Pamplona’s world-famous ‘Running of the Bulls’ event got off to an early start this year when Atlético striker Diego Costa was unleashed from his corral on Sunday evening.
Just an hour before proceedings got underway at the Reyno de Navarra stadium, the lineups were announced and the presence of the underperforming quartet of Costa, Antonio López, Raúl García and Luis Perea in the fold left the Rojiblanco faithful mostly downhearted and resigned to yet another disappointing outcome away from the Calderón.
But a surreal performance by the much-maligned Brazilian forward drove Atleti supporters to the brink of madness as they watched, in utter disbelief, how he coolly slotted in three successive goals to lead his squad to a huge 3-2 victory over Osasuna.
Los Colchoneros now sit three points behind fifth place and just a point out of the European spots with eight more weeks to go in the domestic league, ahead of Real Sociedad’s visit next weekend.
Quique banked on aggression over skill
After the match, Atlético manager Quique Sanchez Flores explained his decision to play Costa, who hadn’t scored a league goal since our away loss to Sevilla way back on the 3rd October 2010, in place of the struggling Diego Forlán.
“We set the tone for a very agressive clash up top, and it paid off,” he told the club’s official site. “Diego [Costa] knows how to face this type of hardened opponent. He holds them off well and when he takes off he’s stronger than his defenders. All indications were that this was a match for him. He has exceeded our expectations of him.”
Though his men went up by two goals at one point, Quique was nervous after Nekounam pulled one back for the hosts by converting a penalty recklessly conceded by Tiago.
“You can never relax until the referee blows the whistle to end the game,” he admitted. “We wanted to play as far as possible from our goal, and that was achieved. We withstood Osasuna’s first assault and then imposed our game.
“The squad has been aggressive, showing desire. They have kept up that attitude. They want to finish the season in Europe, and you can see it in the players,” he said.
Costa nabs first career hat trick
Costa, who picked up Atleti’s first hat trick since Diego Forlan’s treble against Athletic Bilbao in May 2009, told the official site he was happy to have “had the luck of being able to score and win the game.”
“It’s the first time I score three goals in one game,” he said. “I had never achieved that before. I’m here to help the team. It had been a while since I last played and the match came out perfectly. I’ve taken the ball with me to the bus,” the 22-year-old gleefully admitted.
The forward then presented his manager with another lineup dilemma for our next clash, when Sergio Aguero (who, incidentally, has never scored a hat trick for Atlético) will be available again after serving his one-match ban.
“Hopefully I will have the opportunity to continue playing next week,” said Costa.
Raul Garcia turns in a solid performance in his hometown
Central midfielder Raúl García took advantage of the chance to discredit his detractors, at least for one night, when he sent in a lovely through ball to Costa that the Brazilian latched onto and smashed home to put Atleti up 2-1.
It was an overall solid performance by Raúl, who started on the left wing, but at this point it will take approximately three season’s worth of assists to convince most Atleti fans that he should play in place of cantera product Koke, or newcomer Elias, for that matter.
Until last night, the 24-year-old Pamplona native and former Osasuna star hadn’t come out of his hometown stadium victorious since joining los Colchoneros in the summer of 2007.
“It feels strange since I have never won here with Atlético Madrid,” he said. “Things hadn’t ended up well in previous encounters and we knew we had to play differently.”
García then had some words of praise for Costa, but admitted that he was unsurprised by his teammate’s performance.
“Diego Costa was very good. He took advantage of the minutes the coach gave him. He didn’t have anything to prove to us, as we all are aware of his quality.”
Juanfran finds redemption at former stadium
It was also a redeeming night for Juanfran, who put in a pin-point pass to the star of the evening to level the scoreline at 1-1. The assist was the 26-year-old’s first direct involvement in a goal for his new side, and in spite of contributing to some of the damage against his former club, the home fans offered their ex-star an ovation when he was subbed off late in the match.
“The fans received me very well in a game that felt strange to me,” Juanfran said afterwards. “It’s a new experience for me to face off against Osasuna. I want to congratulate Diego Costa for his three goals and the team for how well they performed. We knew we had to work hard to take the points. A lot of big teams were unable to win here this season, and we did it. That speaks of our good work.”
Perea’s 200th match at Atlético
Colombian defender Luis Perea featured in Atlético’s starting XI for the 200th time in league play when he suited up against Osasuna yesterday. Unfortunately, last night also marked the 200th time that Perea watched a defender go through all alone to goal when Kike Sola broke the 0-0 deadlock in the 31st minute.
The 32-year-old is four games shy of being the most-capped foreigner in Atlético’s history. Argentine defender Jorge Griffa donned the red and white shirt 203 times, from 1959 through 1969 (via COPE).
Stat of the day
Jose Antonio Reyes’ missed penalty attempt was our 3rd consecutive spot-kick miss in la Liga. Reyes had been a perfect seven for seven converting penalties in la Liga prior to his failed try yesterday (via COPE).
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