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Five to watch

SHERRYLYN CLARKE, [email protected]

Five to watch

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LISBON, Portugal (AP) – Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid meet in the first Champions League final between teams from the same city and fifth between teams from the same country.
Both are looking to close their seasons with a double. Madrid tries to follow their Copa del Rey victory with a record tenth European Cup. Atletico can secure their first title in Europe’s top competition just a week after winning their first Spanish League trophy in 18 years.
Here are five players who can make the difference today at the Stadium of Light:
Iker Casillas
The Real Madrid goalkeeper has overcome being dropped as the first-team goalkeeper in the Spanish League to make the most of his limited playing time. And the 33-year-old Casillas has exceeded expectations in a part-time role, leading Madrid not only into the final, but to victory in the Copa del Rey, where he did not allow a goal until the 2-1 final win over Barcelona.
Casillas’ play in Europe and the domestic cup has cemented his starting place for Spain at the World Cup, and a third European Cup on his resume would certainly add to his stature as Spain’s greatest keeper. Casillas has never lost to Atletico.
Thibaut Courtois
Atletico Madrid’s goalkeeper won his second straight Zamora trophy after conceding the fewest league goals in helping his team to the Spanish League title. The Belgium goalie has flourished in the three seasons he has spent on loan from Chelsea at Atletico, helping the club win five trophies with catlike reflexes and a penchant for key saves.
Today’s final could be Courtois’ last game for Atletico with Chelsea looking increasingly likely to call their keeper of the future back to Stamford Bridge to compete with Petr Cech for the starting job. “Courtois and (Manchester United’s) David De Gea are the best and most promising young goalkeepers in the game,” Casillas said.
Cristiano Ronaldo
No player will be as motivated as Cristiano Ronaldo, who has finally guided Real Madrid back to the Champions League final for the first time in 12 years – and in his native Portugal, no less.
Ronaldo joined Manchester United from Sporting Lisbon, and guided the English club to a European Cup win in 2008 before losing to Barcelona a year later in Rome. Despite some recent injury setbacks, Ronaldo can cap perhaps his most complete season, which has already seen him win the Ballon d’Or. Ronaldo has scored 50 goals this season, and will be looking to add to his record 16 scored in the Champions League this campaign.
Barcelona playmaker Xavi Hernandez labelled Jorge “Koke” Resurreccion his heir apparent on the Spain national team. The Atletico midfielder is proving him right after helping his boyhood club to their first Spanish League title in since 1996, when he was four.
Striker Diego Costa has drawn much of the headlines about Atletico’s success but none of it would have been possible without Koke, who seems to be involved in nearly every one of Atletico’s goals from open play or set pieces. Koke can also score himself. He netted the deciding goal in the quarter-final win over Barcelona.
Gareth Bale
The world’s most expensive player has certainly delivered in his first season at Madrid despite a season marred by occasional injury worries and the lofty expectations that came with a $137 million transfer.
The addition of Bale has turned Madrid’s attack into Europe’s most explosive, as Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Bale combined for 95 goals this season. Bale’s winner in the 2-1 Copa del Rey final against Barcelona will certainly be among the season’s best and has enamoured him with the club’s fans. His size, speed and dribbling will test Atletico’s defence, which was the best in Spain this season.