Two minutes from glory

The clock was about to strike 90 at Lisbon’s Estadio Da Luz as the fourth official held up his board to indicate that there would be five minutes of stoppage time in the 2014 Champions League final.

Five minutes was not what Atletico wanted. Ever since Diego Godin had capitalised on Iker Casillas’ early mistake to put his side a goal up in the first half, Los Rojiblancos had been counting down the seconds and most in the stadium were shocked when five minutes were shown. Real Madrid fans were happily surprised. Atletico fans, and players, were worried.

Their concern was justified. With 92 minutes and 48 seconds on the clock, the scores were levelled as Sergio Ramos headed a Luka Modric corner past Thibaut Courtois. Every Atletico player was back defending, but nobody could get close enough to the Blancos defender and current captain as he leapt in the air to steer the ball into the bottom corner and to scribble his name all over the Madrid history books.

Ramos’ goal did more than merely level the scores. His header had left his rivals numb. An emotionally and physically shattered Atletico took to the field for extra time and, after fighting on for the first period, they were picked apart by Gareth Bale, Marcelo and Cristiano Ronaldo in the final 10 minutes. Like a spider waiting until the fly has exhausted itself before devouring its prey, Real Madrid pounced as soon as Atletico’s burnout was complete.

The two teams meet again in this week’s final in Milan and Atletico hope, and expect, things to be different when they enter stoppage time this Saturday. Given that Atletico are not the kind of team to soar into multiple goal leads, it is likely that if Atletico are to finally lift the Champions League trophy that they will have to once again attempt to navigate stoppage time with a one goal advantage.

This time, however, you can bet that they will be better prepared for such a scenario, while they may also have the advantage of having a spare substitution. In 2014 Diego Simeone was quickly out of substitutes, having had to make an unplanned ninth minute change when Diego Costa pulled up with injury.

Had he had one spare substitution to use in stoppage time then Atletico could have taken an important breather during that stoppage time, while they could also have cut it down by as much as a minute. Referees should, of course, add further additional time to the already announced stoppage time if pauses in play occur during that stoppage time, but they rarely do so, particularly in important European ties. Simeone knows this all too well, as he has kept at least one substitution for stoppage time in every single one of Atletico’s matches in the knockout rounds of this season’s Champions League.

It won’t erase the pain of 2014 if Atletico can come out the other end of this Saturday’s stoppage time with a win, but it will certainly kick start the biggest party in Atletico’s history. They were two minutes away from hosting it in 2014.