Sunday , June 16 2024

Atletico Madrid End Barcelona Champions League Dream

Atletico Madrid knocked Barcelona out of the Champions League with an Antoine Griezmann double to ensure that they, and not the holders, join Manchester City in the last four.

Griezmann’s first-half header levelled the tie on aggregate and his second-half penalty, after Andres Iniesta handled in the area, made sure there was no need for the away goals rule.

The Atletico Madrid players mobbed goalscorer Griezmann after netting the crucial opening goal at Vicente Calderon

‘We want to annoy people in the semi-finals,’ Diego Simeone had said after the first leg. His team can now make a nuisance of themselves against Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and City, having wrecked Barca’s dream of becoming the first team to win the Champions League back to back.

‘It was one of the targets for this season and the players are sad,’ said Luis Enrique who had never previously lost a knockout tie as Barcelona coach. ‘Knockout’ was never a more appropriate description.

Ninety minutes can seem more like 12 rounds with Simeone’s team in the other corner and although it was Diego Godin who ended up with a black eye after an apparent elbow from his international team-mate Luis Suarez, it was Barca who over the two legs finished up battered and beaten.

They can point to a late handball from Gabi that looked inside the area and not outside as the referee saw it but Atletico deserved their late slice of luck and when they came back out onto the pitch five minutes after the full-time whistle the stadium was still full to celebrate with them.

Atletico join City, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich in the semi-final, so who does Simeone want? ‘I don’t mind who we face in the final but we are not thinking about anything other than winning it,’ he said after the game.

They had only needed one goal to qualify and it came 10 minutes before the break with Jordi Alba turning with the ball at his feet down by the corner flag and playing a sloppy pass infield that Atletico’s pack of hungry wolves pounced on. It was Saul Niguez who got to the ball first and from his cross Griezmann headed past Marc-Andre Ter Stegen.Atletico Madrid forward Antoine Griezmann is lifted in the air during the celebrations after heading the hosts into the lead

On the day that Karim Benzema had announced he would not be playing for France this summer, one of the men who will fill the gap had scored his first goal against Barcelona in an Atletico shirt.

It was the perfect time to score sending Luis Enrique’s team down the tunnel fearing the worst. As things stood they were going out. Suarez immediately clattered into Godin just before the break and as Atletico Madrid players swarmed to protest, Suarez was buffeted between Gabi and Juanfran with not a single Barcelona player in sight to stand shoulder to shoulder with him. It really did seem like they were not up for the fight.

Barcelona had tried to play keep-ball early on to take some of the sting out of their opponents and subdue the atmosphere but there is no ‘mute’ button on the Vicente Calderon on big Champions League nights and fans were still making the same noise that greeted the players on to the pitch, when they left at the break.

AC/DC’s Highway to Hell greeted the players as they emerged after the interval – that must have resonated with Barcelona’s players as they went back into a battle they now sensed they were losing.

Saul headed the first second-half chance onto the bar from a corner as Atletico kept pouring forward – at the other end there was no news from Lionel Messi.

The international break looks to have been the worst thing to happen to Barcelona this season with neither the Argentine nor his Brazilian team-mate Neymar returning in the same shape they left in.Griezmann sealed the victory for Atletico Madrid three minutes from time when he rolled a penalty past Barcelona goalkeeper Ter Stegen

With the holders gambling by leaving Gerard Pique at centre-forward, gaps were appearing and when Griezmann raced down the right he made it all the way to the penalty area and Ter Stegen had to save well at his near post.

Arda Turan and Sergi Roberto came on for Dani Alves and Ivan Rakitic and the changes lifted Barcelona who had Suarez go close with a shot well saved by Jan Oblak. His next involvement could have been his last when he went elbow first into Godin and was – as in the first leg – fortunate the referee decided to show just the yellow card.

Then came the suckerpunch second. Luis raced clear down the left as Atletico counter-attacked with blistering pace. The left back surged towards the penalty are where Griezmann was waiting in space for the pass. As Luis released the ball to tee up the French forward, iniesta leaned across with his hand to block it and the referee pointed to the spot. Griezmann rolled it home to hand the hosts the aggregate lead.

Livid Barcelona players (L-R) Neymar,  Javier Mascherano, Arda Turan and Sergi Roberto swarm referee Nicola Rizzoli

It did not matter, he was going out and with the good fortune of Gabi’s late handball – mistakenly adjudged to have been outside the area – Simeone’s nuisance team were going through.

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