x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

History stacked against Atletico, who meet rival Real Madrid in Copa del Rey final

With the Madrid derby reaching the Copa del Rey, more attention is being paid to Jose Mourinho and whether he will return to Real, who have not lost to Atletico this century.

Sergio Ramos, centre, performs for Real Madrid teammates Xavi Alonso, left, and Mesut Ozil, right, in training for the Copa del Rey. Juan Carlos Hidalgo / EPA
Sergio Ramos, centre, performs for Real Madrid teammates Xavi Alonso, left, and Mesut Ozil, right, in training for the Copa del Rey. Juan Carlos Hidalgo / EPA

BARCELONA, Spain // With a return to England looking likely, Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho can go out a winner when his team plays city rivals Atletico Madrid on Friday night in the Copa del Rey final.

Luckily for Mourinho and Madrid, Atletico have been incapable of winning a Spanish capital derby so far this millennium.

Atletico's last victory over Real came 14 years ago.

Madrid can also count on the goal-scoring prowess of Cristiano Ronaldo, who will go head-to-head with Atletico striker Radamel Falcao.

Ronaldo headed home Madrid's winner in the 2011 final against Barcelona.

Falcao, meanwhile, has a knack of rising to the occasion, scoring to win two Europa League finals for Atletico last year and for Porto in 2011.

"It's a trophy that we are very excited to win," Ronaldo said of the Copa del Rey. "We know it will be a hard-fought match against a rival of the same city and it will be quite a show for the fans.

"I go into the match with a sense of great responsibility.

"I face all games the same way, but this is a final. It's a special match, but my ambition is always the same, to help Real Madrid the best way I know how, by playing well, scoring goals, and setting up my teammates."

Ronaldo's buoyant mood contrasts completely with the stink Mourinho has made of things lately.

In his third season at Madrid, Mourinho has turned his ire away from opposing coaches and referees and toward his own players.

He started with benching Spain goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas, and mocked one of his on-the-field enforcers in Pepe after he broke ranks and supported Casillas.

This belittling of his own players together with Madrid's loss of the Spanish league title to Barcelona and their failure to win an elusive 10th European Cup would probably have gotten a coach of lesser standing fired.

But Mourinho has gone one step farther and insisted that he is not "loved" in Spain like he is in the English Premier League, saying he will discuss his future with Madrid president Florentino Perez when the season finishes in early June.

Combined, Mourinho should expect a noisy reception from the home fans at the Santiago Bernabeu, where he has been jeered in recent matches.

Nevertheless, Mourinho could lift the Copa del Rey trophy as a consolation prize.

If not, this season will be considered a complete flop for a club that boasts one of the most expensive squads in the world.

Atletico have a unique opportunity to wipe away years of misery by finally beating Madrid with a title at stake.

To do so, the Atletico players will have to find a way to shake off the psychological advantage Madrid has over them.

In their most recent meeting April 27, Madrid came from behind to win 2-1, even without Ronaldo's help.

"Of course our fans don't like the situation, but I don't think it will influence the match," Atletico forward Diego Costa said.

"We know it's a final and we have to be at our best to win. The key is to stick together as a great team and for each one of us to give it his all."


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