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Spain’s Love Affair With The Champions League

Spain’s Love Affair With The Champions League

24 Semi-Finalists / 11 Finalists / 6 Championships

If you’re a fan of European football then you’ll be more than aware of the level of prominence to which Spanish football clubs frequently find themselves. And, while the history of the Champions League (since its revised format in the early 1990s) is littered with success from the major clubs from all the major leagues in Europe, it’s very hard not to notice the amount of times a Spanish find themselves at the sharp end of the tournament.

 

Indeed, in the twenty-one seasons of Champions League football, a Spanish side has reached the final on no fewer than eleven occasions (with an All Spanish final occurring twice) heralding six Champions League victories to being back to La Liga. Little wonder then, that the tournament is given such an elevated position in the minds of players, coaches, presidents and fans alike.

Of course, this proliferation of Spanish representation is dominated by two particular names: Real Madrid and Barcelona.

However, it would be entirely wrong to presume that they were solely responsible for such a glittering twenty year showing in Europe’s premier football tournament. In fact, although the six titles have been shared by the BIG 2, a further FOUR Spanish teams have reached the semi-finals since 1994, leading to THREE final appearances – a testament surely to the standard of football that La Liga has attained over the past two decades.

The Facts: Spain’s Reign in the Champions League

Barcelona’s Semi-Permanent Status

From Rijkaard to Enrique (via Guardiola) the past decade has, unquestionably been the most glittering in Barcelona’s history. Dominance of their domestic league is one thing, but to consistently reach the very latter stages of the Champions League is quite another thing altogether. Which is what makes their run to semi-finals and finals so remarkable. In the ten seasons since they were crowned champions in 2006 the Catalonians have made it to the semi-finals on 8 occasions, including a run of 6 consecutive years from 07/08 to 12/13.

Add to that the fact that Barca have (including that success in 2006) gone on to win the trophy three times and you have a team whose record is unparalleled in recent history.

All Spanish Affairs

Giving substance to the notion of Spanish strength in depth is the number of times that we’ve seen multiple teams go deep into the competition. Indeed, looking back to the turn of the century there was the famous season that saw Spain take up THREE of the FOUR semi-final slots through Barcelona, Valencia and eventual champions Real Madrid – who beat compatriots Valencia in the final.

Beyond the Big 2

Valencia have, in fact, carved out their own impressive European legacy in the past fifteen years. Having, briefly, cracked the Real/Barca stranglehold on the domestic competition in the early naughties, they then went on to compete in TWO consecutive Champions League Finals -losing the first to Real in 2000 before a heartbreaking penalty shoot-out loss to Bayern Munich the following year (a year which also saw Real reach the semis).

Then of course you have the remarkable run of Deportivo in 2004, who produced one of the most astonishing turnarounds in the tournaments history in their quarter final against defending champs, AC Milan. 4-1 down from the first leg they won the return 4-0 to book their one and only trip to the semi-finals (losing to eventual champions Porto 1-0).

Or Villareal who had to go through qualifying to reach the group stages, only to then forge their way to a semi-final showdown with Arsenal in which they narrowly lost over the 2 legs.

The Madrid Dominance

So yes, Real Madrid have had a number of occasions to boast of their footballing dominance from the 1950s to the Galaticos of the 90s and early 00s.

And then again – much more recently.

In 2014 it was Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema who spearheaded Real to their 10th European crown. However, this time they were not alone. Neighbours and rivals Atletico Madrid, having already secured the Spanish championship, proved what a force they were by making it through for a unique all-Madrid final.

A final in which they looked for all the world like winning through most of the 90 minutes, holding a lead until the final stages of play before succumbing to a Ramos equaliser and a extra-time capitulation that will have hurt like no other moment in their history.

 

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