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When finishing second best hurts!

By Bikash Mohapatra
June 01, 2016 12:37 IST
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Last weekend two teams, in different sports, continued their habit of losing in finals.
Atletico Madrid and Royal Challengers again failed when it mattered most.
Bikash Mohapatra/Rediff.com spells out the difference between a champion and beaten finalist.

A disappointed Virat Kohli after the IPL 9 final on Sunday

IMAGE: A disappointed Virat Kohli acknowledges the crowd after the IPL 9 final, May 29, 2016. Photograph: BCCI

Making it to the final of a competition is no mean feat. However, there's a simple rule to be followed thereafter: If you are in it, then win it.

No one remembers a beaten finalist.

As the saying goes, you don't win silver, but lose out on gold.

All the effort to make it to that stage is nullified.

A final is all about the result, not performance.

Ahead of the recent FA Cup final, then Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal was asked if he wanted to see his side play good football. His response was he would rather win ugly.

'Winning is the most important thing in a final,' the Dutchman said. 'When you lose you have nothing.'

United won, and the success could probably underline his legacy at Old Trafford.

Modern sport is replete with examples of players and teams that were competent enough to contest multiple finals, but not good enough to win any of them.

Blame it on nerves, the absence of big match temperament or simply the lack of a winning mindset, these players/teams failed to seize the chances they created.

Ruthless as it may sound, but, after a point, losing (when it matters the most) became a habit in these cases. The best example one can think of at this stage is squash player Chris Dittmar.

The Australian was ranked No 1 in the world at one point, but never won either of the sport's big events -- the British Open or the World Cup.

One can be empathetic, and sympathetic, of the fact that his career coincided with those of two of the game's legends: Jahangir Khan and Jansher Khan. But there can be no pity whatsoever for not being able to find a way to beat both, despite having played them so many times.

For the record, Dittmar finished second best in all the seven finals he contested in the two events combined, and is still considered as the 'best player never to have won'!

Atletico Madrid players look on during the penalty shoot out during the UEFA Champions League final against Real Madrid at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza in Milan on Saturday

IMAGE: Atletico Madrid players during the penalty shoot-out in the UEFA Champions League final against Real Madrid at San Siro Stadium in Milan, May 28, 2016. Atletico have now lost twice to the same opponents in the Champions League final. Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Last weekend we witnessed two teams, in different sports, continuing their habit of losing in the finals.

On Saturday, May 28, Atletico Madrid's resilient performance came to naught as city rivals Real won an unprecedented 11th Champions League crown. The reverse in Milan meant Atletico have now lost all the three finals they contested in Europe's major club competition.

On Sunday, May 29, the Royal Challengers Bangalore was at the receiving end for a third time in the Indian Premier League final.

Barring staunch Real supporters, probably all others wanted Atletico to win their maiden title.

Diego Simeone's men have been impressive in recent years, winning everything else save the biggest of them all. A second final loss in three years, both to their city rivals, was a difficult pill to swallow.

Despite having a straightforward chance (read Antoine Griezmann's missed penalty) to win the match in normal time, Atletico made a mess of it. The result was yet another failure to cross the final hurdle and win the elusive honour.

That failure has made Atletico the club equivalent of The Netherlands national team.

The Dutch, one of the most consistent and exciting teams and the inventors of 'Total Football,' are yet to win the World Cup, despite making it to the final thrice.

Simeone is aware of the parallel, and the grim reality.

'To lose two finals is a failure. Nobody remembers the ones who finish second,' the Argentine said.

Except for the few who travelled from Hyderabad, most of the capacity crowd at the M Chinnaswamy stadium rooted for the home team. Even for the neutrals, RCB was the best team never to have won the tournament, the 'sentimental favourite' so to speak.

The formbook pointed out that Virat Kohli and Co had emphatically progressed to the final, winning their last four games. Kohli and A B de Villiers had combined well throughout the tournament. Chris Gayle had also found form at the right time.

When David Warner opted to bat first, it seemed he had played straight into RCB's hands. Instead, the astute Aussie was banking on his team's strengths.

Even though Kohli picked up individual awards, he couldn't hide his disappointment at the post-match ceremony.

'We have lost in quite a few finals now, also one in the Champions League T20 (now defunct),' he lamented, adding, 'We would have been loved to be on other side of the result.'

Unlike Atletico, RCB has no parallels.

One could point out that the South African cricket team is labelled 'chokers.' But the Proteas have never even qualified for a final -- either in the World Cup or the World T20. They 'choke' much before that.

There could also be a reference about England losing three World Cup finals. But the English team did win the World T20 in 2010.

RCB, as Kohli pointed out, even lost the lone CLT20 final the team contested. No one would be more desperate, and willing, to help the team shed the unwanted reputation of perennial 'beaten finalists.'

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