Valiant Atletico Madrid stun Barcelona to advance

An Antoine Griezmann brace saw off the holders in Madrid

 

Atletico Madrid 2 (3) Barcelona 0 (2)

The slogan that hung from bridges and balconies all over Madrid read “Never stop believing” and Atlético never did, even if they might have feared it would be taken from them in the final minute. Few know how to suffer like they do but few know how to make opponents suffer like they do either. The pressure built and the Calderón kept singing, Diego Simeone sometimes as much a conductor as a coach as the minutes ticked away, but they have done it again. Two goals from Antoine Griezmann, one in each half, took them into the Champions League semi-final. And they will believe that their journey need not end there.

Barcelona’s hopes of a second Champions League in a row, two trebles in two years, were broken. For only the second time in eight years they have failed to reach the semi-finals; both times they were eliminated at this stage and by this Atlético side. There will be much to pick over after the referee, Nicola Rizzoli, judged that a handball in the 91st minute had occurred outside the area, not in it. Lionel Messi took the free-kick, sending Barcelona’s last chance over the bar and four nervous minutes later this stadium erupted once more.

It had been noisy from the start, the message one of belief and one their players took to heart.

Atlético had three attempts on goal inside seven minutes and, if one was an easy catch for Marc–André ter Stegen, there were genuine chances for Gabi and Griezmann. The first flew over from near the edge of the area; the second, a header, drew a sharp save. A moment later, Yannick Carrasco’s ball flashed across the box. The home side had chosen to attack; the visitors’ plan appeared to be to anaesthetise. Barcelona had the immense majority of the ball but they moved it slowly and from deep.

They did so willingly, it seemed. Ter Stegen is good with his feet, a fact that became the excuse to seek him out. It felt at times as if he had more of the ball than anyone else; more, certainly, than any of his creative team-mates. Messi, Neymar and Luis Suárez were rarely seen, while Andrés Iniesta only momentarily became involved. Perhaps Barcelona wanted to invite Atlético on to them, opening space beyond. Instead they invited problems. And it was not long before the plan – if that was what it was – was no longer valid.

There were appeals for a penalty when Gerard Piqué challenged Carrasco, falling into him head and shoulder first. And then, on 36 minutes, the Calderón erupted when Saúl’s beautiful pass, struck with the outside of his boot, was headed into the net by Griezmann.

The control Barcelona sought had been lost; now, 2-2 on aggregate but trailing by an away goal, they needed to score. Yet they did not even have an attempt on target until Neymar’s swinging effort from the edge of the area on 41 minutes and there was still time for Atlético to frighten them once more, Carrasco bursting from deep before hitting a low, hard shot that Ter Stegen pushed away.

The second half began back to front; it was the team with a lead to defend who attacked, Koke running on to Juanfran’s ball into the area before delivering a dangerous pass of his own. Saúl then headed against the bar before Barcelona started to step forward. Suárez and Jordi Alba combined for the full-back to send the ball across the six-yard box where Gabi cleared. Diego Godín then blocked Alba’s shot and Jan Oblak saved from Iniesta. Arda Turan, replacing Ivan Rakitic, had his first shot seconds after coming on. Next, Iniesta drew a save.

Previously horizontal in their play, Barcelona had verticality now and the hint of incision, yet few of the chances were clear-cut and the threat on the counter had been made clear when Griezmann raced away to be stopped by Ter Stegen at the near post. Still the pace was building, the pressure too.

Alba headed along the edge of the area and had his shot blocked by Lucas, Piqué became a centre-forward and back Atlético went – until, that was, they broke in the 88th minute, Filipe Luis dashing up the left and forcing a penalty, when Iniesta handballed. Griezmann scored but it was not over yet. Three minutes later Barcelona appealed for one of their own, one that would have changed everything and forced extra-time. Iniesta’s shot hit Gabi’s arm, which appeared to be inside the area only for the free-kick to be given outside. Messi hit it over; Atlético went through.

(Guardian service)

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