Real Madrid is going for a record-extending 15th European Cup.

Borussia Dortmund is aiming to pull off one of soccer’s biggest upsets in recent memory.

Whoever wins the Champions League final on Saturday will be defying the odds in their own way.

Madrid’s domination of European club soccer’s biggest prize confounds belief. Its record of 14 titles is twice as many as its closest rival AC Milan.

“The club has created its history in this competition,” coach Carlo Ancelotti says.

Madrid’s record in the Champions League era is even more impressive: Eight wins since the tournament was rebranded in 1992; three in a row from 2016-18 and five in the last 10 years. In the same period, Madrid has won La Liga only four times.

Madrid has also been a semifinalist in 12 of the last 14 seasons.

“It’s something special for the club, for all the madridistas (fans) and for us, who are also madridistas. It’s a competition where we’re more focused,” says Ancelotti, who can win a record-extending fifth Champions League as a coach.

Teams are not supposed to enjoy such superiority in a competition filled with the biggest and richest clubs in the world. Not even great teams of recent times such as Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona or Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United — both repeat finalists — could come close to the kind of hold Madrid has had on the Champions League. And even in the face of competition from state-backed teams like Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain, the all-time king of Europe refuses to be dethroned.

Which is why this final is so intriguing.

It is a clash between the old money and glamor of Madrid and the savvy approach of a Dortmund team that has found an alternative way to compete with Europe’s superpowers.

There is no better illustration of the contrast between the rivals than Jude Bellingham, who swapped Dortmund for Madrid last year in a deal worth up to $139 million.

Bellingham could well be the match-winner, having helped fire Madrid to the Spanish title in a spectacular debut season.

Yet, in his absence, Dortmund stands on the brink of adding to its lone Champions League triumph in 1997 in its third final ever.

Selling the likes of Bellingham is part of the German club’s strategy of buying emerging talents and then cashing in.

A year earlier, it was Erling Haaland who was sold to Man City. The roll call of stars who have passed through the club includes Jadon Sancho, Christian Pulisic, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Ousmane Dembele and Robert Lewandowski.

Not that Dortmund represents a fairytale in the strictest of terms. Forbes ranks it as the 12th most valuable soccer team in the world in its most recent rich list. But it represents a different way of competing at the top.

Dortmund’s willingness to give opportunities to young players before selling them to bigger clubs has made it an appealing option for the likes of Haaland and Bellingham, who were both targets of Manchester United before choosing to develop their careers in Germany.

“I was at Dortmund for three years, I took a path that’s a bit unfamiliar for players in England,” Bellingham has said. “But I am grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given in European football. Maybe they wouldn’t be as accessible in England.”

Bellingham’s move has paid off for all parties. He is playing beside Vinicius Junior and Eduardo Camavinga, and they are expected to be joined next season by Kylian Mbappe.

Such talent has been the bedrock of Madrid’s Champions League dominance. Many of the game’s greats have worn the white shirt from Zinedine Zidane to Cristiano Ronaldo.

Dortmund do it a different way. Bedside the young tyros, it has squeezed last flings out of aging stars Mats Hummels, Niclas Fullkrug and Marcel Sabitzer to plot a path to a first final in 11 years. The loan signing of Sancho after his troubled spell at United has also been key.

While it has endured a disappointing Bundesliga, finishing fifth and 27 points adrift of champion Bayer Leverkusen, Dortmund has eliminated Dutch champion PSV and French champion PSG in the Champions League playoffs under Edin Terzic.

“Our objective is to win the Champions League and to do that you have to beat the champions. Now the absolute champion historically, and in particular in this competition, awaits us,” Terzic says. “If anyone has shown that you can achieve a lot in one game, it has been us, especially this season and especially in this competition.”


James Robson is at


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