Atlético were winners over Sagan Tosu in Japan on Saturday, but were made to work for the win in front of a capacity crowd at the Best Amenity Stadium.
It took a penalty shootout to decide the match, after an unfortunate late own goal from new signing Stefan Savic cancelled out a gol olímpico from Koke in the first half.
The red and whites touched down in Japan on Thursday, and have enjoyed an incredible reception from the locals in their few days in the island city of Saga.
Fans turned up in numbers both to welcome the team at the airport upon arrival and for their open training session yesterday, and Simeone gave them what they wanted by starting the ever popular Fernando Torres in attack.
Also given chances to impress were Óliver Torres and Saúl, who lined up in midfield alongside Raúl García, Carrasco, and Koke.
With jetlag and extreme heat playing a factor (play was stopped for drink breaks midway through each half), we didn’t see the intense performance fans may have been used to when watching Atleti, but they were treated to a spectacular opening goal 18 minutes in.
We’ve seen set pieces wreak havoc among many a defence in La Liga over the last few years, but this time, Koke took it a step further when he whipped a corner straight into the back of the net.
The Spanish international has come close to scoring the ‘Olympic goal’ in the past with his inswinging catapults into the area, and this time he succeeded as the ball looped over everyone and into the top corner.
It was Sagan, however, who were setting the tone for the match, and put in a great account of themselves against the La Liga heavyweights despite not creating too many clear cut chances.
Cholo rang the changes in the second half, and the introduction of Vietto, Griezmann and Correa did inject a little more energy into Atleti’s attack.
The Argentine duo combined on a number of occasions, but couldn’t quite find the second goal as Cui Cheng made two excellent stops to deny the former Villarreal frontman.
Seven minutes from time – just as the game was fizzling out – the home side got the goal they so craved to level up proceedings and send the crowd home with something to remember.
The equaliser came about after excellent work on the right from Ryosuke Tamura, who got to the byline and found a cross which ended up deflecting over the line off of Stefan Savic.
Not a great deal could be done to prevent the bouncing into the net as the ball had struck the Montenegrin defender at close range following a parry from Moyà, but it was disappointing from the defence’s perspective to concede a goal in this manner.
It was also the first we have conceded in pre-season, but thankfully there was still the chance to win the match from a penalty shoot-out.
Atleti’s record from the spot hasn’t been too great in recent years, but they made no mistake and ended up 4-1 winners thanks to successful takes by Griezmann, Gabi, Tiago and Vietto – in delightful fashion.
Stepping up to win the shoot-out, Vietto kept his cool to beat the ‘keeper with a deft panenka effort and ensure that Simeone’s team keep their 100% record in pre-season so far.
Moyà also made a good save from Sagan’s second penalty, after the first came crashing back off of the crossbar.
One sour note from the game were the withdrawals of Siqueira and Raúl García, both of whom had to come off with injuries. The Brazilian defender will reportedly finalise a move to Juventus next week and won’t want the move to be jeopardised in any way.
Next up, the team travels to China for the second and final game of the tour against Shanghai SIPG in the 80,000 seater Shanghai Stadium.
Line-up: Moyà; Gámez, Savic, Lucas, Siqueira (“45 Juanfran); Koke (“84 Thomas), Saúl (“57 Gabi), Óliver (“57 Tiago), Carrasco (“57 Correa); Raúl García (“51 Griezmann), Torres (“57 Vietto).
Goals: 0-1 Koke (“18); 1-1 Savic o.g. (“83)