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Wednesday, 6 March, 2002, 08:14 GMT
Real Madrid reach century
By BBC Sport Online's Ian Hughes
Real Madrid celebrate 100 years of existence on Wednesday, two years after they were voted Fifa Club of the Century in an internet poll.
Centennial celebrations include an exhibition match against a World Select XI on 18 December.
Underlining the importance of the club, world football's governing body Fifa has ruled that no other matches will take place anywhere on this day.
It is a gesture of the highest honour to acknowledge all that the club has achieved since 6 March 1902, when a group of fans founded the Madrid Football Club.
And the icing on Real's birthday cake on Wednesday would be victory in the Copa del Rey exactly 100 years later.
The club take on Deportivo La Coruna in the final of Spain's premier knockout competition at the Bernabeu Stadium.
It was Alfonso XIII who granted the club's wish to add Real, which means royal, to their name in 1920.
And the royal connection continues today, as Spain's King Juan Carlos is among the club's many supporters.
A glorious period for the club during the 1950s and 1960s cemented Real's status as Europe's most successful side.
They won the European Cup five times in succession between 1956-60 and were given the trophy to keep.
During this time, Madrid boasted one of the world's greatest ever players - a trend they have continued.
Alfredo di Stefano's contribution to Real's success is nothing short of phenomenal.
His arrival at the club was also sensational as arch rivals Barcelona had already reached an agreement to sign Di Stefano.
The striker was playing in Colombia for Millonarios, but River Plate held the rights to him.
Barcelona dealt with River Plate, but Madrid negotiated directly with Millonarios, and the Spanish FA were forced to intervene.
They decided to allow both teams to use the Argentine-born player on an every-other-season basis, but Barcelona pulled out of the deal.
Di Stefano went on to become Madrid's all-time top scorer, with 216 goals, including strikes in each of those five European Cup final victories.
In the 1960 final, Di Stefano scored a hat-trick in the 7-3 victory over Eintracht Frankfurt at Hampden Park, Glasgow. Another superstar, Ferenc Puskas, scored the other four.
The golden era continued as Real won the Spanish league nine times in 11 years between 1954-65.
The man who led the team at this time, Santiago Bernabeu, is the most influential figure in Real's history.
The former Real player was club president for 35 years, between 1943-78.
Real won the European Cup six times, Spanish league 16 times and Copa del Rey six times under his charge.
Madrid changed the name of their Chamartin Field stadium to Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in 1955 to recognise his achievements.
The club's recent history has been marked by contrasts.
Two years ago Real won the first-ever European Cup/Champions League final to be contested by teams from the same country.
A brilliant display secured a 3-0 victory over Valencia.
But at that time, the club was in serious financial trouble and the Spanish media were predicting bankruptcy.
Debts of around £175m were offset by the sale of the club's training facilities and an increase in the club's revenue.
Demonstrating the recovery, Real paid world record transfer fees to sign two of the world's best players.
Luis Figo arrived from Barcelona, another major coup which intensified rivalry between the clubs, and Zinedine Zidane joined from Juventus.
The pair cost a combined £83m - an expense which Real says has been recovered within two years, mostly due to merchandising.
Real are also building new training facilities as their relentless domination of European football looks set to continue.
This season, they are through to the last eight of the Champions League and are top of the Spanish First Division, as well as reaching the Copa del Rey final.
A prestigious treble would be a perfect end to the first 100 years of Real Madrid, arguably the world's greatest club.
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