LONDON, April 30: Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone is relishing the prospect of leading his side against city rivals Real Madrid in the Champions League final after eliminating Chelsea in the last four.
The two Madrid clubs will become the first teams from the same city to contest a European Cup final when they meet in Lisbon on May 24 after Atletico won 3-1 at Chelsea in the semi-finals on Wednesday. (Read: Madrid becomes European football capital)
Atletico have taken four points from Real in the league this season, having beaten them for the first time in 14 years in last year’s Copa del Rey final.
Simeone, however, does not believe that Atletico’s intimate knowledge of their rivals will necessarily work in their favour.
“I don’t see it as an advantage or a disadvantage,” he said.
“The reality is that we know each other very well and have been playing each other for a really long time. We will be playing a powerful club who are used to the big European nights.
“It’s been many years since we’ve been there, so it will be a new experience for us, but we’ll be very eager and excited to play well in the final.”
Atletico last appeared in a European Cup final in 1974, when they lost 4-0 to Bayern Munich in a replay at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels after a 1-1 draw in their first encounter.
Simeone has also taken the club to within two wins of a first La Liga crown since 1996, but the former Argentina midfielder played down suggestions that he is now the world’s pre-eminent coach.
“I don’t think it’s the right time to think about that or talk about that,” said the 44-year-old, who had two spells at Atletico as a player.
“Right now I’m just focusing on our next game against Levante. I just want to congratulate the players and the staff at the club, because without their hard work we wouldn’t be here.”
– ‘Thanks to the mothers’ –
Asked if it had been the best moment of his managerial career, Simeone replied: “Considering we were playing against such a big opponent at their own stadium, that always enhances the game.
“I’m very happy with the second-half reaction. We played very well in the second half and controlled the game against world-class opponents.
“That will be the lasting memory of this game, that we controlled the game against a great side and were able to reach the final.”
Another former Atletico player, Fernando Torres, tipped the balance of the tie in Chelsea’s favour when he swept home a cross from Cesar Azpilicueta to put the hosts 1-0 up in the 36th minute of Wednesday’s game.
Adrian Lopez equalised minutes later, however, putting the visitors ahead on away goals as the first leg had ended goalless, before a Diego Costa penalty and a 72nd-minute Arda Turan goal killed the tie.
Costa, a reported transfer target for Chelsea, had to go off in the 76th minute after sustaining a knock, but Simeone played down concerns about his fitness.
“He’s fine, he’s OK,” he said.
“He doesn’t have any strange problems and I’m sure tomorrow (Thursday) the medical staff will be able to give a more precise diagnosis, but as far as we’re concerned, he’s OK.”
Simeone concluded his post-match press conference with an unprompted remark that drew guffaws from the journalists present.
“I want to congratulate the mothers of these players, because they gave them big ‘cojones’ to play the way they did today!” he said with a grin.