Atlético Madrid have qualified for the next round of the Europa League courtesy of an early strike by Raúl García.
On a chilly November night at the Vicente Calderón the midfielder scored the only goal in a 1-0 win over Hapoel Tel Aviv.
There was little at stake on Thursday night, which actually made for an open game at the Vicente Calderón. Hapoel, who coming into the game had collected just a single point, had nothing to lose and occasionally broke out quickly with their creative wide players. Atlético lined up with the eleven that we’ve seen before in the Europa League, as Diego Simeone took the opportunity to rest some key players with our upcoming games against Sevilla and Real Madrid in mind.
The reserves started superbly and converted the first opportunity they created. Adrián intercepted a pass and quickly brought the ball forward. His cross was handled poorly by goalkeeper Edel and the loose ball was picked up by Emre, who kept his calm and enabled Raúl García to score. RG8’s strike bouncing in off the crossbar only increased the beauty of Adrián’s dribble and Emre’s assist.
Following the goal, Raúl almost immediately created a second, but referee Martin Hansson allowed a strong push from behind on the midfielder and waived off Atleti’s penalty claims.
Unlike the eleven teams that got beat in our previous eleven Europa League games, Hapoel didn’t sit back and nearly equalized when Maman’s header hit the side netting. Despite the low attendance numbers, the teams decided to go at the game in full speed and Raúl García nearly scored again at the other end. And in the 19th minute the midfielder combined with Sílvio to set up a huge opportunity for Adrián, but the Perfect7’s finish wasn’t as flawless as his nickname would suggest as he shot straight at Edel.
After the opening twenty minutes the game calmed down, but both teams did have good chances shortly before the break. Hapoel’s offensive midfielder Ben Haim easily skipped past Sílvio and Cata Díaz, but was then forced out wide by Jorge Pulido who did well to anticipate on the play. At the other end Edel had all kinds of trouble to stop Emre’s blast, but he did manage to get a hand on Diego Costa’s follow up.
Despite the slim margin Atleti seemed to take their foot off the gas in the second half and Hapoel were given some opportunities from longe range. Right back Pantsil just missed the target after Vermouth had seen his shot blocked, while Sergio Asenjo was later called to action to deny Hapoel the equalizer.
The second half wasn’t nearly as attractive as the first had been, but the game improved after Koke’s introduction for Atlético. He enabled Adrián to score, but the forward missed another big opportunity and failed to get his header on target. Koke himself claimed a penalty in the added time, but Hansson again ignored Atleti’s calls. A few minutes before the end Edel did well to block shots by Raúl García and Mario Suárez, to keep the score at 1-0.
The other game in Group B of the Europa League between Académica and Viktoria Plzen ended in a 1-1 tie with both sides scoring a penalty. Atlético now lead with 12 points from five games and a draw in our final game against Viktoria will be enough to qualify as top of the group.
Line-up: Asenjo; Sílvio, Cata Díaz, Pulido, Cisma; Mario, Emre; Adrián, Raúl García, Cebolla Rodríguez (“87 Pedro); and Diego Costa (“59 Koke).
Goals: 1-0 Raúl García (“8)