Sergio Ramos could not believe his luck. “You have to win the toss!” his team-mates had urged. He didn’t. Nevertheless, Real Madrid still shot first in the penalty shootout – and in front of their own fans as well.
After 120 minutes of action in Milan, Atletico and Real were level and the Champions League final at San Siro was to be decided by penalties. And the Rojiblancos inexplicably handed their rivals the impetus to go on and win the trophy.
Unlike in Lisbon two years earlier, when Diego Simeone’s side were dead on their feet in extra-time, this time it was Madrid. Gareth Bale was playing on one leg and Cristiano Ronaldo was exhausted. The match was there for the taking. But Atleti didn’t dare and in fact, it was Real who had the majority of the chances in the additional 30 minutes.
And as it went to penalties, Gabi won the toss but opted to shoot second. Ramos, apparently astounded, was then given the choice of ends and obviously, he elected for the shootout to take place in front of the Madrid fans. Win-win for Los Blancos.
A study in 2010 proved that 60 per cent of the teams that go first in a penalty shootout end up as winners. So why did Atleti decide to shoot second? Because of superstition. Cábala. Because that is how they had triumphed against PSV Eindhoven earlier on in the competition.
In doing so, however, they had handed Madrid a huge boost and there was already a little euphoria among the Real players as they learned they would be going first. Atleti were fitter, fresher, and had levelled late in normal time. But by letting Real shoot first, the momentum has swung from one side to the other.
Madrid still had to score, of course. But up stepped up an unlikely hero. Lucas Vázquez picked up the ball and span it on his fingers like a Harlem Globetrotter as he approached the area. It is said that, at that point, some of Madrid’s players already knew they would win. The Galician duly beat Jan Oblak and the impulse was now very much with Zinedine Zidane’s side.
Juanfran, who had hit the winning penalty for Atlético against PSV in the last 16, was the one to miss this time and it was another painful night for Simeone’s side in the end as Real claimed La Undécima. In truth, however, the Rojiblancos had contributed to their own downfall.
Earlier on in the match itself, Antoine Griezmann had missed a penalty and the Frenchman said this week in an interview: “I felt we had lost because of me.”
But he added: “Simeone told me it wasn’t my fault that I had been vital to the team and I shouldn’t worry because we were going to start working hard once more and return to the final.”
Having lost out twice in three seasons at the last hurdle – both against Madrid, Atlético start their road to the Champions League final again on Tuesday night as they travel to Germany to meet Bayer Leverkusen in the first leg of their last-16 tie.
And whatever happens between now and the showpiece in Cardiff, there should be no room for superstition this time around.