Real Madrid CF may not be appearing in the UEFA Champions League final at their own stadium but five former Merengues players will fly the flag for the hosts at the Santiago Bernabéu.
A round of 16 defeat by Olympique Lyonnais ended Real Madrid CF's hopes of contesting the UEFA Champions Leaue final at their own stadium, but five players expected to start Saturday's showdown once called the Santiago Bernabéu home: FC Bayern München winger Arjen Robben and FC Internazionale Milano's Wesley Sneijder, Samuel Eto'o, Walter Samuel and Esteban Cambiasso.
Robben and Sneijder both left Madrid during a busy summer last year which saw Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaká and Karim Benzema join the Bernabéu ranks. For Robben, the final is – to a degree – an opportunity for him and his Netherlands team-mate to prove their class after perhaps failing to show their full potential in a Madrid shirt.
"A dream came true for both of us," he told UEFA.com. "Neither of us has played in a Champions League final, and it also has to do with the way we left Madrid of course. But in the end it's all about football and all about winning. For us, it's more that we both want to win this title."
Robben scored three of the best goals in this season's competition, registering in each knockout round as Bayern eliminated ACF Fiorentina, Manchester United FC and Lyon. Playmaker Sneijder was no less pivotal for José Mourinho's Inter with five assists and three goals, one in the quarter-final against PFC CSKA Moskva and another in the last-four triumph over FC Barcelona.
"Yes, it should be nice to play there," the former AFC Ajax man told UEFA.com. "Playing in the final, and winning the cup, that would great. After going to Inter and knowing that the final would be at the Bernabéu, it became a dream to get there – to reach the final and lift the trophy. Let's go for it, nothing's impossible."
Another summer signing, Samuel Eto'o, came to Inter fresh from winning a second UEFA Champions League with Barcelona, but the striker's career began with Madrid. "I grew up in that stadium," he recalled. "I took my first steps as a professional player there. I hope it will bring us luck."
Eto'o played three 1999/2000 UEFA Champions League games with Madrid yet had moved on by the time they took the trophy at the end of that campaign. "I didn't get a medal as I was out on loan [at RCD Mallorca]," he said. "I was a young lad and still learning. It was a good thing for me. I saw my idols play. When you are part of the team, you all work together. Some play more, some play less. I was one of those playing less, but the key thing is to be positive for the squad's sake. It taught me a lot."
Inter centre-back Samuel spent one term with Madrid in 2004/05, while midfielder Cambiasso signed for them as a teenager in 1996 and played for the first team between 2002 and 2004 after a spell back in Argentina. "Fourteen years after coming to Real at 15, it's strange that today I have a chance to play a UEFA Champions League final here – particularly since I have left Real Madrid," he said.
However, Cambiasso feels the Santiago Bernabéu is the perfect venue for the final. "Above all it has great history," he said. "It has hosted some of the greatest matches ever, and it's a nice stadium because it's very intense and tightly-packed – you can really hear the fans. There will be an incredible atmosphere."