Atletico Madrid advanced to the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League with a 1-0 victory at home to Barcelona on Wednesday evening in the second leg of their quarter-final tie at the Estadio Vicente Calderon in Madrid.
Koke scored the game's only goal in the fifth minute, and though Atletico missed several of chances to increase their lead, the hosts held on for a 2-1 aggregate victory to claim a spot in Europe's final four for the first time since 1973-74, the days of the old European Cup.
The semi-final draw is set for Friday. The three other semi-finalists are Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Chelsea.
Last week's first leg ended 1-1 at the Camp Nou, the fourth time this season that Barcelona and Atletico Madrid had played to a draw. Atleti's chances might have looked diminished before kick-off Wednesday, as leading scorer Diego Costa and playmaker Arda Turan were sidelined with injuries. But Diego Simeone's side thrived offensively in their absence, stunning Barcelona with an early goal and hitting the woodwork three more times in the first half.
For Barcelona, it's a disappointing end to the European campaign and the first time in seven years that the Blaugrana have failed to reach the semi-finals of this competition.
There remains the consolation of La Liga, though, with Barcelona just one point behind leaders Atletico with six matches to play. The teams are set to meet at Barcelona's Camp Nou on the final day of the season in what could be a title-decider.
Following last week's 1-1 draw at the Camp Nou, Barca knew they would have to score in order to stay alive, but instead Atletico settled first and took the lead in just the fifth minute.
Moments after Adrian hit the woodwork with a shot from the right, the ball found its way to David Villa on the left. Villa crossed to the back post, where Adrian headed back across to Koke, who powered into the net with a volley to make it 1-0.
Barcelona's defence was wobbling, and Atleti moved quickly in the hopes of striking a knockout blow. Gabi and Villa had shots blocked in the seventh minute, and Villa then rattled the woodwork with a high, near-post shot in the 11th minute.
The hosts could have been ahead by two or more goals, but in the 13th minute Barcelona served notice at the other end. Dani Alves picked out an unmarked Lionel Messi with a curling cross, only for Messi to head just wide of the near post.
Atletico hit the woodwork a third time in the 19th minute when Villa flashed a shot off the crossbar from a tight angle on the right. Barcelona nearly made Atleti pay for the misses when Neymar nutmegged a defender and crossed for Messi in the 24th minute, but Messi's first-time shot flew wide of the near post.
As half-time approached, Atletico had a penalty appeal in the 41st minute when Adrian went to ground in Barca's box under pressure from Javier Mascherano. Referee Howard Webb waved play on, and Atletico took their 1-0 lead into the break.
Barcelona carved out the first opening of the second half, Xavi splitting Atletico's defence with an angled pass to Neymar. As the Brazilian prepared to shoot, Atletico goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois raced off his line to push the ball away. Moments later, Courtois stumbled after Alves' cross was popped into the air in front of Atletico's goal, but Xavi could only lift the ball over the bar.
Xavi missed again in the 60th minute, heading Alves' cross off target. Four minutes later, Diego nearly doubled Atletico's lead with a low shot that was saved. Barcelona had another chance to equalise in the 78th minute, but Neymar headed wide from Alexis Sanchez's cross.
As the minutes ticked away, Atletico had a golden opportunity to seal their win. Raul Garcia's through ball found Cristian Rodriguez behind Barcelona's defence. With only Jose Manuel Pinto to beat, Rodriguez shot straight at the goalkeeper.
It didn't matter, though. Within moments the final whistle sounded, and the home side erupted in celebration. After 40 years, Atletico had once again reached the semi-finals of Europe's top club competition.
|Atletico Madrid Player Ratings|
|Cristian Rodriguez||CF||N/A||No rating|
|Ratings by B/R UK|
|Barcelona Player Ratings|
|Jose Manuel Pinto||GK||5||5|
|Ratings by B/R UK|
Koke, Atletico's goalscorer, praised his team's collective work and hinted at further success. Speaking to Canal+, as quoted by Football Espana, he said:
I helped the team to the semi-finals but the team’s work has been spectacular and we are deserving winners.
This team has no ceiling but we will continue with our philosophy of going game by game and on Sunday we have another.
Whoever we’re drawn to play will be very difficult. We have eliminated the best and we’ll face another.
Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone savoured the victory, telling UEFA.com:
There's a lot of joy at having got through a tie against great rivals who have a proud history. Now we are calm because we know this isn't the end, and we will try to recover as soon as possible because on Sunday we have another match.
The first 20 minutes were very good in terms of our attitude, intensity and play. Then Barça began to get into the game and had some opportunities, so things became trickier for us.
My players don't need words to motivate them – they need security, decisiveness and the ability to try and get the best out of them all. I admire these players. I admire their dedication and the way they work together as a team.
Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino admitted Atletico were the better side, telling UEFA.com:
At certain points, we couldn't do the things [we wanted] because of how our opponents played. Atlético kept a lot of players near their penalty area – they did that very well and that made it hard for us to find any space.
This environment (the home fans at the Vicente Calderon) is difficult to find in Europe, but it's more common in Argentina. We have to keep fighting in the two competitions that remain for us now: the league and the Copa del Rey.
Barcelona midfielder Xavi lamented his side's missed chances and questioned whether Barcelona deserved to go out of the competition.
Speaking to Canal+, as quoted by Football Espana, Xavi said: "I don’t know if (Atletico) deserved to win. We’ll see when we watch the game back. We had four or five clear chances and they have taken their only in the first 15 minutes. We deserved at least extra-time."
Both teams return to La Liga at the weekend.
Atletico Madrid play at Getafe on Sunday. Barcelona play at Granada on Saturday.
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