Cristiano Ronaldo says Real Madrid’s blend of togetherness and experience helped his side defeat Atletico Madrid to progress 4-2 on aggregate to make the 2017 Champions League final.
A roaring start from Atletico had the home side 2-0 up inside 16 minutes at a rocking Estadio Vicente Calderon through Saul Niguez’s bullet header and Antoine Griezmann’s mishit penalty, and the defending champions’ 3-0 first-leg advantage had been cut to the bare minimum.
Isco’s crucial away goal just before half-time “killed” Atletico, according to Ronaldo, and the defending champions saw out the rest of the game to reach the June 3 UCL decider against Juventus in Cardiff, Wales.
“We knew that with a goal we would kill them, we had more experience and we showed it,” Ronaldo told Cadena SER.
“Everything can happen, but I see the team well, we are strong. The players are very good, both those who play more and less often.”
Real coach Zinedine Zidane agreed with Ronaldo, praising his team’s “patience and calm” as they rode out an early scare from their neighbours.
The Los Blancos coach told his postmatch news conference that his team had not started the game as they had hoped, but they had known how to manage the situation and come through.
“We knew we were going to suffer, above all in the first 20 or 25 minutes,” Zidane said. “They scored two goals, started the game very well, better than us. They put a lot of pressure on, won a lot of second balls. And we were not as attentive as we should have been for the goal at a corner.
“But we knew that, by staying patient and calm, we would make chances. After 25 minutes things changed completely, and we found our game. Then in the second half we were much better.”
Madrid now have a chance to become the first team to retain the Champions League trophy since the competition expanded in the early 1990s, with Zidane still only less than 18 months in the job as coach.
“We’re happy to be making the final, it’s a very long path, not easy at all,” Zidane said. “And to do it two years in a row, you must congratulate all the squad. I am doing my job well, but the players are the ones who go out on the pitch, to suffer, to fight, to battle and to believe all this is possible. So we can all be happy, although we have not won anything yet.”
Zidane had praise for fellow Frenchman Karim Benzema who created the night’s key goal with a superb moment of individual skill, and also the ability of Isco and Luka Modric to hold possession in difficult moments.
“We were talking after the game and I asked Karim how he got out of there,” Zidane said with a smile. “He could not tell me either. It brought us the goal, with then Toni [Kroos] and Isco too. Isco was important in our system today, between the lines, as his position caused them problems.
“Luka has impressive calm on the ball, we know that he never gets nervous in possession. His experience was fundamental. Kroos too, Cristiano [Ronaldo], all of them.”
Zidane admitted it would be special to face his former side Juventus in the final.
“It is something special for sure,” he said. “They were also very important for me, gave me everything too. But in the end you know how this is, I am with Real Madrid now, the club of my life too. They have deserved to reach the final, we have too. It will be a nice final.”
There was also hope raised that Cardiff-born Gareth Bale would be fit to play a part in the game in his home city in three and a half weeks’ time, and could even return from his latest calf injury before La Liga ends on May 21.
“We hope we have Gareth back before the final,” Zidane said. “We have three games in a week now, and I hope he can be with us [for some of them], as it’s better that he plays a bit.
“There is a long way to go yet. We are happy with what we have done, tomorrow we will rest a bit, and on Friday we will think about Sunday’s game [at home to Sevilla]. Then we will see what happens.”
Support InfoStride News' Credible Journalism: Only credible journalism can guarantee a fair, accountable and transparent society, including democracy and government. It involves a lot of efforts and money. We need your support. Click here to Donate