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May 24, 2014

Three Things: Real Madrid vs. Atletico Madrid

LISBON -- After the drama of Sergio Ramos' injury time equalizer, goals from Gareth Bale, Marcelo and Cristiano Ronaldo gave Real a comfortable 4-1 victory over Atletico Madrid in the Champions League final. Here are three quick things from Real's 10th European Cup/Champions League triumph:

1. Real get La Decima

A 100-million-euro transfer, a 10th Champions League at last. After over a decade, La Decima is finally delivered. Real Madrid defeated Atletico Madrid 4-1 to win the European Cup for the first time in 12 years. The wait makes it all the more uplifting, the circumstances all the sweeter.

It began with the relief of Sergio Ramos' last-minute headed equaliser, continued with Gareth Bale's decisive header and culminated with Cristiano Ronaldo hitting the penalty to get his big goal in his home country.

Then, there was the sensational significance of it all.

The competition's most successful club of all time have brought the trophy back to what they consider is its rightful home -- and they did so against the side closest to home. In the process, Carlo Ancelotti has also become the first manager to match Bob Paisley's record of three European Cups, while Florentino Perez can directly point to the world-record acquisition of Bale -- and before him, Ronaldo.

Atletico couldn't continue to defy economics. Instead, the most expensive player in the world played his part and the most opulently-put together team in history took a massive opportunity.

2. Bale shines when it matters most

In the end, Real will argue it was all worth it -- and on so many levels. Because while they toiled so badly for that equaliser as the 90 minutes continued to erode, it was difficult not to think Bale was going through his own personal psychodrama.

His 33rd minute miss had seen the early stages swing in Atletico's favour, to the point that Diego Godin very quickly scored the game's opening goal, and the Welshman continued to miss a series of chances.

The anguish on his face was clear and only growing with every squandered opportunity. On the bench, Perez was impassive. Given all that was at stake and how the game proceeded, it felt like Bale badly needed to get that equaliser. He went one better. He hit the strike that so decisively and definitively put Real ahead for the first time.

The relief was clear, as was the jubilation. It was all also vindication for Ancelotti's ability to facilitate so many stars. It has left him with the Champions League's gold-standard managerial achievement. By that point, thoughts turned away from Perez, and on to Diego Costa. How different the game might have been had he not started or even come on as a sub in those trying late stages. Real conformed to the trends of their past while Atletico suffered the traits of theirs...

3. History -- and histrionics -- for Atletico

Simeone has changed so much for Atletico in his time there but some inherent traits of the club were beyond even him.

The parallels with 1974, one of the most painful nights in their history, could not be ignored. Then, in their only other European Cup final, they were just a minute from victory against Bayern Munich. Instead, a centre-half -- of all players, out of so many stars -- produced the equaliser. For Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck in 1974, read Sergio Ramos 2014.

You could say that was somewhat unlikely except there was a certain element of inevitability about it. Ultimately, Atletico paid for all their time-wasting. It illustrates that such cynical play can have a negative effect for the team that produces it.

While Simeone has all the abilities to be one of the great coaches, it doesn't mean that every aspect of his management is beautiful. The parallels with a pragmatist like Jose Mourinho go further than just the intensity derived from their players. Both men can produce cantankerous moments. Here, it cost them. As Atletico's players kept going down in the first half -- not least Gabi, who had a clear look at the referee -- the injury time mounted.

It wasn't the only mistake Simeone ended up making. As the game wore on and legs got so evidently weary, how they could have done with the extra substitute wasted with Costa's ninth-minute withdrawal.

Simeone overcame so much this season but not even he could end Atletico's painful history in this competition.

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