Milan (AFP) – Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone is ready to shoulder “113 years of history” ahead of a Champions League final with Real Madrid that striker Fernando Torres has labelled the “game of my life”.
Record 10-time champions Real are the opposition at the San Siro stadium in Milan on Saturday, when Atletico will seek to avenge their stunning defeat to their bitter city rivals in a pulsating 2014 final in Lisbon.
Real have beaten Atletico only once in their 10 meetings since, meaning there is huge expectation on Atletico to show they can also beat the competition’s most successful club when it matters most.
But Simeone says he will not be shying away from the challenge.
“I like to have 113 years of history on my back. I love the pressure, I love it,” he told media at the San Siro ground traditionally shared by Serie A giants AC Milan and Inter Milan.
“To play a final is fantastic. To win it, there’s nothing better.”
Atletico were a whisker away from being crowned champions of Europe for the first time two years ago, until Sergio Ramos’s 93rd minute header pushed the final into extra-time.
Atletico crumbled and Real prevailed 4-1 to claim “La Decima” — stretching their record to 10 titles.
Torres — a Champions League winner with Chelsea in 2012 — said he’s ready to give it everything.
“There’s no doubt, it’s the most important game I am ever going to play,” said Torres, who returned to his childhood club in 2014 following an ill-fated spell in Serie A with AC Milan.
“With Chelsea and the Spanish national team I’ve won a lot of titles, but this is really special for me. To me it means everything. It’s the game of my life.”
Atletico and Real made history in 2014 by becoming the first clubs from the same city to feature in the Champions League final.
But Torres said they want to write a new page in the competition’s history books.
– Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid –
“Real Madrid is a great club, one of the best. We share the same city and we know what this means,” he said.
“But we can’t sit back and think of what we’ve achieved already… this is a big opportunity for us to create history and we want to go out and write a new chapter.”
Captain Gabi said: “We lost the final but it built pride among the players. Now we have a fresh chance, but no one’s gifted us anything. We had to work hard to get here.”
Simeone’s men go into the final boasting 35 clean sheets in 56 games this season, including shutouts at home to Barcelona and Bayern Munich when they were dumped out of the competition in the quarters and semis respectively.
Yet the Argentinian hailed the “great work” of Real coach Zinedine Zidane, and pinpointed Brazilian midfielder Casemiro as the danger man.
“He (Zidane) has done some amazing work,” said Simeone. “He’s notably made the decision to rely a lot on Casemiro, which has changed the team.”
Asked if he was Real’s most important player, Simeone added: “For the balance of Real Madrid, yes.”
Real’s other danger man, however, is likely to be Cristiano Ronaldo, who has the chance to match and surpass his own record of scoring 17 Champions League goals in a season.
But Gabi believes Atletico have the tools to master what will be their toughest “game in three years”.
“Madrid always play these games at a very high level. It’s going to be our toughest game in three years,” he said.
“But there’s nothing better than winning a Champions League title against one of the best.”
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