La Décima! Atlético claimed their tenth Copa del Rey title on Friday with a heroic 1-2 victory over their rivals Madrid in an eventful derby final. They did their fans proud; it was only the Colchoneros whose songs could be heard throughout the night.
The Rojiblancos’ cathartic triumph over the Merengues was their first of this millennium, and they had to fight hard for it; the winning goal only arrived in extra time.
Cristiano opened the proceedings in the 14th minute. His headed goal from an Özil corner put Madrid in the lead with the first chance of the game.
Mario had cheaply surrendered the ball to his opposition, who then launched one of their characteristic counter-attacks. However, Miranda was on hand to send the ball out for a corner kick.
But Özil’s ensuing delivery was met by Cristiano, who left Godín behind and underneath him to head the ball towards the far corner and past an onlooking Courtois.
The next 20 minutes saw Madrid sit back and defend, waiting patiently for opportunities to counter-attack while their defence comfortably repelled Atlético’s offence.
In previous derbies, including those played this season, a lead for the Vikings meant game over for the Colchoneros. But on this occasion, things were different; Atleti were different.
An equaliser just had to be on the cards, and in the 35th minute, it finally came.
Mario, earlier the schlemiel, dispossessed Cristiano with a classy sliding challenge that didn’t touch the Madrid forward.
The Rojiblanco midfielder then passed the ball to Falcao, who twisted and turned to shake off Khedira and Raúl Albiol before sending a perfectly weighted through ball to Diego Costa.
Bolting away from the right, the Brazilian forward left Fabio Coentrão in his wake and fired a left-footed shot towards the far corner that went off the inside of the post and into Diego López’ goal.
It was Diego Costa’s eighth goal of this season’s Copa del Rey campaign, making him the top goalscorer of the cup competition in which he has shone in every round.
Shortly after, Arda Turan was booked by referee Clos Gómez for raising his boot too high while contending for a ball with Sergio Ramos. The Madrid defender went down clutching his face, but replays revealed that his face had in fact not been struck.
After the Rojiblancos’ equaliser, the only opportunities in the remaining part of the first half were for the Blancos. Modrić made his way to the edge of the box and thumped a shot across Courtois’ goal that went wide. A few minutes later, Özil hit a perfect volley that had Colchoneros holding their breath as it bounced off the post.
For Atlético, additional chances only started to come in the second half.
First, an incoming Filipe on the left received a pass from Gabi that he failed to control well, before hitting a tame shot which was saved.
Moments later, from a well-worked set piece with Arda, Koke sent in a low cross from the right into the Madrid box and towards Miranda, who couldn’t get the ball under control.
Then, Arda sent away Gabi on the right. The captain seemed to over-hit his cross, but he reached Filipe. The Brazilian left-back cleanly volleyed the ball, but only managed to touch the outside of the side netting.
The best chances were reserved for Madrid though.
An hour into the game, Cristiano chased down a ball on the left and managed to get past Miranda just enough to send in a cross which deflected off Gabi. The ball fell to Benzema, who from close range could only direct his shot at the post.
The rebound dropped to Özil, who feinted past Courtois and Filipe and looked certain to score with a left-footed shot, only for Juanfran to make a brilliant goal-line clearance with his left knee.
A while later, Madrid struck the post yet again. The Merengues were awarded a free kick after Godín fouled Benzema just outside of the box. Cristiano’s clever delivery passed under the Colchonero wall and bounced off the post into Essien’s path, who rushed his shot high over the crossbar.
While Madrid grew frustrated at their missed opportunities, Atlético only became more determined and assertive in their quest for victory. It was obvious only one side would come out of this encounter victorious.
Perhaps the Vikings sensed this, as they increasingly turned to foul play and kicking their opponents in the latter stages of the second half. This led to many bookings for Madrid players and a sending off of their manager Mourinho for remonstrating with the referee too forcefully.
The Rojiblancos had a number of corner kicks in stoppage time to finish their opposition off, but nothing came of their set pieces. It was clear this confrontation was going to be decided in extra time.
And only 5 minutes into extra time, it almost was. Falcao received Juanfran’s throw-in and delivered the ball to Koke, who drove past Khedira and threaded it through to the Madrid defence to give Diego Costa a shot at doubling his tally for the night.
But the Brazilian couldn’t get his efforts past Diego López, who carried out an excellent double save. Costa’s initial left-footed attempt bounced off the Merengues’ custodian and his following right-footed attempt was deflected wide.
A few minutes later, in the 98th minute, Atlético finally got in the lead and set what was to be the final score of the game, with a set piece.
A Colchonero counter-attack culminated in Sergio Ramos knocking a high pass into Koke’s path, but Essien got ahead of the young midfielder and sent the ball out for a corner kick.
As per usual, Atlético’s top assister delivered the corner kick from the right, but Higuaín kicked it away and back into Koke’s feet, who then struck a perfect right-footed cross into the box for Miranda to glance into goal.
While the Rojiblancos were now in the lead, their job, and particularly that of their Belgian goalkeeper, wasn’t finished. Some marvelous Thibauting was required to prevent the Blancos from equalising.
First, a misdirected Xabi Alonso pass was flicked on by Koke to Godín, who inexplicably sent it into Higuaín’s path. The Argentine forward’s volley from point-blank range was blocked by Courtois’ left shin.
A little later, in the second half of extra time, substitute Adrián relinquished the ball to Madrid. Di María played a one-two with Cristiano, darted away on Atlético’s right flank and sent in a low cross for Özil to meet on the other side.
It was the German number ten’s misfortune that he faced an unleashed Courtois, who pulled off an amazing diving save only two meters in front of Özil.
Sadly, things turned ugly in the final phase of the game, as a rudderless and exasperated Madrid saw their star player Cristiano get sent off for shoving his studs into Atlético captain Gabi’s face. The opposing benches confronted each other, but fortunately the situation did not escalate.
In the closing stages, however, Madrid staff continued after their ejected boss’ example, protesting to and harassing match officials over every decision the referee made. Meanwhile, Courtois had to receive treatment after a coin was flung at his head from the stands.
Remarkably, Gabi was sent off in extra time, as well. He was informed by the referee that what he thought was his first bookable offence, was actually his second.
But ultimately, none of these ugly scenes were able to stain a glorious night for Atlético, in which a triumphant Rojiblanco team discarded one recent tradition of derby defeats and continued another of winning finals, three out of three in the past year and five out of six in the past three years.
Line-up: Courtois; Juanfran, Miranda, Godín, Filipe; Koke (“113 Raúl García), Gabi, Mario, Arda (“111 C. Rodríguez); Diego Costa (“105+2 Adrián) and Falcao
Goals: 1-0 Cristiano (“14); 1-1 Diego Costa (“35); 1-2 Miranda (“98)