The final weekend of the domestic season before attention turns to the Euros, was one that was packed with football for me. It started on Friday night when my wife and I spent the evening watching our nephew captain his Uplands Town side to a 7-1 victory in the South Essex Godbold Cup Final. Hosted by Redbridge FC it was a thoroughly entertaining ‘real’ football experience.
Unfortunately by contrast the Champions League final the following evening was marred by two incidents of utterly despicable play-acting by Pepe in trying to get players sent off claiming he had been eye-gouged on two separate occasions. While referee Clattenberg didn’t fall for his histrionics surely there must be a change in the rules so that this type of blatant cheating can be punished with a lengthy suspension?
On the whole the game was a tight and tense affair; Atletico seemingly out of sorts in the first half, with even Simeone being uncharacteristically subdued on the sidelines; they seemed to allow Real too much time on the ball and space in which to play and looked susceptible at set-pieces. As it turned out it was a set-piece that was to be their undoing when, Ramos bundled home a Bale free-kick, albeit from a seemingly offside position. The lead meant that Real were happy to concede possession and sit deep thereby negating Atletico’s usual game plan of looking to catch teams with pacey counter attacks.
After struggling for the majority of the first half, Atletico looked like a team transformed in the second half; with the change of system to a 4-2-3-1 shape and the introduction of Carrasco as a genuine winger down the left hand side. The switch had an immediate impact with Atletico stretching Real’s defence more and they were given the chance to equalize barely a minute into the second half when Pepe fouled Torres. Griezmann however rattled the crossbar with his effort from the spot and let Real off the hook.
Atletico continued to cause Real problems, most notably through substitute Carrasco and it was the Belgian winger that was on hand to turn home an excellent cross from Juanfran to make it 1-1.
The game then became deadlocked with Real’s tactical fouling stopping Atletico’s counters and fatigue seeming to hinder their own forays forward. As extra time came and went it always felt as if the game was going to be decided by a penalty shoot-out. It was Juanfran that missed his effort, although he had probably only stepped in after both Filipe Luiz and Koke had been substituted.
Sadly there was to be no fairy-tale ending to Atletico’s season and they were defeted in the European Cup Final for a third time; after the match Simeone said that he couldn’t have asked for anything more from his players and he probably couldn’t. Ultimately Atletico were unlucky but paid the price for not starting the game well and for Griezmann’s penalty miss. He also suggested that he would have a think about his future; when you put as much as the Argentine does into every game only to ultimately come up short it must be a bitter pill to swallow!
Bank Holiday Monday brought with it a slightly surreal football experience for my wife and I; an equally football obsessive Norwegian Arsenal and Hearts supporting friend of ours, who naturally we met watching a Spurs-Arsenal game in an Irish bar in Valencia, had decided that he was flying over to accompany two of his friends to the League 2 Play-Off Final between AFC Wimbledon and Plymouth; why wouldn’t you? My wife and I of course had no hesitation in heading off to Wembley to become temporary members of the Norwegian Dons for the afternoon.
After a couple of pre-match drinks in the slightly less than salubrious ‘garden’ of Thirsty Eddie’s Irish pub we headed off to the ground. As luck would have it we bumped into a Wimbledon fan with two spare tickets for Club Wembley which we happily took off his hands.
After the bitter relocation of the original Wimbledon and the creation of MK Dons; often referred to simply as ‘the franchise’; any self-respecting football fan was keen to see AFC Wimbledon climb through the tiers until they would eventually take their place in the same division. In the end a goal from Lyle Taylor and a penalty from Adebayo ‘The Beast’ Akinfenwa, which we learnt would be his last kick for the club, sealed the victory and promotion. Apparently there is to be a movie made of Wimbledon’s story and also a potential return to a re-developed Plough Lane; what price a victory over MK Dons for AFC Wimbledon back at their spiritual home as the final scene in that film?