Spaniards with little to cheer for in Champions League final
MADRID (AP) — It will be an unusual Champions League final for Spain.
Madrid will be hosting the final again after nearly a decade, but the country’s streak of having at least one team playing for the European title ended this year after five straight seasons, giving home fans little to cheer for when Liverpool faces Tottenham at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium on Saturday.
The all-English matchup will be the first Champions League final without a Spanish club since 2013, when Bayern Munich defeated Borussia Dortmund in a match between German teams.
Since then, Real Madrid made it to the final four times, Atletico Madrid twice and Barcelona once.
“We were used to seeing Real Madrid in the final all these years,” said Francisco Javier Diaz de Castro, a 55-year-old Real Madrid supporter. “It’s a weird feeling to think that this time we won’t see it fighting for the Champions League trophy. When we finally get to watch the final in Madrid, the team struggles and can’t make it. I guess that’s how it goes in soccer.”
Real Madrid won four titles in its recent streak, beating Atletico in 2014 and 2016, Juventus in 2017 and Liverpool in 2018. Barcelona lifted the trophy in 2015, and it had also won it in 2006, 2009 and 2011.
There was at least one Spanish club in seven of the last 10 Champions League finals.
This time, tough, as the Spanish capital prepares to host its first final since Inter Milan defeated Bayern Munich at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in 2010, Spanish clubs are already starting to plan their offseason.
On Saturday, there are only two Spanish players with a chance of playing in the final — Tottenham forward Fernando Llorente and Liverpool defender Alberto Moreno.
Here’s a look at some of the reasons why there won’t be any Spanish clubs in this year’s final in Madrid:
After dominating in the domestic competitions in recent years, Barcelona turned its focus on trying to win the Champions League again. It last won the competition in 2015, when it defeated Juventus in the final in Berlin.
Barcelona cruised through a group that included finalist Tottenham, Inter Milan and PSV Eindhoven, winning four matches and drawing two to end six points ahead in first place. It also didn’t face major difficulties as it got past Lyon in the round of 16 and Manchester United in the quarterfinals, being able to make it to the semifinals after three straight eliminations in the last eight.
The team’s dominance continued in the first leg of the semifinals against Liverpool, when it won 3-0 at the Camp Nou and looked set to finally return to the final. But the team collapsed in England, losing 4-0 to see its title hopes vanish.
“We are still recovering from what happened in Liverpool. At least I am,” Lionel Messi said last week. “Our performance was lamentable. It was a very tough loss for us.”
The three-time defending champions never really got close to making it to the final.
In a frustrating season that included two coaching changes, Real Madrid couldn’t advance past the round of 16 in the European competition, being eliminated after a demoralizing 4-1 loss to Ajax at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.
It had won its group against Roma, Viktoria Plzen and CSKA Moscow, but its campaign included consecutive losses to CSKA — 1-0 in Russia and 3-0 at the Bernabeu.
The early Champions League elimination led to the return of coach Zinedine Zidane, who was at the helm when the club won its last three European titles.
After four straight seasons reaching at least the quarterfinals, Atletico was coming off a disappointing group-stage elimination and was hopeful of playing in the final again at its own stadium.
It qualified from a group that included Borussia Dortmund, Club Brugge and Monaco, but the draw for the round of 16 set up an encounter against Juventus and old foe Cristiano Ronaldo. Things went well in the first leg, with the Spanish team winning 2-0 at home, but Ronaldo thrived in the return match, scoring a hat trick in a 3-0 win that ended Atletico’s hopes.
Valencia was the only other Spanish club in the Champions League this season, and it couldn’t get past a group that included Juventus, Manchester United and Young Boys. It finished third, ahead only of the Swiss club.
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