It’s true, not a dream or a possibility, it really happened. For the first time in 25 years, Atletico Madrid is rejoicing in European glory, capping a season that started with the greatest expectations only to turn into a nightmare by the end of 2009. Yet somehow the path to Hamburg became destiny as the club compiled a forgettable domestic campaign and on Wednesday the Europa League mission was completed, just barely, but deservedly. Fulham resisted bravely and came within three minutes of penalty kicks where Schwartzer, Fulham’s experienced goal-keeper, could have provided the miracle ending to a miracle run without precedent in the West London club’s 130 year history. In the end, Atletico’s biggest stars combined once again to justify the club’s investment in them and lift the Colchoneros to euphoric heights.
Long suffering Atletico Madrid fans are a breed apart in Spain. Beaten down by decades of false promises and underachievement, including a brief stint in the second division, yet still loyal to the core, Atletico fans embody the scrappy, working class spirit of the Madrid barrios, in direct contrast with the flashy and infinitely richer city rivals, Real. “Pathological pessimism” is how the psyche of Atletico fans has been described, united in anguish as a family for so long, chronic dreamers who even under the most severe torment could not fathom sympathizing with anything Real represents. Last night’s victory in Hamburg is their reward, one to be savored by tearful generations, for very rarely is Madrid covered in the red, white and blue colors of Atletico Madrid.
The match itself was not spectacular. Atletico controlled the match virtually from start to finish, but its big possession advantage did not materialize into many scoring opportunities. The goals came in a five minute span. First, Atletico found a path to goal on the Reyes-Simao-Aguero-Forlan corridor, the latter finishing once again as he has done throughout the key moments of the competition. But shortly after, things were even when Zamora and Zoltan Gera combined, ultimately setting up Simon Davies for a splendid equalizer. And so it went until the 117th minute when, to Fulham’s heartbreak, Atletico’s elation, and everyone’s relief Kun Aguero slipped a low cross into space that Forlan tapped just enough to trickle past Schwartzer’s extended arm. Finito.
Fulham ended a memorable season with the extraordinary accomplishment of reaching a European final, but as their manager stated after the match: “It doesn’t matter how much comfort I try to find, and there is a lot to be found in the season, at this moment now it is difficult to find any comfort, joy or enthusiasm. You’d be surprised if my attitude was anything but bitterness and disappointment at seeing another good performance go unrewarded.??? Fulham’s greatest priority in the summer will be to hold on to their manager and key players.
Atletico has one more important objective in sight that could further alleviate its long-standing complex: a date with Sevilla for the Copa del Rey. Is this team capable of not one, but two important successes in the same season? That remains o be sen. The club’s future will then be determined by the summer moves, but for now 2009-2010 season surely has a place in the club’s hierarchy.