team from slipping down into the relegation zone – but instead something much more ambitious.
The former Atletico midfielder – a hero for the fans for his role in the 1996 league-and-cup-double – did not mention his long-term plan in public, because many people might have questioned his sanity had he done so.
His long-term goal was nothing less than to change the balance of football power in the Spanish capital, by equipping Atletico to
compete permanently with illustrious neighbours Real, and ultimately emerge from their shadow.
After three years of success that even Simeone could not have expected, he is close to his objective. His hard-working,
never-say-die team has beaten Real six times now – four of them this present season – en route to winning last term’s Spanish league, the 2013 cup and 2014 Supercup.
However, there remains one competition in which Simeone’s battlers have still not beaten Los Merengues: the Champions League.
Simeone was just two minutes away from doing this last May, in the final in Lisbon.
His team were close to clinching Atletico’s first Champions League crown – until an agonizing Sergio Ramos equalizer in stoppage time led to extra-time, in which the Whites prevailed 4-1.
“What I would give to play that match again,” mused Simeone some months later.
“But I think we will have another chance to beat them in the Champions League, sooner or later.”
Well, that chance has now come, with Atletico hosting Real in Tuesday’s quarter-final first leg, in what will be a packed Estadio
“I’m not obsessed with revenge for Lisbon,” Simeone said when the Madrid teams were paired together in the Uefa draw.
“After all, we have beaten them four times since them. But what I would like is to finish our bad luck in the Champions League, once and for all.”
That bad luck started in 1959, when Atletico were edged out by Real in the semi-finals. Real, winners of the first three editions, beat Atletico 2-1 in the first leg but were defeated 1-0 in the second leg, at Atletico’s old Estadio Metropolitano.
Under current rules, Atletico would have gone through on the away goals rule. Instead, a playoff was organized in Zaragoza – and
Atletico lost 2-1.
Atletico’s foul luck in the competition continued in 1974. They managed to reach the final, in Brussels against Bayern Munich, and
were one minute away from finishing as 1-0 winners in extra-time.
However, a speculative long shot from Bayern defender Georg Schwarzenbeck then eluded Atletico keeper Miguel Reina and gave the German champions a 1-1 draw.
Atletico crashed 4-0 in the replay two nights later, in what was an ominous taste of things to come in Lisbon 40 years later.
But now Simeone, who masterminded Atletico’s Europa League triumph in 2012, has the chance to finally lead Atletico to European Cup glory – if they can see their way past Real for the first time.
“All I will say is that it is going to be a very close tie, probably decided in one or two small details,” Simeone said about the
quarter-finals after Saturday’s 2-2 La Liga draw at Malaga.
Simeone has transformed Atletico from midtable mediocrity to league and cup winners. He has committed his long-term future to the club by extending his contract until 2020.
His challenge now, starting on Tuesday, is to finally get past Real in the Champions League, the most prestigious competition of all. – DPA-ANA
Original source: Simeone plotting Real’s downfall