Atletico Madrid march on to Milan despite Bayern Munich loss

Away goal puts Diego Simeone’s side through to second Champions League decider in three years

 Antoine Griezmann of Atletico Madrid  shoots past goalkeeper Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer  to score during the Champions League semi-final second leg match  at Allianz Arena. Photograph: Matthias Hangst/Bongarts/Getty Images

Antoine Griezmann of Atletico Madrid shoots past goalkeeper Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer to score during the Champions League semi-final second leg match at Allianz Arena. Photograph: Matthias Hangst/Bongarts/Getty Images

 

Bayern Munich 2 Atletico Madrid 1 (2-2 on agg; Atletico go through on away goal)

Diego Simeone has won everything at Atlético Madrid during four-and-a-half thrilling years apart from the biggest trophy of them all. The club’s charismatic manager was minutes from taking the Champions League in 2014 only to lose out in extra-time to Real Madrid. The agony of that night and Sergio Ramos’s 93rd-minute equaliser for Real has stayed with him. Now, redemption beckons in Milan later this month and, possibly, a measure of revenge.

Atlético advanced to only the third European Cup final of their history on a wild night in Bavaria, which featured a penalty miss by each team and drama to leave the nerve ends raw. The triumph was built around Antoine Griezmann’s 31st goal of the season – a breakaway finish early in the second half – but underpinned by trademark hustle and team effort.

If Real can beat Manchester City in the other semi-final on Wednesday night, Simeone will scent the opportunity to even the score. It was Real that also knocked out Atletico at the quarter-final stage last season.

The closing stages might have been less frantic had Fernando Torres not seen his 85th-minute penalty saved by Manuel Neuer and the five minute of stoppage time seemed to stretch for an eternity. But the full-time whistle was the prompt for ecstatic scenes.

The misery belonged to Pep Guardiola and Bayern Munich. For the third season in a row, the serial trophy accumulator has been denied by a Spanish team in the Champions League semi-final. This was to be the competition that defined Guardiola’s Bayern legacy, before he moves to City in the summer. Instead, with Thomas Müller blowing a penalty for 2-0 on the night, there was only more frustration and heartache.

Guardiola is in only his seventh season as a manager but he entered this tie having won 19 of the 30 competitions he had entered. Another Bundesliga title looks assured while Bayern will contest the domestic cup final against Borussia Dortmund on May 21st. This, however, was the one he wanted.

A meeting of arguably Europe’s finest teams essentially boiled down to whether Guardiola and Bayern could crack the Simeone code. It has vexed almost everybody this season and Atlético’s defensive numbers have felt as though they ought to be daubed in concrete – 16 goals conceded in 36 La Liga games and, before this, five in 11 Champions League ties. Jan Oblak came to Bavaria with 31 clean sheets across the two competitions.

He was breached just after the half-hour. The Bayern pressure had been mounting but it took a deflected free-kick from a central position on the edge of the penalty area to even things up on aggregate. Augusto Fernández committed the foul on David Alaba and Atlético massed all 10 of their outfield players in or around the defensive wall. But it did not do its job, with Alonso’s low shot deflecting off José María Giménez to wrong-foot Oblak.

The travelling Atlético fans had made themselves heard at the outset while the home crowd expressed their fury at perceived time-wasting from the visitors as early as the 16th minute. Oblak was never going to be rushed with his goal-kicks; nor any of his team-mates on any dead-ball. The Bayern ball-boys appeared to be under orders to return the ball extremely quickly.

The tension bubbled. Simeone went through his demented air-traffic-controller routine on the touchline and, at one stage in the first half, as angry words broke out between the benches, he had to be calmed by the Bayern winger Franck Ribéry.

The penalty award on 34 minutes was a big call, as is any for pulling on a corner and, when Giménez was penalised by Cuneyt Cakir for getting too close to Javi Martínez, it threatened to undermine Atlético. Oblak, though, saved brilliantly from Müller before he repelled Alonso’s rebound.

Gabi had worked Neuer in the 15th minute but it was Bayern who created the bulk of the first-half openings. Müller tried to tee up Robert Lewandowski, when he might have gone for goal himself while Oblak parried a long-ranger from Ribéry.

There was no great surprise to the pattern of play before the interval. Bayern looked to impose themselves in an attacking sense while there were times when Atletico’s midfielders were almost on the toes on their defenders. Simeone refuses to allow any space between the lines.

But Simeone made a tactical change at half-time and it helped to swing the tie in Atlético’s favour. Off went the defensive midfielder, Fernández; on came the left winger, Yannick Carrasco, and Griezmann was moved to the right in a 4-5-1 formation. Atlético began to gain footholds further up the pitch but when they equalised, it was from a pure counter.

Torres’s pass sent Griezmann clean through and, having been given the benefit of the offside doubt from the assistant referee, he finished nervelessly past Neuer. It was never in doubt. When the ball hit the net, Bayern’s evening – and their season – was turned upside down.

They shook their heads clear to set up the grandstand finish. Arturo Vidal tiptoed in unmarked at the far post to meet Alaba’s cross from the left and his header was perfectly directed back across for Lewandowski to score from close-range. The home fans rediscovered their voices. This was theatre on the grandest scale.

Back came Atlético on the break and, once again, they caught one from the officials, when Cakir ruled that Martínez’s foul on Torres had been inside the area, rather than just outside of it. Bayern were horrified. Torres had the chance to end it from 12 yards but his penalty was weak. Neuer saved. Bayern had a lifeline but they could not grasp it.

(Guardian service)

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