THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Iberia rules Europa and Champions League

icon champ uefa14 May ~ Tonight Benfica are in their second straight Europa League final and, in ten days' time, their stadium will host an all-Spanish Champions League final. In the 21st century it's become downright incestuous but the last 15 years of European club competition looks like the first 15 – an overspill for the Iberian Peninsula's domestic battles. That Champions League final between Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid was forewarned in the quarters of this season's Europa League when Sevilla defeated cross-town opponents Real Betis.

By comparison Sevilla's semi-final clash with La Liga rivals Valencia seemed positively exotic – it may even have necessitated overnight hotel stays for the players.

Europe came close to a one-city final in 2003; Boavista narrowly lost to Celtic in the semis of a UEFA Cup won by Porto, who also defeated domestic rivals Braga in the 2011 Europa League final. In fact Chelsea, last season, and Fulham in 2010 are the only non-Iberian finalists in the first five seasons of the Europa League. Birmingham City and a London XI select did the same in the 1960s: Real Zaragoza, Valencia and Barcelona all met each other in the final while they collected six of the first eight Fairs Cups.

This time last year Germany was providing the planet's best club football. Real Madrid took as much time to reverse that as Bayern had themselves taken to explode Barcelona's invincibility myth of 2011. The Champions League is its own country – no one has retained the modern incarnation of the European Cup. But Real Madrid are one victory away from having won both versions more than anyone else. Whether it's the start of a new century, the start of a new competition or even the renaming of an old one, Spain and Portugal will get in there first.

The current three-way tussle for La Liga actually reprises the history of European competitions. Every European trophy contested between 1955, when they were incepted, and 1960 was won by Real Madrid or Barcelona. Atlético Madrid played in two of the first three finals in both the Cup-Winners Cup and the Europa League. Benfica were the second club to win the old European Champion Clubs' Cup, contesting five finals in the 1960s.

It's laughably apt that the only thing standing between Real and La Décima is something from Madrid. Things could only get more cosy if the final was staged at Rayo Vallecano's tiny ground in the Vallecas district of Madrid; or perhaps if Real were facing 2008 UEFA Cup quarter-finalists Getafe, formed from a Real Madrid supporters' club. In the Copa del Rey final of 1980 Real defeated their reserve team, Castilla, who then lost narrowly to West Ham in the following season's Cup-Winners Cup.
 
After thrashing Athletic Bilbao in the 2012 Europa League climax, May 24 will be Atlético's second European final against a domestic rival (and Atlético were formed, in 1903, by Athletic Bilbao supporters living in Madrid). They already have a few Super Cups and even a World Club Championship gained as European Cup runners-up when Bayern declined to play Independiente in 1974. Should they beat Real, Atlético will join the elite band of clubs to have won all three European trophies.

Like Valencia, denied the same honour on penalties in the 2001 Champions League final, they are "small" only in comparison to the two behemoths who dominate their domestic scene. And once again Spain and Portugal are the two behemoths of Europe. Alex Anderson

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