Atletico Madrid slip past Barca and into Champions League semi-finals

Leading the Primera Liga as the campaign nears its conclusion, Atletico are now Uefa Champions League semi-finalistst to boot, after deservedly dispatching Barcelona at a raucous Vicente Calderon, writes John McAuley.

David Villa, right, of Atletico Madrid gets a step on Barcelona’s Marc Bartra during their Uefa Champions League game on Wednesday night. G Moreno / Getty Images
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Atletico Madrid 1 Barcelona 0

Atletico Madrid Koke 5'

Man of the match Gabi (Atletico Madrid)

For Atletico Madrid, their dream season sustains. The capital club, so long dwarfed by neighbours Real Madrid, have mixed domestic durability with a continental conviction and, at present, stand as Spain’s most dominant side.

Leading the Primera Liga as the campaign nears its conclusion, Atletico are now Uefa Champions League semi-finalistst to boot, after deservedly dispatching Barcelona at a raucous Vicente Calderon.

Diego Simeone’s squad, much like their manager, are built on commitment to the cause and they continue to dispel the doubts, to silence the dissenting voices. This was their fifth meeting of the season with Barcelona, yet Lionel Messi and company have yet to get the better of them.

Four draws had preceded the second leg in central Spain, with last week’s clash at the Nou Camp suggesting Atletico would not be bowed.

A 1-1 draw appeared a dangerous score to bring back home, although those concerns were quickly eradicated when Koke grabbed what would be the tie’s decisive strike.

Without Gerard Pique and Victor Valdes to help keep out the hosts, Barcelona emerged brittle in defence and surprisingly ponderous in attack. Within five minutes they were exposed, Adrian crashing a drive off the upright before David Villa collected to cross to Raul Garcia.

The midfielder’s knock-down was perfect, leaving Koke the simplest task of placing the ball past Jose Manuel Pinto. In a frantic period that ensured, Atletico twice shook the woodwork, both through Villa.

The former Barcelona man enjoyed some sumptuous times with the Catalan club, but the victory here, which secured a 2-1 aggregate triumph, will surely rank among his finest.

He was unfortunate, too, not to be awarded a penalty deep into the second half, when Javier Mascherano bundled him over in the area.

Barcelona would have opportunities of their own, chiefly through Messi, Xavi and Neymar. The trio were each well-placed to spark the visitors back to life, but not one could direct their header on target.

As it transpired, Barcelona depart the tournament before the last-four stage for the first time in seven seasons, and the post-mortem will last long through the coming days and weeks.

Placed second in the domestic league, and with the Copa del Rey final to come, much can still be salvaged from 2013/14, although there is a growing sense this previously unstoppable stable is ending its trophy-laden run. Gerardo Martino, the manager, may not endure past the summer months.

Although Barcelona’s gradual demise demands attention, for the moment, allow Atletico to bask in a glory all of their own making.

To call Simeone’s side spirited and gutsy tells only half the story, as they have the requisite talent to back up their tenacity.

Rightfully in tomorrow’s semi-final draw, their dream season has a few more tales to spin yet.

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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