Real Madrid weather Atletico storm to set up Juventus final
Early goals offer hope of astonishing comeback at Vicente Calderon, but Isco kills off Diego Simeone's Champions League dream
Atletico Madrid 2 Real Madrid 1 (Real Madrid win 4-2 on aggregate)
For 40 minutes at a rocking Vicente Calderon stadium, Atletico Madrid dreamed of an incredible Champions League comeback against local rivals Real Madrid. But in the end, it was the visitors who booked their place alongside Juventus in the final.
Trailing 3-0 from the first leg at the Bernabeu, Atletico looked out of the semi-final.
However, two goals in the first 16 minutes changed everything and promised a titanic farewell for their grand old home, which was hosting its final night of European football.
A majestic header from Saul Niguez after 12 minutes got the ball rolling, while a lucky penalty from Antoine Griezmann, who slipped as he took the kick, after a foul on Fernando Torres saw Atletico roar back into the tie with barely a quarter of an hour played.
Real Madrid struck the killer blow late in the first half, when Isco bundled the ball past Jan Oblak after a sensational run from Karim Benzema. That precious away goal left Atletico needing to score five.
It proved beyond them and the main drama of the second half came when a dramatic storm swept over the stadium as the game came to an end.
Real have now knocked Atletico out of the Champions League for four successive seasons. Nevertheless, manager Diego Simeone refused to be downcast.
Jason Burt in the Daily Telegraph says: "This was a proud evening. This was a defiant evening, an elemental one also with Atletico whipping up a storm on and off the pitch, with their frenzied fans, and then the heavens opening as the minutes ran down and it became evident they were just not going to do it. There was torrential rain, thunder, lightening. It was as if the sporting Gods had been roused."
Question marks now lie over the future of Simeone and Griezmann.
"As the stadium was drenched in violent spring thunderstorms… it was hard not to feel the sense of a wider ending [for Atletico]," says Barney Ronay of The Guardian. "A farewell to all that for a glorious mini era that has been defined by these wild European nights at the Calderon and a series of glorious misses at the sharp end of this competition.
"Elite football is all about seizing these moments and Real have the chance to become the first team to retain the Champions League."
Real's boss Zinedine Zidane is now the first manager to reach back-to-back finals since Alex Ferguson in 2008 and 2009. "And has done so in his first two seasons as a coach, as he attempts to become the first to retain it," says Burt. If he succeeds he "will have to do so against his former club".
Sublime Cristiano Ronaldo puts Real Madrid on brink of final
Real Madrid 3 Atletico Madrid 0
Cristiano Ronaldo reminded the world of his brilliance as he became the first player to score back-to-back hat-tricks in the knockout stage of the Champions League to all but guarantee Real Madrid a place in this season's final.
The Portuguese striker inflicted yet more misery on local rivals Atletico Madrid, who lost to their neighbours in the 2014 and 2016 finals, and the 2015 quarter-final.
Their chances of overturning the deficit in next Wednesday's second leg are remote given the dominance of their hosts at the Bernabeu and given the fact they don't have a player of Ronaldo's class.
"Unbelievable" was how Toni Kroos described his teammate's performance. "It's great to have a player like Ronaldo," he said. "You can play well in defence, you can control the middle but you need a player who can score to get the result."
Ronaldo opened his account on ten minutes, heading Casemiro's cross past Jan Oblak. The Atletico keeper did well to keep his side in the game thereafter but Ronaldo wouldn't be denied in the final quarter, grabbing his second with a thunderous shot on 73 minutes and clinching his hat-trick four minutes from time thanks to Lucas Vazquez's assist.
Ronaldo, who scored five times in the quarter-final win over Bayern Munich, has now racked up a record 103 goals in the Champions League and more than half (52) have come in the knockout stages. He has now also equalled Lionel Messi's total of seven Champions League hat-tricks.
It shows how much he loves the big stage, although he played down his contribution when congratulated about his performance. "The team has been tremendous," he said. "It was my turn to score the goals, but the team was phenomenal. It was a perfect match, we have a good advantage, but it's not over. Atletico are very good, but we must be careful on Wednesday."
In reality Atletico were anything but good at the Bernabeu, managing just one shot on target, a fact acknowledged by their manager Diego Simeone. "We need to forget about this game," he said.
Asked about their chances of causing an upset in the second leg, he said: "It seems impossible, but it is football and football has these unexpected things that make it marvellous. Until the last drip of hope is gone, we will give it everything we have."
But it's unlikely to be enough against a Real side who are on course to become the first team in the 25-year history of the Champions League to retain the title. With the Spanish giants also well-placed to secure their first domestic crown since 2012, coach Zinedine Zidane was understandably in ebullient mood on Tuesday evening. "I am happy with what I am doing here and with the players, we played a great game," he said. And as for Ronaldo? "Cristiano is a goalscorer. He is unique."