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Lisbon final's Champions League of nations

Published: Thursday 22 May 2014, 8.26CET
The finalists on Saturday are from the same city but much of Europe will be represented. We hear from Italy, Wales, Germany, Croatia, Belgium, France, Turkey and Portugal.

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Published: Thursday 22 May 2014, 8.26CET

Lisbon final's Champions League of nations

The finalists on Saturday are from the same city but much of Europe will be represented. We hear from Italy, Wales, Germany, Croatia, Belgium, France, Turkey and Portugal.

Italy
The Madrid derby could split Italy along similar intra-city lines. AC Milan and AS Roma fans may well cheer for Carlo Ancelotti's Real Madrid CF, while FC Internazionale Milano and SS Lazio supporters would love to see Diego Simeone lift the trophy with Club Atlético de Madrid. As a player Ancelotti won the Scudetto and four Coppa Italias with Roma before moving to Milan and landing the European Cup twice, a feat he repeated as coach with the Rossoneri. "I wish Carlo the best of luck," said current Milan boss Clarence Seedorf. "I will be very happy if his Madrid win the cup."

Simeone picked up the Scudetto and the Coppa Italia as a Lazio midfielder but also left fond memories during his two-year stint at Inter. "He was always looking for perfection," said Simeone's former Lazio colleague Fabio Liverani. "He has had a fantastic season and I think Atlético can go all the way. I wish him the best."

Wales
If it has taken Gareth Bale time to prove himself to the Spanish press, the modern Welsh talisman can do little wrong in the eyes of those watching from his home country. Recent inspired performances for Wales have made Bale the star attraction in Chris Coleman's national team, though his exploits in the Spanish capital have also been closely followed by those with a keen interest in advocating one of the best things to happen to Welsh football in years to a wider audience.

Just four other Welsh footballers have figured in either the European Champion Clubs' Cup or the UEFA Champions League final, and a positive influence from Bale in Saturday's decider will merely add to the growing belief that he can be the catalyst to Wales qualifying for a major international tournament. The vindication of his transfer fee – to those that ever doubted him – is nothing more than a bonus.

Germany
Real Madrid's Sami Khedira plays a big part in Germany coach Joachim Löw's plans; indeed, when announcing his preliminary squad for the FIFA World Cup, he said the holding midfielder was the exception to his rule of only taking fully fit players to South America. Of course the Germany staff would be happy should Khedira get playing time in Lisbon – which seems possible now that Xabi Alonso is suspended. "Until Saturday night, what counts for Khedira is the 'Décima' instead of 'Deutschland'," writes magazine Stern on its website. "Khedira playing in the Champions League final would maybe even be worth more than the first day at training camp with Germany."

According to Frankfurter Rundschau, though, it is extremely unlikely that Khedira will make the starting XI, quoting coach Carlo Ancelotti: "He has done fantastic and professional work. But he has not played many games, that is the only problem." The paper continues: "The coach suggested he is more likely to play not the long-time injured German international instead of suspended Xabi Alonso, but Asier Illarramendi."

Croatia
Croatia knew before the semis that their nation would be represented in Lisbon as Mario Mandžukić's FC Bayern München faced Luka Modrić's Madrid. Modrić won and is set to become the 15th Croatian player in a European Cup final, running from Hamburger SV's Ivan Buljan in 1980 to Mandžukić last season.

Mandžukić is on a list of seven winners with Robert Prosinečki, Alen Bokšić, Zvonimir Boban, Davor Šuker, Dario Šimić and Igor Bišćan. Modrić is considered the biggest Croatia ace at the moment, and fans and media believe that if he becomes their eighth European Cup winner he will continue that form at the World Cup in Brazil.

Belgium
Atlético pair Thibaut Courtois and Toby Alderweireld will become two of the rarer Belgians should they appear in Lisbon. Club Brugge KV are the sole Belgian side to reach a European Cup final, losing 1-0 to Liverpool FC in 1978, while nine years later – under the watchful eye of Belgian referee Alexis Ponnet – Jean-Marie Pfaff was in the Bayern goal for a 2-1 reverse to FC Porto.

The first Belgian success followed in 1988, defender Eric Gerets helping PSV Eindhoven beat SL Benfica on penalties, while the UEFA Champions League era began with Raymond Goethals coaching Olympique de Marseille to victory; he remains the competition's oldest winner. More recently Daniel Van Buyten helped Bayern to three finals yet, while he played in the 2010 and 2012 defeats, he was an unused substitute for last year's triumph over Borussia Dortmund. Courtois certainly knows the importance of European success to his country: after Atlético's 2012 UEFA Europa League final win he collected a flag from his fans in the stands, saying: "We can be proud of Belgium."

©AFP/Getty Images

Karim Benzema and Luka Modrić in training

France
On the other side of the Pyrenees, and especially at the Clairefontaine training base – where France's World Cup squad have gathered for the first time – there is sure to be plenty of interest in the final. "Karim Benzema is on top form," said Les Bleus coach Didier Deschamps of the 26-year-old Real Madrid forward, who drew a blank at UEFA EURO 2012 but is being tipped for a starring role in Brazil after netting four goals in his last five internationals. "He has to be a leader," said television pundit and former striker Omar Da Fonseca. "Considering the season he has had, expectations are high around him."

Unlikely to start for Madrid, 21-year-old centre-back Raphaël Varane is one for the future for both club and country; he has impressed in his five outings for France, where he has been preferred to the experienced Éric Abidal in the World Cup squad.

Turkey
Unsurprisingly the focus is on Arda Turan, and it would have been even had he not been one of Atlético's two main injury doubts. The 27-year-old winger – who helped Atlético win the UEFA Europa League in 2012, 12 months after arriving from Galatasaray – could become the first Turkish player to lift the European Cup, joining more than 50 other countries in producing champions. Turkey have previously been represented in the final by Yıldıray Baştürk (Bayer 04 Leverkusen, 2002), Hamit Altıntop (FC Bayern München, 2010) and Nuri Şahin (Borussia Dortmund, 2013).

Newspaper Hürriyet also reported on Atlético's weekend Liga victory celebrations, observing that Turkish singer Tarkan's hit Şımarık was played to mark the appearance of a beaming Arda, wrapped in a national flag, on the stage. It was also noted that when a dancing Arda emerged, Turkish flags were waved by the crowds.

Portugal
Portugal will be united and divided for the final. United because the Portuguese people are aware of the prestige a final like this has for the country and also the fact the game will be contested by Portuguese players, meaning that at least one of them will taste glory on home soil, a source of national pride. The divide comes when it is time to pick a side. As former player Nuno Gomes said: "For me it's going to be complicated as they are all old mates and I maintain a good relationship with them."

It might also be a hard task for Benfica fans, since Tiago and Fábio Coentrão played for the Eagles and will now be up against each other. As for Cristiano Ronaldo, he said: "I've always dreamed of winning the Champions as a Real Madrid player. The fact it might happen in my country and at the Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica makes it more special."

Reporters: Paolo Menicucci, Mark Pitman, Steffen Potter, Elvir Islamović, Berend Scholten, Christian Châtelet & Luis Piedade

Last updated: 22/05/14 14.30CET

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