AF Pow-wow: Our heroes of the final

Our Indios give their opinion on their Man of the Match of the Copa del Rey final

Joao Miranda scores against Real Madrid in Copa del Rey final

Miranda's magical moment (AFP/Getty Images)

It still feels good.

It probably will for a long time.

Falcao’s pass. Costa’s goal. Miranda’s header. Courtois’ saves. Juanfran’s block. Simeone’s huevos.

The AtléticoFans tribe is back to offer their choice for ‘Hero of the Final’ that finally put an end to the ‘Great White Spell’.

Billy: This was no individual effort, every single player, fan and member of coaching staff played their part, but I will do my best to name just one. Really, I could write a few paragraphs about Cholo or any of the players and it would feel deserving, but there is one I would like to highlight.

Many people have criticised him this season which I find unfair. After the derby, and his unfortunate own goal against the team who nabbed him as a 16-year-old from hometown team Kelme, many accused him of not performing to his best in matches against Real Madrid, but he proved them all wrong on Friday. I am, of course, talking about Juanfran.

Not only did he keep Cristiano Ronaldo probably as quiet as is physically possible from open play, he also saved what would’ve been a certain goal with a heroic goal-line block, and soldiered on during extra-time after a cynical kick from the winger that looked at first to have caused serious damage.

Who knows what would’ve happened had we had to play the last half an hour with an out-of-position Cata Díaz up against the world’s most expensive footballer, or had Özil’s goal-bound effort not somehow been miraculously kept out? Thankfully, on the one occasion Courtois was beaten in the second half, Juanfran was there.

Many times in his Atleti career, people have doubted the now-Spanish-international right-back, and he was even a victim of the boo boys early last season, but he has fought back admirably each time and gone above and beyond expectations. Sure, he may not have been as consistent as last year but having set such high standards, he had a tough act to follow.

Still, Juanfran has been an important part of the best defence in the country, and has another trophy to add to his impressive recent haul as a result. He showed again on Friday he is a true champion and has the spirit and determination that defines this club.

Derek: Last night I was shown a video of Thibaut Courtois’ impossible save which seems to get better every time you watch it. If there ever was a heroic save, that was it.

But there are two other heroes that deserve the spotlight for our historic win at the Bernabéu, one being Miranda, who topped off a fantastic defensive performance and an incredible personal season with the headed goal which brought an end to our 14-year losing streak against Real Madrid.

Miranda is the man holding our entire defence together. He effectively shut down Karim Benzema, and if it wasn’t for Godín’s lapse in concentration, neither the Frenchman nor Gonzalo Higuaín would have recorded a single shot on goal. While Simeone, Godín, Filipe and Juanfran and his goal line save deserve much credit, it’s been Miranda who has transformed Atleti’s infamously shoddy defence into a rock solid wall.

My other hero of the cup final is captain Gabi, the man who got the honour of receiving and lifting the trophy and presenting it to our fans.

When his teammates lifted him up on their shoulders and handed him an Atleti flag, it felt like Gabi finally got the recognition he deserves for leading Atleti to their best finish in over a decade.

The cantera product is Simeone’s general and a vocal leader on the pitch, who on Friday led by example. He made a tremendous effort to break down Madrid’s midfield play, he helped his defenders shut down Cristiano Ronaldo, and when we had our backs against the wall, he sprinted out to put pressure on Real’s centre back duo to relieve pressure on Atleti’s defensive line.

In recent years Atleti has had bad luck with most of their skippers leaving, but I’m proud to have someone, with as much heart as Gabi, as my captain.

Robel: The whole team were wonderful, so it’s difficult to single out one player as the man of the match. However, I do think a particular player’s performance deserves to be highlighted and that’s Falcao.

A player who ordinarily is known for scoring lots of goals and not much else, on Friday he delivered quite a different performance from those we’ve seen of him in previous finals.

After his brace in the Europa League final and his hat-trick in the UEFA Super Cup, we predicted him to hit similar numbers in the Copa del Rey final, even if the opponent was of a different calibre.

But this time Falcao contributed something other than goals and I think this atypical performance by him was a big part of why Atleti finally got the victory that eluded them against Madrid.

While he’s unrivalled in and around the box, Falcao’s overall play outside of it is often criticised. His detractors claim he can’t lead the line for his team and disparagingly label him a poacher.

But on Friday he definitively proved he’s a complete player. He worked his socks off, tackling, getting stuck in, holding up the ball and making all the right passes.

He created Atleti’s first goal by twisting and turning to find the room to deliver a perfect through ball to Diego Costa.

And he almost helped created another one, when he chested down Juanfran’s throw-in into the path of Koke, who then dribbled at the Madrid defence and delivered a through ball to Costa.

Falcao deserves a lot of credit for adapting and playing this different role when the team needed it the most.

Mais: Clos Gómez, for being a non-factor. No, just kidding.

It really is tough to pick out just one – no-one, no-one, no-one let the team down. We’ve said this before. This time, however, more so than at the Europa final, more than at the Super Cup, they really did come out as one unit with a singular purpose. It wasn’t about how one star player could shine in a final. They were a team with a unique opportunity to take down a Goliath.

And, strange as it may sound, for the first time, at least since I’ve been a fan, it didn’t feel like Atleti were the underdogs. I’ve never been more impressed – the intensity, the push – I don’t care if it sounds cheesy, they were warriors suited up for battle.

It was hard to take my eyes off Gabi, but Arda, especially – a player I admit I’ve criticised – had me stunned. We’ve seen this season how his creativity can come at a cost, slowing down play, not to mention the fatigue that sets in midway through the second half. None of that on Friday, though. He was almost rabid, constantly fighting.

That said, if I had to choose just one hero, it would be Diego Costa. I wouldn’t say it was his best performance – it certainly wasn’t his flashiest – but he was focused and in sync with his teammates. His goal reset the game. I might even go as far as to say it may have been the match-winning goal. Not to take anything away from Miranda, of course, but I think it was Costa who really made the difference this time.

Also a bonus that he was so well behaved, no retaliatory expectorating or anything.

Martin: While a strong argument can be made for several of our Copa starters, my vote would have to go to Thibaut Courtois.

All of Thibaut’s previous encounters against Real Madrid had been nightmares. His first trip to the Bernabéu saw him get harshly sent off and called for a penalty after about 20 minutes of play, when we were winning 1-0. We went on to lose 4-1.

‘Tibu’ and Atleti fared no better later in the season when Real visited the Calderón and Ronaldo netted a hat trick in another heavy 4-1 loss.

Cristiano haunted Courtois again at the Bernabéu in December with an unstoppable free kick to break the deadlock of a clash that ended 2-0.

And then of course there was last month’s derby defeat at ‘Cholo Castle’, where a helpless Thibaut watched an unlucky deflection by Juanfran end up in the back of the net, tying the game at 1-1. We eventually fell to our arch-rivals by a score of 2-1.

But when it mattered most, our Belgian wonder was at his finest, making two mesmerising saves in the extra time period to deny Higuaín and Özil, thereby attaining the ultimate redemption.

A friend recently asked me, “Doesn’t it suck that Courtois doesn’t even belong to Atleti?” My gut reaction was to respond: “Doesn’t it suck to be so ugly and stupid?” But I didn’t say that. I thought about it, and while it does indeed suck that he is only on loan with us, few players on the current squad have identified themselves with the red and white stripes more than Courtois — a player that I would regard as our young goalkeeper.

Susanne: I think everyone deserves praise for this fantastic match. Everyone, without exception, did a hell of a job. In my opinion there are several people who stuck out from the crowd. Thibaut Courtois and Miranda were already named above.

Courtois protected the scoreline when Atleti equalised and again later on when we had the advantage with some awesome saves. I, from my spot behind the goal, had already written off those shots as landed in the net. That guy will be the best goalkeeper on this planet in a few years!

Miranda of course needs some extra mention for the goal that brought all of us to cloud nine, from which we haven’t really come down yet. I have been impressed by his performance all season. Great to see that he was able to show us again in the derby.

But I think Juanfran also deserves special mention. Remember, that guy is not a natural right-back! He might not be the best defender on the planet but he makes up for it with his spirit, and he did an incredible job in the final! He gave everything he had, and was running and fighting like there was no tomorrow. Additionally, he blocked that shot from Özil, a 250% sure goal.

It says everything about last Friday and Saturday that I have been back at home for two days now and my voice is still hoarse from screaming. Still can’t believe what I saw last weekend in Madrid…

Ricky: I will try to help the readers who weren’t as lucky as I was  to grasp the experience of what it was like to live the match in person.

The first undisputed hero of the final arrived before any of the players made their way to the stadium: the fans. Waves and waves of people in red and white flowed from the northern districts of the capital, reaching the Santiago Bernabéu amid deafening chants that echoed all night long.

Fan zones were not set up, in the hopes of avoiding clashes between opposing fans, but there is a long-held tradition of marching down to the Bernabéu before derbies from the northern Plaza Castilla. A one-kilometre walk, parading flags and banners, reaching enemy ground, new land to conquer. And tens of thousands upheld that tradition.

Even the most veteran fans would agree — those who saw Atleti touch glory in Hamburg, those who remember the long drive to Monte Carlo, those who cried when the Doblete was achieved versus Albacete, or those who still remember the spirit of ’92 — the atmosphere that the supporters created before, during and after the final, was as electric and thrilling as the best memories anyone can recall.

And the aftermath has left a sound, a definite taste of victory, squaring all debts with the past. Not just another Cup. We feel like kings of Spain, capable of anything.

Atleti are walking out of the fog, they seem to have finally found the long-lost map and are back on track to claim their place in history.

These days, everyone looks at Simeone, the architect of this miracle, or they remember Courtois’ miraculous saves, wishing for him to stay. We still marvel at how fast Diego Costa ran, how Miranda crossed the ball, or Koke’s stunning pass preceding it.

People talk about those small battles Arda Turan, Filipe, Juanfran, Gabi or so many others fought, inch by inch, that always ended with a red-and-white beating out his white opponent.

When everyone looks at this or that player, or at the coach, who were all superb last Friday, I prefer to look up at the stands, where the roar sounds, and remember the banner once again: Neptune reigns the sea, we do so in the capital. Long live Atleti!


  • Alex21

    Totally got a half chub reading this article. Brilliant.

  • DJ_ZA

    Damn right it still feels good!! So good, that I actually get depressed 🙁 My football highs always send me to the lowest of lows … you shoulda seen me after 2010 world cup. Anyway, 3 days of having the best chocolate cake in the world for breakfast (mine, of course…no room for modesty) has brought me out of the doldrums.

    I’ve re-watched the final so many times, yet I wouldn’t be able to pick a ‘Hero’ either. It sounds a bit clichéd to say it was a ‘Team Effort’, but it REALLY was. From Diego Costa’s behaviour (well on the pitch anyway), Falcao’s efforts outside the box, Juanfran’s dogged determination to continue the fight, all the incredible goal-bound saves, Cholo’s almost magical influence, the brilliant encouragement from the fans …. I can just keep going…… Courtois, Miranda, Godin, Filipe, Juanfran, Arda, Gabi, Koke, Mario, Costa, Falcao…. every inch (well almost) of the Bernanéu was covered by a Rojiblanco who was determined to be THE CHAMPION.

    And it feels good! Damn Good! it feels this good because it was such a hard-fought victory…a victory they can’t brush off as ‘nothing’. This time ATLETI are the champions and they have nothing.

    Merengues 1 – Rojiblancos 2

    Aupa Atleti!

  • Alex21

    No doubt that every single player played a hell of a game. Defense was immaculate, midfield created chances, and our attackers did what they do best – piss off the opposing defense. I personally believe Simeone had the greatest impact.

    There was a clearly established game plan going into this one. In past darbies it almost feels like hot potato with the ball, win possession then boot it long. But the final was different. Every single person knew their position. Passes were more crisp. Players weren’t afraid to dribble against the tough Madrid defense.

    However, what really told me that Simeone had complete control of this game was the fact that a substitution hadn’t been made until the second half…of overtime. He had faith in his starting 11 to hold down the fort until the time was ready. The subs were merely used for time management, but it was as if this were in the game plan the ENTIRE game. That’s coaching and Simeone displayed it beautifully. The passion he showed on the sidelines could change a blanco fan into an Atleti supporter throughout the game. The chemistry this team has blows my mind, but makes me want to support harder and louder.

    The writing was on the wall for Atlético. Everyone stepped up and put together a performance that won’t be forgotten for decades. It all happened with our coach.

  • Atleti-Rus

    I wouldn’t say that defence was immaculate. What about the crossbar shots and crazy Juanfran save? And saves by Courtois? What we really need to praise is luck, since this time it was clearly on our side. It was a good all-team effort, but without luck it would’ve been another tragic defeat.

  • Javi

    I agree, its almost a week later and my throat is still affected. It was impressive to see more than half of the bernabeu in red and white jumping up and down and singing our hearts out. It was great in monaco too a couple of years ago, but this one tops that final by a long shot. I agree, the fans made a big difference as the players acknowledged us after the game.
    I had no doubt we were in for a different derby this time as Atleti preasured Madrid for every inch from the starting minute, its the way we have to play them, and it works, and Madrid players did not really know what to think-they probably thought we were going to lay down after their first goal…but not this time.
    What was also beautiful was watching the strange looks on the madridistas’ fan faces to the overwhelming spirit of our team and fans in their home…unforgetable.
    Aupa Atleti,

  • Ahmad Hossainy

    at the end of the season many clubs make a vote for their fans to choose player of the year .. unfortunately Atleti do not

    but if they do I’ll vote for Miranda

    although Atleti is the 3rd in La Liga table but they are only the 5th strongest attack after Barca, R.Madrid, R.Sociedad & Valencia
    we scored only 62 goals in 36 games that means 1.72 goal per game .. very low average
    not just that, but we scored 23 goals of these 62 (37%) in only 6 games (4 fours, 1 five & 1 six) and suffered in 18 matches in which we scored one or none

    so if it wasn’t for our defense and goalkeeper, Atleti would not be where are they right now
    62 goals never put you in third place unless you have a damn good defense

    some could say : what about Courtois?!
    well, Courtois had an amazing season, but we had De Gea before him who is not less than him and he recived 53 goals

    because Miranda wasn’t there

    I’m not saying our midfielders & strikers were bad, in fact they were good,
    *another amazing season for Falcao, he had some bad games after his injury but after the cup final we all forgot them
    *Diego Costa: 18 goals 9 assists & 6 penalties won
    *Koke is in the top 6 assistant in La Liga
    *Mario played his first game with La Roja, who have the best midfielders in the history of football
    *Arda did not had a great season but he suffered many injuries
    *and what can I say about Courtois, Filipe & Gabi !

    but for all these players you can always say :
    “They Could do Better”
    you can say : Falcao could score more goals from the many easy chances he missed
    you can say : Costa could get much less yellow cards
    you can say : Courtois is the only goalie Ronaldo managed to score a free-kick goal against him in more than a year (twice, in last season & this one)
    you can say : Gabi had seen the red card twice this season, too many for the captain of the team .. and one of them was in the cup final

    you can say that about all the players except for one : Miranda

    I can’t remember a bad game for him, better yet I can’t find a bad moment, a single mistake

    and for that he is my hero .. in the cup final and in the whole season.

    sorry for the long comment, but he deserves it


  • Ahmad Hossainy

    @Ahmad Hossainy
    I’m sorry
    we scored (27) of our 62 goals in 6 games
    4 fours vs Athletic, Rayo, Betis & Sevilla
    1 five vs Granada
    1 six vs Deprotivo

    that’s 44% of our goals

    even worse !!

  • piserakos

    i agree. miranda mvp of the season… about the final i would vote for juanfran(billy said why)… a good i idea would be for atleti to do a vote in order to the fans vote for the mvp of the season

  • Andres (Lolaya)

    Falcao is the king of easy chances. You see all the other good strikers missing plenty of more “easy” chances in games than Falcao.

  • Willen

    I would mention Koke a little. He is our first team player and a canterano. This means a lot.
    He is in the position of Diego, considered a top player last season. And he is performing very nice. Crossed the ball to Miranda – one more assist to his account. I enjoy watching a boy like him succeeding. It’s pretty hard for the canteranos and Koke shows they should keep believing.

  • ali_

    yeah im very glad that koke is performing so well. hopefully he will stay for a long time. also its nice to see that arda is really enjoying his time now.
    i hope next year juanfran is gonna be one of the vice captains. he absolutely deserves it.