Real Madrid finally won La Décima, the club's 10th European championship, in sensational fashion. The win over crosstown rival Atlético should go down as an instant classic, complete with tactical battles, passionate displays on the field and world-class players and coaches going at it for 120 minutes.
Every minute of those two hours on the field were enjoyable. If that is any sort of foreshadowing of the action that awaits at the World Cup this summer, it's going to be a great tournament.
Here are three quick thoughts on the Champions League final between Atlético and Real Madrid and an incredible end to both teams’ seasons:
• Starting Diego Costa was always going to be a risk
The theory that Diego Simeone scripted him playing just 10 minutes and then taking him off seems highly unlikely. Burning a substitution wouldn’t do much to decrease Atlético’s chances over 90 minutes because of the team’s high level of fitness and commitment, but it did come back to burn the team in extra time, when Juanfran went down with an ankle injury and would have definitely come off if he could have.
Ángel di María charged down his side of the field to cross in for Gareth Bale to score the winner, at which point the wheels came off for Atlético. It was a harsh end to the game for a team that has charged to the top of Europe in the last couple years, but Real’s athleticism was always going to be the biggest test of Atlético’s defensive resolve. In the end, Atléti came up just a couple minutes short.
• Carlo Ancelotti deserves credit for sticking to his plan and the changes he made to enhance it
Atléti’s intensity stifled Real in the early going, but the winners got it going after Ancelotti changed from the 4-3-3 he started with to a straight-up 4-4-2. Atlético’s goal came against the run of play on an uncharacteristic mistake from Iker Casillas, which allowed it to revert into the defensive posture that has become so comfortable.
Two changes Ancelotti made in particular, introducing Isco and Marcelo, paid big dividends. Isco took over from a fairly ineffective Sami Khedira in midfield, who was playing just his third game since recovering from a serious knee injury in November. Marcelo, who scored the goal that iced the match after Gareth Bale's eventual winner, came on for an injured Fábio Coentrão and provided a spark on the left wing as he combined with di María, which made the difference in the final result.
• Diego Simeone has proven over the last couple years that he is one of the best managers in the world
He and his team have plenty to be proud of, from breaking the La Liga duopoly to coming moments away from snatching the club's first Champions League. The work rate, commitment and swagger Atléti showed all season come straight from its manager, who is one of the most flavorful people in the game today.
He will shoulder some of the blame for the result after the ill-advised decision to start Costa, but the rest of the game — and season — was scripted about as well as it could have been. Hopefully, Simeone's incident at the end of the game with Raphaël Varane won’t overshadow his immense contributions to soccer in the last couple years. Remember, the only game his team lost in the Champions League all year was the final. MORE: Atletico Madrid overcomes deficit, injuries to topple Barcelona, win La Liga