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Real Madrid fans struggle for Champions League tickets in Cardiff

Layla Anna-Lee takes a tour of the Cardiff stadium ahead of the Champions League final.

MADRID -- Most Real Madrid fans need a miracle to see their team play in Saturday's Champions League final against Juventus. The costs of travel to Wales, the price and availability of a ticket (if you are lucky to find one) makes it almost impossible.

Real can become the first team to retain the European Cup in its modern format if they can beat Juventus in Cardiff, but the reality is that many die-hard fans who support their team through everything during the season have been priced out of a chance to see their heroes in the final.

Oscar Sanchez of fans' group Asociacion SRM (Socios del Real Madrid) told ESPN FC that the business side of the Champions League final has removed the passion from the occasion.

"Of course, football belongs to the fans, that is what makes it so marvellous," Sanchez says. "When it is inaccessible, and stained by business, the passion starts to disappear. To get to a Champions League final today is a real miracle, and for a whole family to go together is almost impossible."

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The official share-out for the game at the 66,536 capacity Millennium Stadium saw finalists Madrid and Juventus both given 17,518 tickets each, with 5,500 sold publicly online and the remainder reserved for UEFA stakeholders and partners. Some Blancos fans have therefore looked to unofficial internet marketplaces where the cheapest tickets available are around €1,200 each.

"The problem comes down from the institutions themselves," Sanchez maintains. "UEFA gives a percentage of its share of the tickets to websites to sell legally. Then outside the stadium there are dozens of touts selling tickets too."

UEFA's managing director of communications Pablo Pinto defended the share-out to ESPN FC, pointing out that fans of the two teams involved got more than half of all tickets, while others within the "football family" deserved a share too.

"The capacity for the Champions League final is 65,576," Pinto said. "Fans of both finalists were given a total of 36,000 tickets. 5,500 tickets were made available via general sale on UEFA.com [so] fans from all over the world have the chance to purchase a ticket.

"UEFA ensures that approximately 62 percent of the overall tickets are distributed to fans and general public. Tickets are also sold via the corporate hospitality programme. In addition, UEFA guarantees that all stakeholders -- local organising committee, the football family, national associations, UEFA, clubs, broadcasters and commercial partners who invest in the competition -- receive an allocation of tickets. Sponsors also distribute tickets to fans through other promotions."

Madrid declined to comment for this article, beyond giving the public details of how their 17,518 allocation was shared out. The club distributed 3,925 themselves, then held a lottery to decide which socios received the remaining 13,593. There were 13,202 individual requests, asking for a total of 44,755 tickets [each socio could request up to six], and a draw was done by honorary president Paco Gento, and screened live on Real Madrid TV, to decide the winners.

"Real Madrid publish the distribution and on paper it looks good," Sanchez says. "But in the end it is a lottery among all those who request a ticket. We believe that a system of points could be fairer.

There are socios who have been paying for their "Euroabono" [season ticket including European games] for 18 years, and they have never got a ticket for a final."

Madrid's internal distribution included 800 tickets for squad members, 160 for directors, 200 for veterans, 200 for the football section, 75 for the basketball section, 550 for sponsors, 50 for the club's foundation, 120 for VIPs, 600 for club staff and 118 under the heading of "institutional relations."

Most concerning for independent fans group Asociacion SRM is the 844 tickets directed towards official club members associations (Penas). And Sanchez says these are used to reward fans for continuing to support the club's hierarchy.

"The sharing out of tickets among the Penas tends to benefit those who are closest to the club," he says. "It seems there is a group who are always at the finals, without any type of lottery or paper trail. That is an insult to others, and a clear example of unfairness."

After an investigation involving Spanish police following last April's Clasico in La Liga against Barcelona at the Bernabeu, Madrid began disciplinary proceedings to expel at least 357 socios who illegally resold their tickets for that game. Sanchez says plenty more can be done to identify the source of the tickets which end up circulating online.

UEFA also warned anyone who tries to unofficially buy or sell a Champions League final ticket of serious potential consequences.

"General public ticket sales for the Cardiff final were conducted exclusively via UEFA.com from 17 until 28 March 2017," Pinto said. "The only other authorised legal channel for ticket sales to fans now is via the two finalist clubs.

"UEFA strongly urges fans to refrain from attempting to purchase tickets on other digital platforms or outside the stadium, as these offers are not authorised by UEFA and may be fraudulent. In addition, UEFA emphasises that tickets for the 2017 UEFA Champions League final are personalised, and that resale of the tickets is prohibited."

Even those Madrid fans fortunate or well-connected enough to get a ticket have faced challenges planning for the weekend. The scramble for accommodation in Cardiff, nearby Swansea and Bristol has seen hotels charging up to €5,000 per night for a bed. Meanwhile flight prices have been increased to over €500, leading to criticism of the airlines' policy.

AS have reported some creative fans are making the 20 hour journey by road, and others taking a ferry from Santander to Plymouth. But the cost and effort involved means fewer Madrid members applied for tickets this year than for either the 2014 final in Lisbon or the 2016 decider in Milan.

"The costs involved are a real pity," Sanchez says. "Cardiff is the smallest city to host a final of this size in the competition's 62 year history. Murcia is bigger than Cardiff. There is not enough hotel capacity, or airports, or restaurants to take in 150,000 people over a weekend. That ensures that all the costs are multiplied, and for fans to organise their travel is craziness."

Even so, some Madridistas will do everything possible to be in Cardiff for the chance to witness their team win a third Champions League trophy in just four years and create history in the process. Many others would like to be there, and arguably deserve to be there, but they won't be.

Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan

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