“La Liga de Campenes es mi obsesión,” (The Champions League is my obsession) is a familiar song in the Vicente Calderón.
They may have never won Europe’s top prize, but the Champions League is the one trophy that all Atlético Madrid fans want more than any other.
It’s been a long and arduous road for the rojiblancos, but after two final defeats, they have another chance on Saturday to become European champions for the first time in their history.
Simeone has won La Liga, Copa del Rey, Europa League and Spanish Super Cup since taking over in 2011, and will be looking to complete the set with the one trophy he is yet to get his hands on.
After suffering late heartbreak at the hands of their revered local rivals Real Madrid in each of the last two seasons, Atleti will be desperate for revenge, and what sweeter way to do it than on the biggest stage in club football?
Yet another mini-overhaul in the summer saw the likes of Arda Turan, Mario Súarez and Raul García move on, all of whom were crucial in our run to the final in 2014.
Striker Mario Mandzukic was also sold to Juventus, and with replacement Jackson Martínez failing to deliver, the onus has been on Fernando Torres to lead the line for much of the season.
Thankfully, he has stepped up to the plate particularly in some of the big games in the run-in, forming a good understanding with Antoine Griezmann in attack and scoring a number of important goals.
Griezmann it was who got our campaign underway with a double away at Galatasaray on Matchday 1, but despite a positive start and a 2-0 win, we didn’t have things all our own way in the group stages.
As well as the Turkish champions, Atleti were drawn with top seeds Benfica and tournament debutants Astana, both of whom also won their domestic league titles in 2014/15.
In late September, the Portuguese side stunned the Calderón as they came from behind to win 2-1, goals from potential future rojiblanco Nico Gaitán and youngster Gonçalo Guedes cancelling out Ángel Correa’s opener.
Benfica moved three points clear of Group C as a result, and having already lost at Villarreal the previous weekend, some were starting to doubt whether our new-look team could really make a mark in the competition.
However, an Atlético never lies down, and we responded with a 4-0 thumping of Astana, in a game where Jackson Martínez scored and Yannick Carrasco lit up the Calderón with a dazzling performance.
A goalless draw in Kazakhstan in the reverse fixture was followed by another Griezmann-inspired win against Galatasaray, before a trip to Lisbon on the final matchday to determine who would top the group.
All of the talk pre-match was about our last visit to the Estádio da Luz. We all know the story, but Atleti exercised their demons with an outstanding first half showing, beating Benfica 2-1 as goals from Saúl Ñíguez and Luciano Vietto secured a place in the last 16 as a top seed.
Our reward was a clash with PSV Eindhoven, who turned out to be a much tougher opponent than many expected. In an uneventful tie with zero goals in 210 minutes of play, it was Atlético who again showed their mental strength to advance.
“Nunca dejes de creer,” (Never stop believing) read a tifo sprawled across the lateral stand at the Calderón before kick-off in the second leg, and they didn’t for one minute, finding the breakthrough on penalties like at this stage in last year’s competition against Bayer Leverkusen.
The phrase became a motto for our season as Juanfran turned out to be the unlikely hero, keeping his nerve like the seven before him to score the winner in a pulsating 8-7 spot-kick win.
Holders Barcelona were up next, with many tipping Luis Enrique’s side to become the first team ever to defend the Champions League since it’s reformation in 1991. Like two years ago though, Cholo’s men had other ideas.
Fernando Torres has always been the man for the big occasion, and he opened the scoring at the first leg in the Camp Nou with his 11th career goal against the Blaugrana, latching onto Koke’s through ball and finishing in style.
Shortly after he was handed a debatable second yellow card and left us with almost an hour to play with ten men. Luís Súarez struck twice in the second half and turned the result on it’s head, but the away goal gave us hope of a comeback.
Like against PSV, the fans were the deciding factor in the tie and roared the team onto victory a week later, as two goals from Antoine Griezmann sent the red and whites into the semi-final on a memorable night at the Calderón.
If that was special, what followed against Bayern Munich was arguably even more so, particularly Saúl’s majestic individual effort in which turned out to be the winner in the first leg.
Atleti were seeking revenge against the German side for their loss in the 1974 final, and came through on away goals to book their place in the Milan final with a masterclass in counter-attacking football at the Allianz Arena.
Pep Guardiola’s side came out all guns blazing and at one point threatened to run away with it, but not long after Alonso opened the scoring with a deflected free-kick, Jan Oblak made a huge save to deny Thomas Müller from the penalty spot.
The tie changed on that moment, and the visitors delivered the knockout blow in the second half when Griezmann ran onto Torres’ perfectly weighted pass to fire the ball past Manuel Neuer and sent the travelling colchoneros into delirium.
Despite a late goal from Robert Lewandowski and a missed penalty from Torres that could’ve helped calm the nerves, Atleti dug deep and managed to hold on to set up the all important clash in Milan.
The waiting is almost over, and for the second time in three seasons, the eyes of Europe will be on Madrid’s two top clubs this Saturday as they do battle to rule the continent once more.
¡A por la primera!