THEY can go down as the greatest club side of all time.
Real Madrid are just 90 minutes from mastering the most difficult, the most challenging, the most arduous competition in European club football for a third successive season.
Getty Images Real Madrid will be the greatest-ever club side if they win the Champions League final
A hat-trick of Champions League successes would set Zinedine Zidane’s side apart. Better than the Real Madrid side inspired by Alfredo Di Stefano, who won the European Cup five times in a row when the competition launched in the 1950s.
Better than the Liverpool teams who dominated the competition in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when they triumphed over Borussia Monchengladbach, Bruges, Real and Roma.
Better, even, than the Barcelona side coached by Frank Rijkaard when they beat Arsenal in 2006 and then refined by Pep Guardiola in 2009 and 2011.
They were all outstanding but the pressure placed on Real’s players at the start of each season is extraordinary.
– Victory against Liverpool would make it three in a row and four in five years
The Spanish club are expected to win this trophy, placing it above their own domestic league title in terms of importance.
To travel across Europe, to come through six group games followed by the perils of knockout football, is the ultimate test for the modern player.
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The great Madrid side of the 1950s needed just seven games to win it (with the exception of one-off play-offs against Rapid Vienna and Stade Riems). In its current guise, the winner must play 13 games to get their hands on the trophy. It is relentless.
The demands inside that Real Madrid dressing room, with the history of this club and the constant reminders of their illustrious predecessors, are extraordinary.
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Everybody is out to beat them. To keep coming back for more in the modern era, when the trappings of fame and fortune can distract and destabilise the best players, is unique.
Real, operating under those intolerable demands, are a remarkable force. The final is Cristiano Ronaldo’s stage, the only player in Champions League history to score in 11 successive games in this tournament. Even at 33, his appetite is undimmed.