Champions League: Atlético 1 – 0 Leverkusen
Atleti through to the quarter-finals after winning 3 - 2 on penalties
Atlético Madrid are through to the quarter-finals of the Champions League after beating Bayer Leverkusen 3-2 in the dreaded penalty shoot-out.
The tie was all square after 120 minutes, but it was Stefan Kießling who missed the deciding penalty to break the hearts of the travelling German fans.
Fernando Torres scored the winning penalty, and despite misses from both Koke and Raúl García, it means Atleti go through with the first European penalty shootout victory in club history.
It was the visitors who got the earlier of the opportunities, the first falling to the youngster Karim Bellarabi. The German struck with his right foot after working his way through the Atleti defence, but a deflection took it out for a corner.
The next let-off for Atlético came from an unlikely source. Mario Mandzukic, back in the starting line-up for Atlético, cleared a goal-bound effort from Son Heung-min after a dangerous Leverkusen corner.
It was the South Korean international who caused another problem for Atleti not long after, albeit incidentally. A through ball to the 22-year-old was handled by Moyá, but in the process our goalkeeper looked to have pulled his hamstring without making any contact with another player.
Moyá went down hard and it was clear instantly that Simeone needed to make a change. Jan Oblak stripped and came on for his first Champions League appearance since the 3-2 defeat to Olympiakos at the start of this year’s campaign.
Atleti started with good intensity, but it died down with the Leverkusen chances. Cani, who started the match in place of captain Gabi for his full debut, found himself with a bit of space in the Leverkusen box and drove towards goal, only to be hacked down by Spahic.
It was from this set piece that Atleti found the goal they so desperately needed.
A Koke free kick was whipped into the area, but not cleared well enough. Cani headed the ball into the path of Mario Suárez, who let rip with a shot across goal. It took a deflection from the stretching Toplak and nestled in the back of the Germans’ net. 1-0.
Cue a massive sigh of relief around the packed Vicente Calderón.
Atleti knew they needed more than just a single goal, and Mandzukic almost made it 2-0 immediately after. A through ball from the absolutely wonderful Arda Turan was inch perfect, but Mandzukic delayed on pulling the trigger, and was eventually shepherded out of danger by Wendell.
Despite the increase in Atleti pressure, Bayer looked good on the counter attack, creating a few opportunities. The visitors had one of the best chances to get the priceless away goal just before half time, when a cut-back from Son Heung-min was smothered by Oblak after a perfect Miranda tackle.
Cani was replaced at half-time by Raúl García, in order to give Atleti more of a threat up-top. Mandzukic wasn’t holding the ball up particularly well and went down quite heavily on his ankle just before half-time.
However it was the Croatian who almost set up the second goal for Atleti in the first few minutes of the second half, but couldn’t find Arda Turan in any space.
As the game went on Atleti restricted Leverkusen to more long shots, and one of the only saves Oblak had to make in the 120 minutes was after a very long distance effort from Bellarabi.
Another attempt to take the lead in the tie fell to Antoine Griezmann, who struggled to get a proper shot away. The Frenchman almost set up Arda with a goal shortly after, but the Turk decided to try and set up one of his invisible team-mates rather than go for goal.
Atleti failed to make the most of their set pieces tonight. Despite 11 corners, none of them really threatened. The danger of Koke from dead ball situations seems to have diminished since his injury, as none of his free-kicks of corners tonight really caused the Leverkusen defence any problems. Other than the one that counted, of course.
Fernando Torres replaced Mario Mandzukic as Atleti’s final substitution, and was used as the out-ball for a lot of Antoine Griezmann’s play. Unfortunately the Spaniard couldn’t create a lot, but his moment was still to come.
Extra time came and went, and despite a long range attempt from Rolfes which had Oblak scrambling, Atleti never really looked in any danger. Simeone’s men continued to play for the win rather than penalties, and Griezmann and Turan in particular were fantastic.
Penalties arrived, and it takes some nerve to go first. That honour fell to Raúl García, who skied the ball over Leno’s bar. Atleti fans feared the worst.
The tensions were eased somewhat when Calhanoglu decided to put his penalty down the middle of the goal, where a waiting Oblak was ready to bat it away.
Three penalties in a row in the same corner from Griezmann, Rolfes and Mario Suárez meant that Atleti were 3-2 up, before Toplak put his penalty way over the bar to cement Atleti’s lead.
Koke stepped up to take the fourth and ease some nerves, but his spot-kick was saved spectacularly from Leno. Castro then sent Oblak the wrong way to level things up again.
Even if you didn’t already know who was ready to take the fifth penalty, then you wouldn’t have been surprised in the slightest to see Fernando Torres walking towards the spot. El Niño dispatched the best penalty of the night for Atleti into Leno’s side-netting, giving the goalkeeper no chance whatsoever.
With the weight of the world on his shoulders, Stefan Kießling stepped up to take the final penalty for Leverkusen, but the ball is probably still on it’s way down from the atmosphere after he blazed it over the crossbar.
Although saying that, it may still beat Raúl García’s effort back to earth.
Atleti are through to the quarter-finals for the second successive season, and will find out their fate on Friday when the draw is made for the next round.
What did you make of the performance? Did you love Arda tonight as much as I did?
|Atlético Madrid||10||Bayer Leverkusen|
|Mario Suárez 27'|
|UEFA Champions League|
|17 March 2015|
|Raul Garcia (45')|
|F Torres (83')|