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Spanish Soccer Fans Rejoice, 2 Madrid Teams In European Final


We've been hearing a lot lately about the World Cup which kicks off in Brazil next month. It comes every four years. Soccer's most important annual match kicks off this weekend in Lisbon, Portugal. It's the Champions League and for the first time in history, that competition is between two teams from the same city - Madrid. If you didn't know how obsessed Spaniards are with soccer, you're about to find out with this postcard from Lauren Frayer, in Madrid.


LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: This is one of the most beloved songs in global sports - the Champion's League theme. It heralds the climax of the soccer calendar. The final game is like the Super Bowl. Even though it's just for European teams, last year's final was the most-watched sporting event in the world with 360 million TV viewers, from China to Africa to the Americas.

Out of more than 100 professional teams in Europe, the last two standing this year are from the very same city. Real Madrid, the world's richest team, versus its underdog hometown rival, Atlético de Madrid.

MARK ELKINGTON: I mean, it's hugely important for Atletico because, I mean, it's the first time in 40 years since they've been to a European Cup final.

FRAYER: Mark Elkington covers Spanish soccer for British media.

ELKINGTON: And for Real Madrid, because, you know, they have this obsession now, this love affair with the European Cup. They're the team that's won it the most times, nine times, and they have this, yes, it's 'la decima' - the tenth - is the one that's an obsession.


FRAYER: And this is what obsession sounds like. I'm at a 'peña' - a bar that's declared its allegiance, in this case, to Atletico de Madrid. And I'm here to meet the man they call the poet of Spanish soccer.


FRAYER: Soccer is the essence of pain and defeat, even more than victory, says José Antonio Martín Otín, a former player, agent and soccer commentator better known by his nickname, Petón. We know we suffer for our teams, more than the fleeting happiness they bring us. But we wouldn't change it for the world.

One of the long-suffering Atlético fans is Ramon Prieto, who describes Saturday's game as a sort of David and Goliath match-up.

RAMON PRIETO: American friends have told me that they think Real Madrid is like the L.A. Lakers, and we are like the Clippers. Some feel like this because we don't have as much money as the Lakers do.

FRAYER: Less than a quarter of the budget. Real Madrid is used to competing with top-tier teams like Manchester United, Bayern Munich, Inter Milan, not its kid brother Atletico. But the two teams have a friendly rivalry. Every November, Madrid holds a fan derby where runners don Real Madrid or Atletico jerseys and race each other from one stadium to the other.

Radomir Antic is famous for having coached both Madrid teams. I met him his way to Lisbon for the game, and asked him to pick a favorite. He was diplomatic.

RADOMIR ANTIC: Well, two different clubs. Atlético Madrid for them, this is a grand achievement. For Real Madrid, it's their 10th title. They know what it is to win championships. And Atletico Madrid after 40 years.


FRAYER: This is the A-5 highway out of Madrid. Straight ahead, 400 miles, is Lisbon. Hundreds of thousands of Madrileños are road-tripping it this week, to be in the Portuguese capital for Saturday's game and watch their team win. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid.


MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.