Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone lauded his side’s determination to keep making their mark on the Uefa Champions League after they reached the quarter-finals for a fourth consecutive season.
Simeone’s men have lost out in the final to city rivals Real Madrid in two of the past three seasons.
However, they have another chance at Champions League glory as a 0-0 draw with Bayer Leverkusen on Wednesday sealed their place in Friday’s draw 4-2 on aggregate.
“Firstly there is joy,” Simeone said. “It shows the great effort the club and, above all, the players have made in the way they have competed and given their heart and soul in the past four years.
“Everyone has done their bit to be among the top eight teams in Europe.”
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Atletico were far from their best at the Vicente Calderon as they relied on a stunning triple save from goalkeeper Jan Oblak to prevent just a second Champions League defeat in the past four seasons.
However, the Spanish side got the job done in Germany three weeks ago thanks to goals from Saul Niguez, Antoine Griezmann, Kevin Gameiro and Fernando Torres.
“We didn’t need to attack like crazy,” Atletico’s top scorer Griezmann said.
“We tried to see the game out at the back and that is what we did. We are in the quarter-finals and we are all happy.”
New Leverkusen manager Tayfun Korkut was taking charge of his first Champions League game and summoned a much-improved performance as they forced Atletico onto the back foot for long spells.
However, Korkut hailed Atletico’s desire to defend as Oblak’s stunning triple save to deny firstly Julian Brandt and then two follow-up efforts from Kevin Volland midway through the second-half secured Atletico’s 17th clean sheet in their last 20 home Champions League games.
“I haven’t seen anything like it,” Korkut said. “I’ve watched it again and it isn’t just him. There were many defenders throwing themselves to block the shot.
“You see how this team defends their goal. They are all there to put their foot or any part of their body on the line.”
Korkut was hired after a 6-2 thrashing at Dortmund following their first leg defeat saw Roger Schmidt sacked.
And with Leverkusen languishing in 10th in the Bundesliga, Korkut is hoping to gain momentum from their impressive showing to make a late run to qualify for Europe next season.
“We saw that we have the quality to cause them problems. Atletico suffered and we had a lot of chances,” he said.
“For me the important thing is that the team has taken the first steps forward comparing with where we have come from in the Bundesliga.”
* Agence France-Presse
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