x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Ronaldo double silences boos

The contrasting moods between Real Madrid and their cross-city rivals Atletico Madrid at the end of last season were clear.

Cristiano Ronaldo, right, kept up his record of scoring in every game so far with Real Madrid, this time against FC Zurich.
Cristiano Ronaldo, right, kept up his record of scoring in every game so far with Real Madrid, this time against FC Zurich.

The contrasting moods between Real Madrid and their cross-city rivals Atletico Madrid at the end of last season were clear. Atletico usually play understudy to their neighbours from the wealthier part of the capital, but they remain the third best supported club in Spain with an enviable trophy cabinet.

It may not have been replenished for a while and the club seem to be run with the stability of a house made of jelly, but Atletico won eight of their final nine league games of the season to qualify for the Champions League. With Diego Forlan's 32 league goals overtaking Samuel Eto'o to win the Pichichi top scorer's title and his partnership with Sergio Aguero one of the most exciting in world football, the long suffering Atletico had reason to be cheerful, more so because across town Real were losing. A horrific 2-6 reverse at home to Barca was the first of five successive defeats.

Real coach Juande Ramos left, Florentino Perez was elected unopposed as president and set about rebuilding the team by signing the best players in the world. So far, his grand plan has looked promising. Real have won their first two league games and on Tuesday won their opening Champions League match with a 5-2 victory at Swiss champions FC Zurich. Cristiano Ronaldo, who was abused in Spanish by the noisy crowd, kept up his record of scoring in every game so far with his new club.

His free-kicks helped Real's rout of their opponents as he scored twice - the first a spectacular strike in an 18-minute period in the first half in which Raul and Gonzalo Higuain also scored. Zurich hit back with a brace within a minute in the middle of the second half, with the Real coach Manuel Pellegrini acknowledging: "We had a few defensive problems and we mustn't keep losing concentration."

The score hung delicately at 3-2 until the 89th minute when another Ronaldo free-kick slipped through the hands of Zurich goalkeeper Johnny Leoni. Guti then chipped Leoni in stoppage time to make it five, in what his team hope will be the first step towards a final in their own Bernabeu stadium in May. It is unlikely that Atletico will have to cross the capital to play in that final, especially if their woeful form continues. But Atletico are not minnows outside Spain. They won the Cup Winners' Cup in 1962, the Club World Cup in 1974, the year they reached the European Cup final and only lost after a replay against Bayern Munich.

Despite averaging crowds of 43,000 in the last 15 years, Atletico have not won a trophy since 1996. With just one point from their first two Primera Liga games, they were booed off the field at the weekend after a turgid 1-1 draw against 10-man Racing Santander. The 5,000-strong fan protests before the game were not just about poor form, nor the fact that defender Johnny Heitinga was sold to Everton so late that the coaching staff - who had no idea he would be going - had no time to replace him. No, Atletico fans are outraged once again by the people running the club.

Not the competent coach Abel Resino, who observed "this club is a mad house", but chiefly the two owners, Miguel Angel Gil Martin (son of the often disgraced former president Jesus Gil) and Enrique Cerezo who do not get on and constantly undermine any progress. In-fighting has become Atletico's trademark, but their list of errors is lengthy, from promising that Fernando Torres would stay - and then selling him to Liverpool, to being convicted of fraudulently acquiring the club seven years ago. The pair have since fallen out and are conducting a campaign against each other through the media.

Atletico were again booed off the field on Tuesday night after a goalless draw against Champions League debutants APOEL Nicosia, who squandered several chances to win the game. Outstanding saves by Atletico's talented new goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo kept them in the match, while Forlan and Aguero both had chances at the other end, showing that there is still danger in Atletico's attack. Sadly for them though, the greater threat appears to lurk behind the scenes.

@Email:amitten@thenational.ae