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UEFA Champions League

Third time lucky? Real hero Isco deserves final chance even if Bale is back

5:00 PM EDT 5/10/17
Isco Real Madrid
The midfielder scored the all-important away goal to kill off hopes of an Atletico revival and he is worthy of a starting spot against Juve in Cardiff


Isco is a man inspired for Real Madrid right now. The former Malaga midfielder spoiled the party on the last-ever European night at the Vicente Calderon by scoring to snuff out Atletico's aspirations of a historic comeback. Now he deserves to start the final in Cardiff.

Madrid make it to another Champions League final

Still only 25, it is easy to forget that Isco has been at Real for several years already. And unbelievably for one so young, the fixture versus Juventus at the Millennium Stadium on June 3 will be his third Champions League final.

Against Atletico in Lisbon, the Spanish international was a 59th-minute substitute for Sami Khedira, a surprise starter who was taken off to avoid the risk of him picking up second yellow card. In Milan last year, he replaced Toni Kroos with 18 minutes of normal time remaining.

Madrid won both matches, the first in extra time and the second on penalties, but Isco has grown frustrated at being a bit-part player in this team and was even linked with a move to Barcelona earlier on this season.

However, he is highly valued by coach Zinedine Zidane and has impressed immensely this term, starting in the Liga game away to Atletico in an emphatic 3-0 win.

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Superb showings against Sporting Gijon and Deportivo La Coruna followed in the Primera Division and, in Europe, his inclusion in the absence of the injured Gareth Bale has coincided with a big return to form for Cristiano Ronaldo in front of goal and also Karim Benzema.

Back at the Vicente Calderon on Wednesday night, it was Isco's intervention that ended hopes of a memorable turnaround for Diego Simeone's side, who had stormed into a 2-0 lead within 16 minutes to leave the Rojiblancos within one goal of their fierce rivals after last week's 3-0 loss at the Santiago Bernabeu.

However, this Madrid almost always score and after a fine run by Benzema in the box, Isco poked home from close range to break Atleti's hearts. In truth, the home side had sat back and invited pressure when they should have kept on attacking, but either way Real were likely to convert at some stage.

The strike was almost certainly Isco's most important in a Madrid shirt and he is starting to show this season that he deserves to be a permanent fixture in this team - something that has not happened ever since his move from Malaga in 2013.

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Bale is still sidelined and the Welsh winger is working hard to be back for the Champions League showpiece in his native Cardiff, a venue that will have some special significance in what will also be his third final in the continental competition.

However, Isco's guile and craft has given Madrid an added dimension in Europe over the past few games and even if Bale is available for the clash against Juventus early next month, the Spain midfielder definitely deserves to feature from the outset this time around.