Its been a long and arduous road for the two finalists of the Champions League and, not coincidentally, it is the two clubs from Madrid. Merengues and Colchoneros have accumulated enough merits during their road to Lisbon to have become the proud finalists, and more importantly, to dream of winning La Decima or La Primera, respectively.
Heres a quick view as to how both teams made it to the yearned-for final:
Group Stage: No problems for Ancelottis team
Real Madrid managed to reach this years Champions League as a first seeded team as they were runner-ups to La Ligas title last season, and have consistently made it to the semis of the most important tournament in Europe in the last three years.
The group was they were drawn into was not easy in any way, however. Juventus, Galatasaray and Copenhagen were the first three opponents Ancelottis men had to deal with, and they closed the group with five victories and one tie in Turin against Juventus.
It was quite clear that Madrid was ready to do great things from day one, when they beat Galatasaray 1-6 in Istambul. Ronaldo was very clear he wanted to rule the competition and finished the group off with an outstanding 11 goal mark, tying the record in a group stage previously held by Hernan Crespo and Pippo Inzaghi.
The only difficulties the team had were against Juventus, both at home and away. In the Bernabeu, a very drastic decision by the referee to send off Chiellini for the Vecchia Signora, gave Real Madrid the advantage they needed to beat the Italians 2-1. In Turin, Vidal and Llorente got past a feeble White defensive line, but Ronaldo first and then Gareth Bale –with his first important goal in the season– gave the team the needed point to virtually secure a spot in the next round.
Knockout stage: Real Madrid beats all the German rivals en route to Lisbon
It is very much known that Real Madrid has always had a tough time playing in Germany. Up until this year, they had only won once in the 23 times they had played there, and never had they managed to beat Borussia Dortmund or Bayern Munich.
Well, that changed this season. Their first rival was Schalke 04, and the Merengues were right on from the get-go. Real Madrid played, quite possibly, their best match of the season until that point, and beat the Miners 1-6 in Germany.
After taking care of them in Madrid with 3-1, Borussia Dortmund was up. Real Madrid surprised them quickly at Bernabeu Stadium, and closed the game with a 3-0 victory that could have been much higher had the team pressed on the gas a bit more.
In Dortmund, Real Madrid suffered the first defeat of their trek to the final. Di Maria had the chance to put the 1-0 on the scoreboard from the penalty spot, but after missing it, Dortmund took charge of the match and ended up winning 2-0. A few clear chances for Klopps men gave them a very clear shot at turning things around, but Real Madrid held on, thanks in part to a great second half by Casemiro who stopped the Germans on their feet, and made it to the semis.
Against Bayern Munich, the Merengues certified they were ready for big things. Everyone thought Peps squad was the clear favorite, but after the initial 15 minutes of the first leg, Real Madrid dominated, winning 1-0 at home, and with an outstanding 4-0 victory at Allianz Arena.
It was the first time in history the Whites beat its biggest European rival in their home turf, and what a victory that was. Ronaldo scored his 15th and 16th goals in the tournament, becoming the only man to score more than 14 in one single season, and the team would reach the final as the most feared squad in the continent.
Group Stage: The year of Diego Costa
Atletico Madrid is the perfect story of the underdog that makes it through thick and thin all the way to the final. Any soccer fan who is not an Atletico or Real Madrid fan will be rooting for the Colchoneros, as their story is worthy of a Hollywood super production, which would have Diego Costa as the main character.
The team finished the group stage as the second best team in Europe, only behind –coincidentally– Real Madrid, as they both had 16 points, but the Whites had a +16 goal differential.
The Colchoneros faced Zenit, FC Porto and Austria Wien and only tied in Russia against Zenit, after Alderweireld scored an own goal and helped the Russians to a 1-1 draw.
But the true star in the first round of the Champions League for Atletico was Diego Costa. The Brazilian born striker cleared any and all doubts there may have been about him. He scored four goals in the four matches he played, having been out of the first two due to his UEFA ban from last season, but he was the most influential player in the back-end of the group stage, helping the team make it through to the second round in style.
Knockout Stage: The best damn team in the business
Perhaps the best way to define Atletico Madrid is by pointing out the fact that they are a team. And not just in the sense that eleven players get together to play soccer each week and actually end up winning most of them, but actually in the truest sense of the word team.
Cholo Simeone has built a soccer-machine out of Atleticos squad, but one that is always worried about its teammates well-being, and that is willing to give 120% in order to lend a helping hand in order to win as a group rather than with individual performances.
Thats why when the team has needed it the most, when Diego Costa has not been available against the toughest opponents for example, the group as a whole has picked up the slack and pulled through.
Atletico managed to annihilate AC Milan in the round of sixteen, swiftly get rid of Barcelona in the quarter finals, and finally crack Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the semis to make it to Mourinhos dreamed final against Real Madrid.
Theres no saying how Simeones men will do in the last game of the season. Costa will be out injured, more likely than not, and they have been celebrating La Liga title for two days straight, so their preparation has definitely not been optimal. But whats crystal clear is that whatever they manage to do in Lisbon, they will do it as a team, and that puts them in a very special place in the history of soccer, regardless of whether they win or lose.