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Madrid rivals set for Champions League showdown

By Tom Burridge
BBC News, Madrid

image copyrightAP

When it comes to past glory in the European Cup, Madrid's two biggest clubs could not be further apart: Real Madrid 9 - Atletico Madrid 0.

The fact that Real are going for their 10th title, and Atletico their first, only adds extra spice to an already historic final, in an important year for the rivalry between the two Spanish clubs.

Real Madrid's Bernabeu stadium is surrounded by relatively affluent neighbourhoods in the north of the Spanish capital.

By contrast, Atletico's Vicente Calderon home ground, on the River Manzanares, feels like a gateway to the sprawl of mainly working-class suburbs in southern Madrid.

Just up the road from the Calderon, in his red and white Atletico home strip, Antonio Dorado Blanco sells Spain's finest fruit and veg, at a very reasonable price.

For Antonio, "there would be nothing bigger", than beating Real Madrid in the final of the Champions League.

"We would all then be able to go to our graves in peace," he jokes.

And the issue of money is never far from a football fan's lips, especially here in the Spanish capital, where Real's total annual wage bill for its players is estimated to be around five times that of its rivals Atletico.

'Outstanding season'

Like most football clubs in the world, Atletico would not even consider paying €100m (£81m: $136m) for just one player, like Real did when they bought Welsh winger Gareth Bale last summer.

image copyrightReuters
image captionAtletico fans have a reputation for being the more passionate supporters of the two teams

"Real Madrid is all the about money. They've bought their team. Our team was created, and that's what makes Atletico fans proud," says Antonio.

Even Real Madrid's former president, Ramon Calderon, admits that Atletico have done something "outstanding" this season.

The club took Spain's La Liga title last weekend for the first time in 18 years.

They are the only club to have won every game in this season's Champions League.

"It is very important to learn a lesson from this, that money in life can't buy everything," says Calderon.

"It helps, but it doesn't guarantee success."

That said, by going for a 10th European Cup, the former Real Madrid president emphasises that his club are chasing something special.

By common consensus, Atletico's fans are generally a noisier, more passionate bunch than their northern, richer rivals.

When you have won 32 Spanish league titles, 19 Spanish King's cups and taken Europe's top prize nine times, it is harder to get excited by an inevitably tougher definition of success.

media captionChampions League final: Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid preview

That said, Real Madrid fans have waited 12 long years since they last won the Champions League, and the idea of a 10th adds pressure on the players, and passion amongst the fans.

"We always want to win [the Champions League] more than the Spanish league, and more than the King's cup," says Real fan and bar owner Ivan Diaz del Cura, who begrudgingly admits he admires the passion of Atletico's fans.

Sitting alongside Ivan is his girlfriend Maria, who is sporting her red and white Atletico shirt.

The loyalties of countless families and relationships, across this city, are divided between the two clubs.

Maria is keen to point out what she sees as the main difference between the red and white fan base of Atletico and the fans of Real Madrid.

"[Real fans] are a bit pompous. They go to the games, sit down quietly, eat snacks, clap a bit, and don't cheer very much… they're boring."

'Little brother'

Of course millions of Real fans across Madrid, Spain and the world would disagree.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionReal's players arrive in Portugal knowing losing there would make their season a failure by their high standards

While working out at his gym, near his office in the north of the city, Real fan Ignacio Ruiz Esquivias admits the Bernabeu Stadium is often "quiet" during league games, "but not during the Champions [League]".

And Ignacio cannot resist dropping into the conversation his definition of the relationship between the two sets of fans in recent years:

"We saw [Atletico Madrid] as our little brother who never grew up," he jokes, "because they were never winning anything."

"We even felt bad for them, and that's something they didn't like at all."

Whatever happens in Lisbon on Saturday night, there will be a fiesta in the Spanish capital. Where exactly that party will happen is still be decided.

If Real Madrid triumph, the club's fans, dressed in white, will fill the road at Plaza de Cibeles, around the famous fountains, in front of Madrid's City Hall.

But the celebrations will turn red and white and move just 500m south, down the Castellana Avenue, to the fountain at Plaza de Neptuno, if Atletico Madrid take European football's top prize.

Losing in Lisbon would mean, by Real's stratospherically high standards, their season has been a failure.

By already winning the Spanish league, Atletico's has already been a success. Therefore there is probably more pressure on Carlo Ancelotti's Real team.

But on paper it is hard to bet against Real Madrid's "Galacticos".

And with one team seeking their first European Cup, and the other their tenth, this is an all-Madrid final that few neutral pundits will dare to predict.

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