from adding to the club's collection of 10 European Cups, one of which he helped them win as a player in 2002.

A loss won't hurt his reputation, but a win will see his Real legend grow.

Zidane would like to make the point that he is ready for the big time.

Simeone, the one with the "knife in his teeth", will know that the pressure is on.

Did you know?

Zinedine Zidane and Diego Simeone met eight times as players, when the Frenchman played for Juventus and the Argentinian turned out for Inter Milan and Lazio in Italy's Serie A.

Simeone beat Zidane four times, losing twice.

Puyol, Buffon back underdogs Atletico

Atletico Madrid's defensive style of play has often been criticised by proponents of the Beautiful Game.

Barcelona legend Xavi Hernandez famously claimed their brand of football as not befitting of a "big club".

However, another Barca icon - former captain Carles Puyol (inset) - disagrees with his former teammate.

In an interview with goal.com, Puyol expressed his admiration for Atletico's work ethic and praised Diego Simeone for making the most out of his team, who do not have the financial muscle of Real Madrid and Barcelona.

He said: "Atletico play as a team, they all work a lot and, yes, they are not very offensive. But that is a virtue. They have quality throughout their team, but particularly at the back."

When asked if he shares Xavi's view, Puyol replied: "Not at all. I respect Simeone a lot because he knows how to make the most of the weapons at his disposal.

"Their opponents really need to study them to find a way past them.

"Since he was in Argentina, Simeone has done well. At Atleti, his work speaks for itself: Fighting it out with Barcelona and Real Madrid and still winning titles - that's amazing."

Los Rojiblancos also have another fan in Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.

While he is upset that he won't be playing in the final, which will be in Milan, the 38-year-old Italian, whose side lost to Bayern Munich in the Round of 16, told the Daily Mail that he hopes Atletico will triumph at the San Siro on Sunday morning (Singapore time).

JUSTICE

He said: 'If there is any justice, Atletico Madrid will win it.

"It must have been so hard for them to take, when they let Real Madrid back into it on 93 minutes two years ago and maybe it is their destiny to win this year.

"Losing again would be very hard for them."

Despite all the criticism, Atletico defender Filipe Luis insists that their brand of football has been a joy for fans.

The Brazilian left back told Globo: "Obviously, it is much more beautiful to look at teams who play with the ball and take the initiative, like Barcelona and Bayern.

"I like to see these two play, everyone does. But think about it from the other side.

"When you play against Barcelona, you have to put 
two defenders on Neymar and two on (Lionel) Messi." 
- Wire Services.

Champions LeagueFootballREAL MADRIDatletico madridZinedine ZidaneDiego Simeone