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Build-up in Madrid

Atlético: We’re the underdogs

The Bernabéu and Vicente Calderón stadiums in Madrid are some seven kilometres apart as the crow flies. It’s not really very far, but in reality Real and Bayern’s Champions League semi-final opponents Atlético are worlds apart. On the one hand you have the glamour, riches and opera-house setting of the Bernabéu. The Calderón stands for a sleeves-rolled-up work ethic, relatively less money and rather faded glory – an urban freeway runs under the main stand at Atletico’s home ground.

The contrasts and the rivalry are real, but Madrid’s big two have been on a par in footballing terms for some time now. Atlético won La Liga in 2014 and, with three games to go in the current campaign, lie second in the standings, a point ahead of Real and only behind leaders Barcelona on goal difference. An 11th title triumph is a distinct possibility, but before then there is the matter of the European showdown with Bayern.

The atmosphere is still calm on the eve of the semi-final first leg, as local media are currently focused on the other last four clash between Manchester City and Real, with the first leg in the north-west of England on Tuesday. In the build-up to this week’s game in Madrid the fans and boss Diego Simeone’s team are slowly but surely moving into the final stages of preparation.

Oblak: Both matches will be close

“It’ll be tough but we have a chance,” declared defender Filipe Luis, neatly summing up the mood at Atlético. The men from Madrid have great respect for FC Bayern, although the Rojiblancos have no problem with billing the Bavarians as favourites. “We’re playing a club with a glorious history,” commented midfielder Augusto, “we’re the underdogs.”

Atlético’s trump card is their team spirit. “No-one in this group ever thinks about himself, it’s all about the team. That’s our biggest strength,” explained Brazilian star Luis. Keeper Jan Oblak agreed: “There’s a superb mood in the dressing room, that’s the secret of our success.” However, the club boasts a wealth of footballing quality in both defence and attack. “Both matches will be close,” predicted the Slovenian keeper, “Lewandowski and Müller are hard to stop, but we believe in ourselves.”