Brilliant Isco sends Real Madrid to Cardiff final

Defending champion Real Madrid withstood an early onslaught by Atletico Madrid to reach a third Champions League final in four years despite a 2-1 loss to its city rival on Wednesday. 

Real Madrid's Isco celebrates his goal against Atletico Madrid with captain Sergio Ramos.   -  Getty Images

Defending champion Real Madrid withstood an early onslaught by Atletico Madrid to reach a third Champions League final in four years despite a 2-1 loss to its city rival on Wednesday. 

Atletico, which trailed 3-0 after the first leg, scored twice in the first 16 minutes at the Vicente Calderon Stadium to move within a goal of sending the semifinal, second-leg into extra time. But Isco netted a crucial away goal for Real Madrid before halftime to secure a 4-2 victory on aggregate and a spot in the final against Juventus on June 3 in Cardiff.

Match Centre

Madrid will try to become the first team to win back-to-back titles since the competition's new format was created in 1992. Madrid will be the first team to have a chance to defend its title since Manchester United made it to consecutive finals in 2008-09. 

Atletico ends its Champions League campaign without a shot at the title and with its fourth straight elimination to its powerful Spanish rival. Madrid defeated Atletico in the final last year and in 2014, and also eliminated the crosstown opponent in the quarterfinal in 2015. 

Atletico kept its hopes alive on Wednesday by scoring two early goals to ignite the crowd at the packed Calderon. Saul Niguez netted the first goal with a header off a corner in the 12th minute, and Antoine Griezmann added to the lead four minutes later by converting a penalty after Fernando Torres was tripped by defender Raphael Varane. 

Griezmann, who had missed a penalty in last year's final against Madrid, slipped slightly just as he was taking the shot. Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas got his glove to the ball, but couldn't keep it out. 
Madrid coped with the setbacks and as the pressure from Atletico began to ease, the champion struck a decisive blow when Karim Benzema came up with a spectacular move to create Isco's goal.

The French striker was surrounded by three Atletico defenders at the byline, but somehow found a way past all of them with a pair of quick touches. He sped into the area and sent a backward pass to Toni Kroos, whose shot was parried by goalkeeper Jan Oblak. But Isco pounced on the rebound to score from close range.

The goal all but ended Atletico's hopes of advancing, and the second half was played at a much calmer pace, with few significant scoring opportunities for both teams.

Navas had to make a fine double-save in the 66th minute to block a shot by Yannick Carrasco and a header by Kevin Gameiro, while Cristiano Ronaldo had a goal disallowed for offside at the other end in the 69th. 

Before the game, Atletico fans had displayed huge banners that read, "proud not to be like you," a response to Madrid's message before the first leg. 
The banners at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium last week read "tell me how it feels," along with an image of the Champions League trophy and the words "Milan" and "Lisbon," the cities which hosted the finals where Madrid defeated Atletico in 2014 and 2016. 

Atletico was upset by the banners and provoked Madrid in the run-up to the second leg. The club sent a series of tweets that praised its fans for having unconditional love for the team despite the results, accompanied by the hashtag "they can't understand."

The Atletico crowd stayed on to cheer their team long after the final whistle, while the players returned from the changing rooms several minutes after the game to greet the fans. Coach Diego Simeone was loudly cheered. He was still asking for the crowd's support in second-half stoppage time.

Madrid players also returned to thanks their own supporters, and many Atletico fans threw objects toward them.

It was the final European game at the Calderon before Atletico moves into a new venue next season. 

Before the game, local media reported that some Atletico fans threw bottles and stones at a bus carrying Madrid supporters, causing minor injuries to some of them. Police also confronted some Atletico fans just outside the stadium.

For more updates, follow Sportstar on :