A familiar and reassuring face turned up at Real Madrid's training session yesterday in the form of one Raúl González Blanco. The Real Madrid legend, victor of three Champions League titles, stopped by the Estadio Da Luz to share hugs with former teammates Zinedine Zidane, Iker Casillas, Cristiano Ronaldo and Xabi Alonso while greeting others like Isco and Sami Khedira. The encounter was short, but the sheer joy and unabashed happiness on the face of Casillas upon hugging Raúl hit home in a bittersweet note: it's been twelve long years since Real Madrid raised the Champions League trophy, and despite so many promising teams and seasons, Los Blancos have been unable to manage another final appearance. Now, for the first time since Raúl and Zidane netted goals on the way to the ninth in 2002, Real Madrid is back where it belongs: in the Champions League final, on the road to "la Décima."
In five hours, eleven of Real Madrid's players will be sprinting up and down the pitch in Lisbon's Estadio Da Luz in the hopes of scoring more goals than their city rivals Atlético Madrid. Veteran manager Carlo Ancelotti will be on the sideline directing the men in white as the younger Diego Simeone calls the shots for los Rojiblancos.
According to Spanish daily AS, Ancelotti's men have already undergone a stretching session and eaten lunch in their hotel. Next on the team's itinerary, at 5:30 pm local time, is a tactical discussion with Carlo Ancelotti in which the coach will reveal his starting eleven and screen an inspirational video to get his players mentally and emotionally ready for the final.
While the club has not officially divulged whether centre-back Pepe will be fit to start following a two-week recovery from a calf injury, Managing Madrid's editor-in-chief observed Madrid's training firsthand and witnessed the Portuguese player complete sprints and other exercises with seemingly no problems. Karim Benzema looks close to starting as well, though he'll likely not feel 100% during the game. Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, both of whom were struggling with minor injuries, are locks to start.
Since Xabi Alonso cannot play due to suspension, Ancelotti will finally be forced to reveal his replacement. While online chatter, polls and press murmurs have thrown around the possibility of Isco or Khedira in midfield, Illaramendi, for all intents and purposes, is the natural cover for Xabi in a 4-3-3 and looks primed to start.
On Atlético Madrid's side, striker Diego Costa's miraculous recovery from a hamstring injury continues to astound everyone as the forward took part in sprints yesterday with relative ease. It seems his alternative horse-placenta treatment did the trick and los Colchoneros biggest goal threat will start the match.
Real Madrid: Casillas; Carvajal, Pepe, Ramos, Coentrao; Modric, Illaramendi, Di María; Cristiano Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema.
Atlético Madrid: Courtois; Juanfran, Godín, Miranda, Filipe Luis; Gabi, Tiago, Koke, Arda; Diego Costa and Raúl García.
The day is finally here. In a few short hours, one of Madrid's teams will be celebrating their crowning as European champions, but no matter what happens, remember the eternal White mantra: Hasta el final, vamos Real!
The Champions League Final will start at 20:45 CET/ 2:45 EST/ 11:45 am PST.