Atlético Madrid return to Champions League action on Wednesday night, hosting Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich side in a mammoth semi-final first leg at the Vicente Calderón.
The two teams meet for the first time since the 1974 final, when a controversial last-gasp goal deprived Atleti of glory and helped the Bavarians to the first of their five European cup titles.
Kick-off in the Spanish capital is set for 20:45 CET.
Club football’s top prize was within touching distance, but in the last kick of the game, Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck broke red and white hearts and force a replay when his 30 yard piledriver found the bottom corner.
Many different stories have been told down the years, but legend has it that goalkeeper Miguel Reina was distracted by a cameraman asking for his shirt and thus let the shot slip under his reach with just 20 seconds remaining.
Whether that’s true or not, Bayern won the replay 4-0 two days later and Atleti fans were left wondering “what if?”, a question synonymous with a number of the big moments in the club’s history.
Much like the in Lisbon two years ago, the 1974 final is still a sore subject for rojiblancos who were there to witness the defeat, but after 42 years of highs and lows, their team finally has a chance to get revenge.
“Ganad por nuestros mayores” (“win for our elders”), read the banner held aloft by ultras in the Fondo Sur after Saturday’s 1-0 win over Málaga, who have began another social media campaign for support ahead of the match.
Their calls were answered in numbers today, as fans greeted the team with 113 flares and endless renditions of the club anthem and other war cries as they entered the pre-match hotel, their way of wishing Atleti a happy 113th birthday.
If that wasn’t enough motivation, and we haven’t even touched upon Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge’s less than flattering comments about Atleti last year, there is also the small matter of a place in the Champions League final at stake.
After taking on the champions of Turkey, Portugal, Kazakhstan, Holland and Spain, we now face the champions of Germany in perhaps our biggest test yet, against a side that are a something of an unknown quantity of sorts.
Bayern are regulars at this stage in the competition and are taking on Spanish opposition for the fifth successive year, but surprisingly, this is their first ever visit to the Vicente Calderón.
Manager Pep Guardiola has also only come up against Diego Simeone once before, with Barcelona back in 2012 when Atleti were still in the embryonic stages of their cholification.
“I’ve not played Atletico in five years, so you know more about them than I do,” Guardiola told media at the Calderón on Tuesday. “However, I know that they do much more than just defend.”
“Their biggest achievement is that that are now being compared with Madrid and Barcelona, which is a testament to Simeone’s work. We expect a very tough and complex tie, but we’ll try to play well and reach the final.”
The 45 year-old, now coming to the end of his tenure at the Allianz Arena ahead of his summer move to Manchester City, is without Arjen Robben for the clash, but is boosted by the return of Jerome Boateng after three months outh with a groin injury.
Whether the German World Cup winning centre-back will be fit to play remains to be seen, but he is one of 22 that make the trip to the Spanish capital.
Atleti on the other hand will be without their defensive stalwart, Diego Godín missing out with a hamstring injury sustained away at Athletic Bilbao the other week. Two from Giménez, Lucas and Savic will start in his absence.
Everybody else is in the squad, other than Tiago who is just waiting for medical clearance before making his comeback from a broken leg. Yannick Carrasco is also a doubt, having not trained fully this week after limping off at the weekend.
There was a familiar face at Tuesday’s training session though, as Raúl García made the most of his day off to visit his former teammates and offer some encouragement before the match.
In his press conference, Simeone came across as confident but calculated, brave but mindful. One thing he did underline was that his XI will play without fear.
“The side with most soldiers does not win, but those who use their soldiers better,” he divulged. “Bayern are strong both in defence and attack; to win the tie we have to score goals and that is what we aim to do on Wednesday.”
“We are not thinking about who are favourites, we are just thinking about winning.”
This will be the second semi-final, after Manchester City and Real Madrid played out a goalless draw this evening. Atleti return to action against Rayo on Saturday, before the second leg in Munich next week.
Atlético match selection
Goalkeepers: Moyá, Oblak
Defenders: Filipe, Gámez, Savic, Lucas, Giménez, Juanfran
Midfielders: Koke, Kranevitter, Óliver, Augusto, Gabi, Saúl, Carrasco, Thomas
Forwards: Griezmann, Torres, Correa, Vietto
Referee: Mark Clattenburg (England)