Rene Gonzalez Araya: A sad but beautiful end


OPINION: On Sunday, June 4 (NZ time), the city of Cardiff will host one of the most exciting football events in the world.

The teams contesting the UEFA Champions League final at the National Stadium of Wales are not decided yet but it’s already promising to be a great show – like many of the games we’ve watched during the tournament.

On one side of the draw, the teams from the Spanish capital are repeating the final of last year’s edition on May 11.

That pits the most successful team in Champions League history, Real Madrid, against Atletico Madrid.

The defining duel is taking place at Vicente Calderon Stadium and will be the last time a Madrid derby is played on that grass before Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone’s team moves to its new home, the 68,000-fan capacity Wanda Metropolitano Stadium, the old Estadio Olimpico de Madrid.

On the other side, Juventus is waiting in Turin, Italy, to define its path to the final at the Juventus Stadium against AS Monaco.

La Vecchia Signora (the old lady) will try to repeat the last four performances facing Monaco in the Champions League.

No doubt the four teams will leave everything on the field to raise the beautiful trophy of 7.72kg of silver, the unmistakable Ol’ Big Ears.

These days, the Champions League battle is similar to what it was in the 1950s, when Alfredo Di Stefano led Real Madrid to their five titles in a row.

Now we’re living in the era of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Argentinian will have to watch it on TV, while the Portu-guese is getting close to his fourth piece of silverware in a row after helping to claim last year’s Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA World Clubs titles.

Even when Real Madrid got blatant help from the referee in the quarter-finals against Bayern Munich – with the terrible red card for Arturo Vidal and then forgiving Brazilian Casemiro for what should have been a straight red – Ronaldo and his boys still have hopes to match last year’s international season.

With the number 7 of The Meringues the first Champions League player to score 100 goals, and as a likely finalist, Ronaldo is taking good advantage.

If he can again take the ballon d’or title he’ll match Messi’s five golden footballs.

As The Times wrote after Real Madrid got their fifth consecutive Champions League title in 1959/60: “Real wanders through Europe as the Vikings once walked, destroying everything in its path.”

Following his international playing career, Frenchman Zinedine Zidane has demonstrated great skill as a coach.

After last year’s final, he joined a select group of seven who have won Champions League titles as a player and as a coach.

The first one to achieve it was Miguel Munoz, followed by Giovanni Trapattoni, Johan Cruyff, Carlo Ancelotti, Frank Rijkaard and Pep Guardiola.

The Vikings will chase their 12th trophy, while la Fidanzata d’Italia (the Girlfriend of Italy) are looking for their third.

Atleti and the Red and Whites are playing for their first Ol’ Big Ears. For the honour of being champions, the winning team will receive 48.2 million Euros – plus 1.5m Euros for every match won and 500,000 Euros for every tie during the league.

When the Champions League sadly comes to an end after June 4, it’s not the end of the world.

Just 13 days later, the Confederations Cup will start in Russia, giving us a few weeks of another international competition.

New Zealand is in group A, after winning the OFC Nations Cup.

The All Whites face Russia on June 18, Mexico on June 22 and Portugal on June 25 (local time).

The final’s on July 3. May the best teams win.

Rene Gonzalez Araya is a former Chilean sports journalist who has lived in Queenstown for three years