For those of you Colchoneros still alive to read this, let’s revisit Atlético’s agonising 1-1 tie versus Málaga.
How close were Diego Simeone’s men from achieving eternal glory on Sunday?
A Willy Caballero fingernail close.
Coming into Sunday’s affair, Atleti were dealt the harsh blow of not having their deadliest weapon Diego Costa at their disposal.
‘The Beast’s’ absence became increasingly more conspicuous as the clash transpired, with David Villa botching a couple of clear chances in the opening 45 minutes of play.
But there was no real cause for concern at the break.
The festively adorned Vicente Calderón, with its majestic splendour fully on display in anticipation of a legendary evening, hadn’t witnessed an opposing team’s goal in six games.
But then, 20 minutes into the second half, the collective soul of the Rojiblanco faithful was splashed with the bucket of ice cold water that was Málaga’s wacky goal in the 65th minute.
A pair of inexplicable slip-ups between Toby Alderweireld and Thibaut Courtois led to Samuel’s against-the-run-of-play strike.
Fortunately, Toby atoned for his error just 9 minutes later.
The Belgian, who had stepped in as a starter for the suspended Diego Godín, headed home the equaliser from a corner.
The goal instantly sparked a dejected Calderón back to its earlier thunderous levels of merriment, as the fans in attendance tried to inspirit their men to complete the comeback with 15 minutes left on the clock.
Meanwhile, over in Elche, Barcelona were finding it very hard to break down los Franjiverdes’ defence, and things were all level at 0-0.
With Real Madrid crashing and burning in Vigo, a late match-winner by either Atleti or Elche would have sufficed to fulfill the red and white fantasy.
Barça hadn’t allowed a single shot on target, so it was always going to be difficult for Elche to come to our aid.
The boys in green and white were already accomplishing all we had wished for throughout the week–to make sure Barcelona didn’t leave town with the three points.
Back to Cholo Castle, or what we can remember from the dying moments there.
We see Adrián make some space for himself inside the box with a deft touch to his right. The Asturian squares up to take the shot and strikes. The ball sails into an upper 90 curl and time freezes forever.
This is it. We did it. 18 years later and………..noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!
Wilfredo Daniel Caballero Lazcano, better known as Willy, supernaturally gets a fingertip to the ball and sends it flying to outer space.
‘Cholo’ has always insisted upon how much work it has taken to get to where we are. It’s never been easy for Simeone’s ‘hard-luck’ winners.
And so, the path to the championship runs through familiar territory. Eight of Atleti’s nine league titles have been won on the final match day, our friends over at Esto Es Atleti had recently reminded us, and so it shall be if we are to add ‘La Decima’ to our trophy cabinet next Saturday when we visit the Camp Nou.
The heavyweight title fight for the ages, the grand finale between Spain’s number one and number two, is set to be played on the one-year anniversary of our Copa del Rey win over Real Madrid.
All we need is one point, so cheer up fellow Rojiblancos.
This is a nice reminder of why sports have the edge on just about all of our other current forms of entertainment: there is no script.
No one knows what will happen.
What we do know is that, win or lose on the 17th, we’ll always be here for our beloved Atleti.
Post-game notes and quotes:
Simeone: “No one believed we would be here”
“The team made a great effort,” Atleti boss Diego Simeone said after his squad failed to secure the league title on Sunday.
“We tried, attacked the whole time, had very clear chances and I think that from the standpoint of our effort, of what we had to give based on what the game demanded, the players gave their maximum.
“We’ll arrive to the final fixture at a place, the Camp Nou, that no one believed we would make it to three points ahead of Barcelona. No one believed it, and no one will believe that we have a chance to win.
“We’re okay. It’s a final and there’s always a 50 percent chance for each side.”
Simeone continued: “We’re up against a powerful club that are used to winning titles. In the past decade they have won six leagues.
“We’ll go there with a lot of excitement and a lot of humility. Nobody gave us anything. The lads made an enormous effort and I am behind the players to the death.
“The team is still alive, still fighting. It’s normal that they are sad today because they didn’t win, that has to happen, but that’s good because they feel it, they live it and then they prepare for the 10 impossible-to-be-better days with renewed excitement, with a final in Barcelona and a final in Lisbon.”
Cholo ended his press conference with one statement: “I’m proud of Atlético Madrid.”
Toby, or not Toby, that is the question
Toby Alderweireld was up against some ugly numbers ahead of the proceedings on Sunday: he had featured in the starting line-up of three of Atleti’s four losses in La Liga in the present campaign.
For a little bit there, it seemed as if that record would get even darker because of his own big mistake.
But the Belgium international redeemed himself with his first goal in Primera action–second overall (he had scored against Sant Andreu in the Copa del Rey back in December).
Gabi: “We still believe”
“We still believe in this team,” Atleti captain Gabi said immediately after the final whistle blew.
“We’re going to fight until the end. We’re Atlético Madrid and we’re going to Barcelona to win. We have to keep working. We are one point away from achieving our objective.”
When asked if his team had the edge given that the Blaugrana haven’t beaten Atleti in five games this season, Gabi responded: “We’re doing our job well and are even with the big clubs, but the previous games don’t mean anything. The next one is a different game.”
The veteran midfielder concluded with a message to the supporters.
“They are giving their all in the hopes of their team becoming champions,” he said.
“Again, today couldn’t be the day, but next weekend, the team will give their all to do so.”
- One more assist for José Sosa, who now has 6 in less than half a season in red and white. Amazingly, his 5 assists in La Liga are third most on the team, with only Koke (13) and Gabi (7) having more in league play. Yes, the Argentine has more than Arda, Filipe, Juanfran, Diego, Tiago, Costa, Villa and Raúl.
- Atleti secured their first unbeaten season at home (15 wins, 4 draws) in league play since their 1982-83 campaign (12 wins, 5 draws).
- Atlético’s 69 goals at the Castle of Cholo this season is a record, Pedro Martin of COPE reports. Their previous highest total in a single campaign at home was 68, an amount reached in 1955-56, 1964-65 and 1991-92.
- While many will point out that nothing has been lost just yet, as we remain in the driver’s seat for the league title, one maybe crucial advantage was indeed forfeited. Real Madrid will have nothing to play for next weekend when they host Espanyol, allowing them to rest key players ahead of the Champions League final a week later. Atleti, on the other hand, will be forced to roll out their strongest XI at the Camp Nou. With both Champions League finalists dealing with injury woes to critical starters, the additional rest could play a significant role–or nahh!
- Neptuno’s case of blue balls — as he awaits a celebration — has been confirmed by historians as the most severe one ever suffered by a Neoclassical marble structure.