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Being devoted followers of Simeone is leading Atletico players to right destination

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LISBON, Portugal - Atletico Madrid's players are ready to follow coach Diego Simeone wherever he tells them to go.

So far he's leading them to exactly the places they want to be.

"He's like a god for us. He arrived to the club and he changed everything. What he says to us comes true," Atletico midfielder Tiago Mendes said on Friday. "We follow him, so if he asks us to go and jump from the bridge, we jump."

Simeone has been the guiding force behind Atletico's success this season, which already includes a Spanish league trophy.

It could add the Champions League title when it plays Real Madrid in Saturday's final, which captain Gabi Fernandez called the most important match in the club's history.

Simeone, meanwhile, credits the players with making him a better coach.

"I found a group of players that has allowed me and my coaching staff to improve," Simeone said from the Stadium of Light. "The most difficult thing you can do as a coach or player is to transmit what you hope to achieve to your players. We've managed that."

The bond Simeone shares with his players is obvious to his opponents.

"Simeone has done very well, there's a chemistry between Simeone and the players that is very, very good and unique," Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said. "That's why they won the league. He's done fantastic work."

Simeone's message since his arrival just over two seasons ago has been about teamwork, unity, and humility. His confidence in his players is unflinching, and the team's ability to adjust tactics has been impressive.

"Whether people like him or not, he has made us winners," Gabi said. "He instilled belief in us, that we can win, and he has made us better."

Atletico hadn't beaten Madrid in 14 years before Simeone finally managed the feat at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium last season to win the Copa del Rey. Atletico won again at Madrid in league play, but Simeone expects an entirely different opponent on Saturday than the team that struggled early in the season.

"In that game we played our way, but it's not the same Madrid team now," said Simeone, who is looking to become only the third non-European coach to win the European Cup. "Today they are much more competitive, they work harder. The coach found the way with his players to win. ... Madrid is a very complete team."

Atletico is playing in just its second European Cup final and first in 40 years as it looks to finish an improbable season with an exclamation point. And Atletico has a history of getting the better of Madrid in cup finals, winning four of five.

"More than ever we have the belief in ourselves as it has gotten us all the way to this point," Atletico midfielder Raul Garcia said.

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Follow Paul Logothetis on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PaulLogoAP

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