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Champions League's circle of power centers on five-mile area of Spain

SoccerSportsMadrid (Spain)SpainMunich (Germany)FIFA World CupPortugal

A year ago, when the Champions League final matched Bundesliga rivals Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, Germany appeared poised for soccer domination.

So what to make of this year's final, which includes no teams outside a five-mile area in the center of Madrid?

When Real Madrid and recently crowned La Liga champion Atletico Madrid meet Saturday in Lisbon (Fox, 11:30 a.m. PDT), it will be the first time teams from the same city will play for European soccer's top club prize.

Eight players on the two clubs are also on Spain's preliminary World Cup roster, among them goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas, defender Sergio Ramos and midfielder Xabi Alonso of Real Madrid and strikers Diego Costa and David Villa of Atletico. It also suggests Spain has inched ahead of Germany again on the eve of the sport's most important event, next month's World Cup in Brazil.

Spain goes into that tournament as the defending champion and winner of the last two Euro titles, an unprecedented run that has allowed it to hold the top spot in the FIFA world rankings for all but one of the last 47 months. Now that dominance is rippling throughout Spain's domestic league as well.

Until last Saturday, Atletico hadn't won Spain's domestic league title in nearly two decades. And only super clubs Barcelona and Real Madrid had won a league crown since Valencia in 2004.

Atletico did it with a payroll about a third the size of its top well-funded rivals. It also used a defensive philosophy that traded possession for territory, allowing defenders to drop back and prevent high-percentage shots. Atletico gave up the fewest goals, 26, in the 38-game La Liga season.

For all the attention on Spain, though, Saturday's game could very well hinge on the health of two players from outside the country. Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, who last won this tournament in 2008 with Manchester United, hasn't played for Real Madrid in nearly three weeks because of a thigh injury while on the Atletico side Costa, who was born in Brazil, has a grade one hamstring tear.

"Nobody wants to miss a final, a final we have been aiming for, and it is obviously important," Ronaldo, whose 31 goals tied him with Liverpool's Luis Suarez for the European lead, told Real Madrid TV.

Real Madrid, which ousted both of last year's finalists en route to the title game, has won a record nine European Championships but the last one came more than a decade ago. Atletico, which upset Barcelona in the quarterfinals and England's Chelsea in the semifinals, is playing in the final for just the second time in its history, having lost to Bayern Munich in 1974.

Atletico beat Real Madrid then played it to a tie in their La Liga meetings. But Real shut out its crosstown rival twice in a week — winning 3-0 and 2-0 — in the Copa del Rey semifinals in February.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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SoccerSportsMadrid (Spain)SpainMunich (Germany)FIFA World CupPortugal
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