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So that’s it folks, Real Madrid are the 2015-16 Champions League winners for the 11th time in their history after beating city rivals Atletico on penalty-kicks last weekend. Once again, Europe’s premier club competition provided some of the highlight’s of the football season as we now take a look back at this season’s tournament.
FLORENZI WONDER GOAL ILLUMINATES THE GROUP STAGE
Roma’s Alessandro Florenzi was the talk of the group stage after the Italian international scored a wonder goal against Barcelona at the Stadio Olimpico on matchday one. An incredible lob over goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen from the halfway line was a strike good enough to win the final itself and was voted goal of the year at the Balon d’Or ceremony. The Catalan giants to revenge on the Italian’s in the return match with a 6-1 demolition show at the Camp Nou.
GOALS ALWAYS ON THE MENU WHEN REAL MADRID ARE IN TOWN
Real Madrid eased through the group stage, rifling in 19 goals in the process; Shakhtar Donetsk shipped four at the Bernabeu and Malmo broke all records (for the wrong reasons) by conceding eight to a rampant Real inspired as ever, by their talisman Cristiano Ronaldo. Five wins from six matches left Los Blancos as the undisputed kings of group A. Atletico Madrid were surprisingly beaten at home by Benfica in their opening game but recovered to top group C with 13 points. The highest profile casualty of the group stages was undoubtedly Manchester United, who lost defender Luke Shaw to an horrific broken leg on matchday one against PSV Eindhoven. Louis van Gaal’s team never really recovered from that setback and missed the cut to the knockout-stages after a final-day defeat at Wolfsburg.
ROUND OF LAST 16 THROWS UP SOME EPIC CONTESTS
The knockout-phase of this season’s competition set up some mouth-watering ties. Real and Atletico both got lucky being drawn against Roma and PSV Eindhoven respectively. Others were not so fortunate; Arsenal was paired with Barcelona, Chelsea, under new coach Gus Hiddink fished out Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus entertained Bayern Munich. The second-leg of this encounter at the Allianz Arena was one of the matches of the tournament as the German giants recovered from being two goals down on aggregate, to rescue the tie in the dying minutes and force extra-time. They eventually overcame the Italians 4-2 on the night, 6-4 on aggregate. Real Madrid carried on their goalscoring exploits under recently installed coach Zinedine Zidane, by despatching Roma 4-0 on aggregate whilst Atletico were taken to penalties by PSV after 180 goalless minutes; a signpost to the future for Diego Simeone’s team.
QUARTER-FINAL CHAOS AT THE CAMP NOU
Barcelona cruised into the last eight with a comfortable aggregate win over Arsenal to set up an all-Spanish affair against Atletico Madrid. Luis Enrique’s men were strongly fancied on the best football betting sites to progress. The first leg at the Camp Nou was as bad tempered as ever when these two meet and within the opening 30 minutes, Atletico striker Fernando Torres had given his side a surprised lead and got himself two yellow cards to ensure he had the dressing room to himself for the rest of the match. The game became increasingly volatile as Barcelona pressed with a man advantage and they ultimately overcame the visitors thanks to a brace from Luis Suarez. The return meeting in the Spanish capital was sure to be an explosive evening and it didn’t disappoint, as two goals from French striker Antoine Griezmann gave Atletico a memorable win. Barcelona were left seething after match referee Nicola Rizzoli failed to spot a hand-ball inside the penalty area in the dying seconds as the defending champions went out of the competition. Whilst all this excitement was going on, Real Madrid were brushing aside Wolfsburg with the minimum of fuss as the semi-finals came onto the horizon.
RONALDO HEADS BACK TO MANCHESTER
We were down to the fab-four which saw Real Madrid paired with Manchester City and Atletico with Bayern Munich. The build-up to Real’s trip to the Etihad was dominated by Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Manchester after a successful career across the city at Old Trafford. Hours before kick-off, the Portuguese superstar failed a fitness test and had to watch the match from the sidelines. A cagey game finished goalless but the visitors should have returned to Spain with a first-leg advantage. CR7 was back for the return leg in Madrid but it was the club’s other record signing, Welshman Gareth Bale, who’s shot (with a little help from Fernando) settled the tie.
ATLETICO DRAW THE SHORT STRAW AGAIN
Atletico Madrid, having already despatched one European superpower, had to eliminate another as they faced Bayern Munich. Simeone’s team are in their element when they are underdogs and in a raucous atmosphere at the Estadio Vicente Calderon, a brilliant solo effort from midfielder Saul Niguez gave the hosts a narrow advantage to take to Germany. The betting exchanges still tipped Bayern to progress to the final in Milan and those predictions looked justified, when a Xabi Alonso free-kick levelled the tie just after the half-hour mark. Three minutes later, striker Thomas Muller had a golden opportunity to put his team in front for the first time from the penalty-spot but Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak denied him with a wonderful reflex save. Pep Guardiola is a keen student of the game; he hadn’t done his homework however, when a brilliant counter-attacking move gave Atletico a precious away goal courtesy of Griezmann. Lewandowski gave Bayern hope with a goal 16 minutes from time but it was Simeone’s men who were heading to the final.
HEARTBREAK FOR ATLETICO ONCE AGAIN
The final act was cruel if you’re a fan of Atletico Madrid. Firstly, your team goes a goal behind to a strike from Sergio Ramos who was clearly in an offside position, then you’re top striker misses a penalty shortly after half-time before you (deservedly) get back into the match with 11 minutes remaining, only to lose in a penalty shoot-out. Those are the bare facts of last weekend’s showpiece at the San Siro as Real Madrid, inspired by the brilliant Gareth Bale, broke Atletico hearts for the second time in three years. The cruel irony of it was that this was Simeone’s side’s best display in the competition all season, as they threw off their defensive shackles to take the game to Real Madrid. The history books will show that Los Blancos won their 11th Champions League title, the reality however, is that the team that got all the unlucky breaks en-route to Milan, won many admirers in defeat.
— Real Madrid C.F. (@realmadriden) May 30, 2016
Steve Mitchell @barafundler