Madrid is the capital of soccer these days

The Associated Press

MADRID (AP) -- Madrid is the capital of soccer these days: Atletico Madrid vs. Real Madrid in the Champions League final.

Atletico defeated Chelsea 3-1 to advance to its first European Cup final in 40 years, where record nine-time champion Madrid awaits after crushing defending champion Bayern Munich 5-0 over two legs.

One year after an all-German Champions League final, Atletico's victory Wednesday means the continent's top competition will be played for the first time between clubs from the same city. The final is May 24 in Lisbon.

''I'm happy that it's an all-Spanish final,'' Atletico playmaker Koke said. ''It's going to be a special day, a very nice day because all of Madrid will be in Lisbon.''

Spanish media hailed the feat Thursday, with sports daily Marca's headline touting ''A Spanish Champion'' while El Mundo said ''Madrid wins the Champions'' League. Even Catalan sports daily El Mundo Deportivo congratulated Atletico by running a ''Historical!'' headline rather than promoting Barcelona team news.

Atletico is on the verge of a historic double as it closes in on its first Spanish league title in 18 years. Madrid is chasing a triple-title season after winning the Copa del Rey against Barcelona.

Nine-time champion Madrid and Atletico have met once before in the competition. In 1959, Real ousted Atletico in the semifinals after winning a replay 2-1 when their two-legged series finished 2-2. Atletico's only final appearance came in 1974 when it lost to Bayern Munich 4-0 in a replay following a 1-1 draw.

While Madrid beat Atletico en route to this season's domestic cup trophy, Atletico still enjoyed a breakthrough year against its city neighbor, which is returning to the final for the first time since 2002.

Atletico beat Madrid in the Copa del Rey final last season for its first win over the Spanish giant since 1999. It followed with a league victory at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium followed by a draw at home at the Vicente Calderon.

Spanish leader Atletico is six points ahead of Real, which has one game in hand, with three left. Barcelona trails the Spanish leader by four points.

Atletico's surprising season comes with a squad whose cost is a fraction of Madrid's in a league that has been dominated by its neighbor and Barcelona. Valencia was the last club besides the big two to win the championship.

Atletico could clinch its first title since 1996 with a victory against Levante on Sunday if both Madrid and Barcelona lose.

''It's crazy to think we're in the Champions League final,'' Atletico midfielder Tiago Mendes said. ''But this team deserves it after everything it has accomplished.''

Even the city's cleanup crews should have an easy time coordinating their work following the victor's celebrations.

Real traditionally celebrates its triumphs at Plaza de Cibeles. Atletico's fans gather just down the street at Plaza de Neptuno.


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