Tough, uncompromising and totally committed, Diego Godin can be perceived as the on-field representative of everything that his Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone stands for. And just under a year ago, Godin stood within seconds of rounding off a sensational season by becoming a Champions League trophy-winning hero.
The battle-hardened Uruguayan centre-back had given Atletico a first-half lead against local rivals Real Madrid in the final, and with a few seconds of injury time remaining the scoreline still stood at 1-0. Godin had already scored the goal that won La Liga, heading home a title-clinching equaliser at Barcelona, but his dreams of securing more silverware in Lisbon were then ruined by Sergio Ramos’s 93rd minute leveller, forcing extra time.
The rest is history, but now Atletico have a chance for redemption as they go head-to-head with Real once again. And Godin, as you would expect, is determined to take it.
Q Most neutrals make Madrid big favourites, despite your results against them this season. Does it irritate you and your team-mates that you are still regarded as underdogs, despite everything you have achieved?
A We know that in the league and in Europe Real Madrid and Barcelona will always be favourites, and that is fine with us. All we can do is carry on working hard, and concentrate on ourselves.
— Atleti English (@atletienglish) April 13, 2015
What do you think of Madrid’s recent problems – what has happened to them since they won 22 consecutive games in the autumn?
They are still in a very strong position. I don’t think it would be beneficial to think they are having problems. You just need to look at the goals Cristiano Ronaldo is scoring.
Do your memories of last season’s final provide extra motivation for this tie?
Last season hurt after coming so close, but it doesn’t play any part in this season. We want to win the Champions League, not for revenge but for success.
In your last game against Madrid you beat them very convincingly 4-0. Surely that will give you confidence for these next meetings?
Previous games will not play a part in the two games. When it gets to the knockout stages of Europe, we all know anything can happen.
In that game, all four of your goals came from crosses. Will you try to exploit Madrid’s defensive vulnerability in wide positions again?
The coach will have a plan for these games like he has a plan for every game. He will have more than one idea how we can exploit Madrid.
What does it mean to Atletico that Diego Simeone has just signed a new five-year contract?
It is very important, I don’t think any coach could have done what he has done here. He knows exactly how to get the best out of every single player at the club, then how to get us playing as a team. That is why we have been so successful.
You’ve played under many different managers – what makes Simeone different?
He works and he works. For every opposition there is different preparation. He works with us individually preparing for a game and then works with us as a team. You would not believe the work he puts into every single game. Our success has been no accident.
What is he like from day-to-day – does he always have the same kind of intensity in training sessions and behind the scenes that we see on the sidelines during games?
Passion, intensity, hard work, it is what we see from him every day.
— Atleti English (@atletienglish) April 13, 2015
— Atleti English (@atletienglish) April 13, 2015
Simeone would say the secret to Atletico’s success has simply been hard work, but there must be more to it than that. How would you explain it?
We have quality, but it is not easy to compete with Barcelona and Madrid. They have so many resources quality is not enough, but when you add the attitude, hard work, aggression, and mentality then you get the team we have today.
Atletico’s style has been described as playing “with a knife between your teeth”. How difficult is it to strike the balance between passionate aggression and controlled focus?
We are very controlled, I don’t think we are overly aggressive at all, that would not be fair to the quality we have. One of the team’s greatest assets is set pieces, at both ends of the pitch.
How does that come about? Do you spend more time than other teams working on them?
Like I say, nothing we do is by accident. We work hard at training at everything. We don’t stop working or trying to improve.
You have personally scored a lot of goals, including some very important ones, from set pieces. How do you explain that? Desire, positioning, confidence, teammates creating space…?
So much success from set pieces comes from practice. Maybe fans see a well-worked free-kick and think it looks good, but to get that there has been hours of work that nobody has seen on the training ground.
But you haven’t scored since early January – does that bother you?
Scoring goals is nice, but what matters are results.
With Bayern, Barca and Madrid all left in the Champions League, can Atletico win it?
We beat Barcelona and Chelsea over two games last season, we must have the belief we can do that again.
What are your hopes for Atletico’s longer-term future – can the club stay among Europe’s elite despite the much bigger resources available at other clubs?
It is not easy to compete with the best teams in Spain and in Europe, but we must keep on doing what we have been. We have real quality at the club, and with our ethic and team spirit I hope we can carry on competing.
Raheem Sterling helped Liverpool keep alive their hopes of finishing inside the Premier League’s top four and securing a place in next season’s Champions League with a 2-0 victory over 10-man Newcastle United at Anfield on Monday.
The Reds clinched the win thanks to goals from Sterling and Joe Allen as they closed the gap on fourth-placed Manchester City to four points with six matches of the season remaining.
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– Why Italy’s leading lights Juve are dark horses to win the UCL
Liverpool showed plenty of intent early on as Sterling and Philippe Coutinho dropped deep in search of the ball, eager to run at Newcastle backline.
The home side’s early pressure yielded the opening goal in the ninth minute.
Sterling’s uncertainty over whether he will sign a new Liverpool contract has led to accusations of greed from some Liverpool fans but his ninth-minute goal went some way to restoring his reputation with supporters.
Jordan Henderson’s cross-field pass was adroitly cushioned by Sterling, who cut inside Ryan Taylor and curled a finish high into the net past the outstretched palm of Tim Krul.
The Newcastle goalkeeper was called into action shortly afterwards when a cleverly-worked Liverpool free-kick on the edge of the visitors’ box saw Henderson slip in Coutinho, only for his low shot to be saved.
In the second half, Henderson’s low cross found Sterling on the edge of the six-yard box but, with just Krul to beat, he shot wide.
But his embarrassment was eased when Liverpool scored a second goal with 20 minutes remaining.
A Liverpool corner was sent back into the Newcastle penalty area and Mike Williamson, rather than clear first time, controlled the ball on his chest only for the alert Allen to react with a quickfire shot.
Liverpool’s task in the remainder of the game was much easier when the visitors were reduced to 10 men.
Newcastle midfielder Sissoko went in high on Lucas and was shown a second yellow card by referee Mason, although it could conceivably have been a straight red.
The 2014-15 campaign has already been a superb one for Juventus, absorbing the loss of Antonio Conte in the summer far more easily than anyone imagined possible, before moving to the brink of a fourth consecutive Serie A title and reaching the final of the Coppa Italia.
In Europe the team has finally shaken the inexplicable group stage exit last term to now have a Champions League quarter-final clash with AS Monaco looming large. Indeed, analysing the season as a whole, there is little doubt that – after taking a huge gamble on the appointment of Max Allegri – the Turin giants are now playing with house money for the rest of the year.
A domestic double would add weight to the growing feeling that the former AC Milan boss has achieved something truly remarkable in his debut campaign with the Bianconeri. However, the question remains whether this team can taste even greater glory and go on to win the Champions League this season?
The question at first seems somewhat fanciful and far-fetched, but the current era has seen a number of unheralded clubs do just that, surprising the continent’s finest teams by winning the elite club competition despite lacking the resources of their peers.
“Juventus can beat anyone. No team is out of reach. None.” – Carlos Tevez when asked by @repubblicait if club can win the Champions League
— Adam Digby (@Adz77) April 13, 2015
While Italian football’s grand Old Lady needs little introduction, the impact of the Calciopoli scandal and Serie A’s fall from grace have left her trailing behind the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich, both on and off the field.
According to Deloitte’s most recent Money League – which uses publicly available accounts to rank the revenues of the biggest clubs – tenth-placed Juventus (Dhs 909 million/€233.6m) registered income that was almost half that of leaders Real Madrid (Dhs1.925billion/€459.5m). That obviously makes a subsequent impact on their ability to attract the world’s best players, with a vast difference in the transfer budget and wage bill.
Yet that did not prevent Inter Milan and Porto from unexpectedly lifting ‘the cup with the big ears’ over the last decade, and it is those examples that mean any team who reaches this stage of the competition can rightfully dream of victory. Last week, La Gazzetta dello Sport suggested much the same, discussing a possible treble for the Bianconeri under the bold proclamation “you can do it!”. A number of the club’s former players have also openly backed Juve to do just that.
— Adam Digby (@Adz77) April 9, 2015
“I think they have the players to get to the semi-finals,” said retired midfielder Alessio Tacchinardi, himself part of the Juve side which won the Champions League under Marcello Lippi in 1996. “Then you need the best players, [Andrea] Pirlo has to be at 100 percent, [Arturo] Vidal at 100 percent, [Carlos] Tevez at 100 percent and [Paul] Pogba at 100 percent. If that happens, why not?”
It is the form and ability of those players which allows for those hopes to hang in the air, with their midfield quartet comfortably among Europe’s finest and Tevez in truly devastating form. His goalscoring record may not compare favourably with the exploits of Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, but the Argentinean has weighed in with 25 goals and eight assists in 35 appearances this term. That tally includes not only a raft of match-winning goals in Serie A, but no fewer than six Champions League goals, three of which coming in their 5-1 aggregate win over 2012 finalists Borussia Dortmund.
That result has only added to the belief that this team could be on the brink of something extraordinary, but it must be tempered with the realistic view that they are still trailing the elite clubs by some distance. For all the superiority they have enjoyed at home – and the huge improvements made since narrowly losing to Atletico Madrid back in October – it would not be surprising to see their hopes extinguished at the Allianz Arena or the Bernabeu, should they overcome AS Monaco.
In short, Juventus certainly can win the Champions League if all their stars perform and fortune favours them, but whether or not captain Gigi Buffon finally gets to lift the European Cup remains to be seen.