By Alyssa McMurtry
MADRID (AA) Football fever has overtaken Spain’s capital, as the city prepares to watch Atlético Madrid take on Real Madrid in Europe’s Champions League final on Saturday night.
Fans of both sides have already begun their takeover of the streets, with packs of madrileños (Madrilenians) sporting jerseys and flags from either side, preparing for the match with pride and optimistic fervor. Bar owners are hanging up regalia and getting ready for a long, lucrative night full of both elation and disappointment.
The Champions League is Europe’s biggest annual club final, set tonight to take place in Millan, Italy. More watched than the Super Bowl, an estimated 350 million spectators will tune in from 200 countries – but tonight Madrid will be the epicenter of emotion.
Despite being from the same city, Real and Atlético represent two opposing forces in Spain’s capital. Real Madrid, a wealthy favorite of the Spanish aristocracy from the city’s North, will take on Atlético, the scrappy, traditionally working-class team from the South-side.
Real, meaning “royal” in Spanish, is the world’s most valuable football club and has won more Champions League titles than any other football club. The glamorous Cristiano Ronaldo is the star and football’s highest-paid athlete, according to Forbes. Their turf is around the Santiago Bernadeau stadium, where thousands will gather to watch the match.
Atlético Madrid are the underdogs. They have made it twice to the Champions League finals, but have never won. Atlético generated three times less revenue than Real, according to business advisory firm Deloitte, and has used much of it to pay debts accumulated by past mismanagement. Between 1987 and 2003, Spanish politician and businessman Jesus Gil was president. He was an infamous mayor of Marbella, known for giving interviews from a Jacuzzi surrounded by bikini-clad women and for his opinions on immigrants, women, and homosexuals. Although Gil, who died in 2004, was accused of many crimes, he served prison time for mismanaging the team.
This is the second time the two teams have faced off in a Champion’s League final. The first time was just two years ago. Atlético held the lead at 1-0 for nearly 93 minutes, but with only two minutes remaining, Real scored and forced the game into extra time. In extra time, Real scored three goals and won their tenth champions title, 4-1.
Around 3,000 police officers, security guards, and medical staff will be monitoring the celebrations between Saturday and Monday, and traffic will be restricted in several areas of the city. If Real Madrid wins, the team will fly back from Milan and make its way to the Cibeles fountain around 3 a.m. to greet celebrating fans. If Atlético wins, the celebrations are expected to take place at the Neptune fountain Sunday evening.
Whoever wins, the Spanish hospitality industry is expected to take in 36 million euros because of the match, according to the Hospitality Business Association of Madrid.
Similarly, Milan is also bracing itself for enthusiastic Spanish fans – among them Spain’s King Felipe VI, the acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoym and Madrid’s mayor, Manuela Carmena.