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Champions League final heartbreak sums up Atleti's luck

A 5-3 penalty shoot-out defeat to rivals Real Madrid is only the latest example of Atletico's horrible misfortune in Europe's premier competition

Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

It may not have been lost in the same manner as Lisbon two years ago, but that doesn't make things any better for Atleti. The defeat in 2014 came at the hands of a Sergio Ramos header in the 93rd minute before an onslaught in extra time saw Real run out to a 4-1 victory. It brought back unwanted memories of the European Cup final 40 years prior to Bayern Munich, when Atletico at the time found themselves 1-0 in front only to be denied by an injury time equaliser. Heading into the final at the San Siro, those involved with the club will have anxiously pondered the cruel mishaps that could occur this time around. To those who imagined it would be a painful penalty shoot-out defeat, their fears weren't to be allayed.

A third defeat in a Champions League final, with zero wins in the monumental fixture, places Atletico in the record books as the only team to be blessed with such a cursed honour. It seems almost poetic. Two finals lost because of their inability to defend the last kick of the game despite keeping the opposition at bay for the whole game, and a penalty shoot-out defeat due to Juanfran's effort hitting the post. Football is usually described as a game of inches; tonight showed exactly why. To rub salt into the wounds, it wasn't even the first chance from the spot that Atleti missed on the night. Antoine Griezmann's spot kick early in the second half also bounced off the woodwork, as Real kept their 1-0 lead. At that time, it must have felt like deja-vu for a club that has suffered too much heartbreak in this competition.

In 1974, the unfortunate events which led to Bayern snatching the trophy from the clutches of los Rojiblancos just seemed unlucky. The first European Cup final for the Spanish club, and though it set the tone for future occasions, at the time it didn't bring with it calls that the team were cursed. That it happened four decades later was a strange episode and made those associated with the club uneasy with such rotten luck transpiring in the final again. Nonetheless, esteemed teams like Juventus and Barcelona each lost in their first two appearances in the biggest game in club football, with the meeting with Real offering an opportunity for retribution. It wasn't revenge on Los Blancos that Atletico pursued, it was revenge on the competition that had caused so much pain in the past.

May 28th seemed like the date for Atleti's destiny. A third final after the two previous ones ended in cruel heartbreak. Now was the time to halt the losing mentality and take that last step to finally place their names among the European greats. They had negotiated their way past a tricky tie with PSV Eindhoven in the second round before tactically overshadowing Barcelona and fighting for their lives versus Bayern. All three rounds brought something different from the players and coaches alike. Their passage to prominence was now set as one only thing stood in the way; Winning the final. What was set up so beautifully, almost like something which would be written in Hollywood, turned out to be false. Those connected with the club, whether it's the fans, players, coaches or boardroom members, were deceived into believing this was the year that the lovable losers would become the wondrous winners. In a situation like the one Atleti found themselves in, where the dream was so incredible but the nightmare was too tragic, the reality can be destructive. Instead of the fantasy image of Gabi lifting the Champions League trophy on the steps of Milan, where he would represent the 1974 Atletico captain of Luis Aragones as well as the 2014 version of himself, Real hoisted their 11th European prize and the harsh truth was setting in.

When the game descended into penalties, it almost felt like a parody within itself. Surely, Atletico can't lose it like this. It would have been unfair to have lost it in normal time as a result of a missed penalty and a goal that looked offside but Yannick Carrasco's equaliser with 11 minutes left of normal time looked like it had turned the past on its head. Atleti were now the team that was clawing their way back from their supposed demise, nicking a final-saving goal when it looked like Real were ready to finish them off. The time for the football gods to have had los Colcheneros lose was in normal time, with Carrasco's contribution unnecessary. That Atletico took a seemingly lost game into extra time and then penalties only pushed the retribution narrative even further. But hope can be a dangerous thing sometimes.

As Juanfran's penalty hit off Keylor Navas' post, it became clear what the true destiny was here. It wasn't Atleti switching places with their past teams and scoring a late equaliser before grabbing victory. It wasn't even the fairy tale adventure of the Simeone era being offered a glorious and deserved ending. It was that Atletico were being placed as the sport's perennial losers. This time there was no doubt. You can argue with two final losses 40 years apart, especially when teams have been in that situation before becoming European powerhouses. Three defeats in as many matches leaves no doubt that this competition is the sole one which refuses to be conquered by the red and white. Up until this fixture, Atletico were flirting with making unwanted history. As Ronaldo's penalty smashed against the back of the net it not only confirmed Real Madrid as Champions of Europe but also placed Atleti as the most unsuccessful participant in the history of the final. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.