Real Madrid’s French coach Zinedine Zidane gestures during a press conference at Valdebebas Sport City in Madrid on May 9, 2017 on the eve of their Champions League semi final second leg football match against Atletico de Madrid. / AFP PHOTO / PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU
Zinedine Zidane insists he will have no divided loyalties after leading Real Madrid to a second consecutive Champions League final where they will meet his old club Juventus on June 3.
Real withstood a first-half onslaught from local rivals Atletico Madrid to progress 4-2 on aggregate despite losing 2-1 in their semi-final, second leg on Wednesday.
Italian champions Juventus await, who Zidane left for a then world record fee when he first joined Real as a player in 2001.
“For sure it is special because it was a very important club for me as a player. It is a club that also gave me everything,” said Zidane.
“Now, though, I am with Real Madrid, the club of my life and it will be a great final.”
Zidane admitted ahead of December’s last 16 draw that Juventus were the team he wanted to avoid due to his respect for Massimiliano Allegri’s side, who eased past Monaco 4-1 on aggregate in the other semi-final
“I can’t do anything about it now,” added Zidane.
“They have got to the final and deserve to be there, as do we.”
Ultimately, Cristiano Ronaldo’s first leg hat-trick proved the difference as for the fourth straight season Real eliminated Atletico from the Champions League.
Atletico had threatened an incredible comeback, Saul Niguez’s powerful header and Antoine Griezmann’s penalty inside 16 minutes cutting Real’s aggregate lead to a solitary goal.
However, Isco’s away goal just before half-time settled Real’s nerves and left Atletico with too much to do to progress.
“We knew they would start very strongly,” said Ronaldo.
“They had the luck to score two goals but we know that if we scored that would kill them.
“They played well, but we have more experience.”
Real can now make history by becoming the first side to retain the trophy in the Champions League era.
However, Zidane preferred to highlight the strength of his squad rather than his own role in a remarkably successful run since he took his first senior managerial job 17 months ago.
“I am delighted. I am the coach which means I am doing something right, but everyone in this squad is doing a phenomenal job.
“The squad should get the credit because it is they who are playing, running, fighting on the field.”
Real were without the injured Gareth Bale for both legs of the semi-final.
However, Zidane is hopeful the Welshman could be fit for a homecoming final in Cardiff.
“At the moment Gareth is recovering … we have time before the final.
“I hope we will have him back before then, it is better that he plays a little bit.”
– Encouraging future –
Despite the disappointment of bowing out to Real once more, Atletico boss Diego Simeone beamed with pride at his side’s performance.
“I am happy and proud that once again we have shown why we are competing at the top level just behind Real Madrid and Barcelona,” said the Argentine.
“When we said that we believed we could come back some thought it was just words.”
Atletico were inspired by a sensational atmosphere on their last ever Champions League game at the Vicente Calderon before moving to the new 67,000 capacity Wanda Metropolitano next season.
“The atmosphere was one of those magical moments in the Calderon that will live in people’s memories forever.”
Atletico face another big summer as on top of moving stadium, they will have to resist huge offers for the likes of Griezmann and Simeone.
However, Simeone insists Atletico will have a bright future after leaving the Calderon.
“It is clear that we still need to keep growing.
“That final step is still a big one and we need to keep improving. If we can improve on this then the future is encouraging.”