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Club Atlético de Madrid's progress to their first UEFA Champions League final – a historic one between two teams from the same city – is the "fruit of the labour that we've been doing for nearly three years," says Diego Simeone.
Simeone took charge of the Rojiblancos, a side he represented with distinction over two spells in a stellar playing career, in December 2011, crowning his first half-season at the helm with victory against Athletic Club in an all-Spanish UEFA Europa League final in Bucharest.
Now, having steered Atlético to their first Liga championship since 1996 after coming through a tense fixture on Saturday against title rivals FC Barcelona, the former Argentina midfielder is readying his players for the biggest match of all – Saturday's Lisbon showpiece, the Colchoneros' 13th assignment of an unbeaten European campaign, versus the team they overcame in the Copa del Rey decider 12 months ago.
"It's the fruit of the labour that we've been doing for nearly three years," Simeone told UEFA.com. "We responded well in the Europa League a year and a half ago, if I remember rightly. We still have the same humility, the same group ethic. From the strikers right through to the goalkeeper, the team is aware of how we need to play in order to succeed, in order to highlight our strengths and hide our weaknesses – because we do have weaknesses, we just hope not to show them."
Forty years after their only previous European Cup final appearance, a 4-0 replay defeat by FC Bayern München following a 1-1 draw in Brussels, Atlético face familiar opposition in their second. They tackle a side also seeking to make history with Madrid's tenth triumph in the competition – 'La Decima' as it has become known.
"It's a historic rivalry," said Simeone, 44, who could become just the third non-European coach to lift the trophy after compatriots Luis Carniglia (Madrid 1958, 1959) and Helenio Herrera (FC Internazionale Milano 1964, 1965).
"It's great, both in terms of the matches themselves and the fact that in one city you have such a powerful team as Real Madrid and a battling team such as Atlético Madrid. The idiosyncrasies of the clubs couldn't be more different, possibly from a social perspective as well. Each team uses the tools it has at its disposal and it's a great rivalry, no matter which team you support."
So, what of Atlético's opponents at the Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica, a side Simeone's men have beaten only once in four meetings this term? "They've played with three in midfield and three up front and recently they've been playing a 4-4-2 which has brought good results," explained the former Calcio Catania tactician. "With the calibre of players they have, they are going to be dangerous whatever system they play. Madrid have big personalities throughout the team, they have great players."
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