Atletico Take Huge Step Towards Champions League Quater-finals

Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone said his team had “shown their balls” in beating Juventus 2-0 in Wednesday’s Champions League last 16 first leg, while predicting they would still have to suffer in the return game next month.

After a first half in which much of the attention was focused on ex-Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo ‘s return to the Spanish capital, Atletico upped the energy after the break and deservedly took the game thanks to goals at set-pieces from centre-backs Jose Maria Gimenez and Diego Godin.

Atletico have never lost a knockout tie in eight years under Simeone after winning the first leg, but the Argentine told his postgame news conference that nobody was talking about the quarterfinals just yet.

“The tie is not over yet, there is still a game to play,” Simeone said. “For sure we will have to suffer against a great opponent, with great players.

“We played a very strong game as a team, could take the play to where we feel most comfortable. As the minutes passed we felt stronger, were making chances, and took two to get the victory against a very strong opponent.

“For sure we will have to suffer in Turin.”

Asked about a crotch-grabbing celebration of Gimenez’s opening goal, Simeone was very unapologetic.

“It means we have balls, a lot of balls,” he said. “To put in Diego Costa and Koke after so long out you must have balls. I wanted to show our fans what I was feeling. I did it [when a player] in a Lazio vs. Bologna game.”

Simeone explained his surprise decision to start fit-again Costa ahead of January arrival Alvaro Morata in attack, saying that both had played the parts he had chosen for them.

“Costa was not ready for 90 minutes,” he said. “I spoke this morning with Costa and Morata, what I needed from each in the game. And they came through, both of them.

“Morata even after VAR did not favour him again. We had to share the effort, think of how to do [Juve] damage, and we did it.”

The only low point for Atletico was bookings for Costa and Thomas Partey, who will both now miss the second leg in Turin on Tuesday March 12.

“Costa getting booked in the eighth minute for taking a step forward in the wall…” Simeone said, before letting out an exasperated sigh. The coach, however, did not criticise the VAR call which disallowed the goal when it seemed substitute Morata had headed Atletico in front against his old team.

Asked how Atletico could have recently slipped limply out of the La Liga title race, and then turn in a performance like this, Simeone came close to suggesting his team were focusing on winning a first-ever Champions League for Atletico with the final at their Wanda home this season.

“The players are humans,” he said. “To keep winning all the time is very difficult. Sometimes we find it hard to keep it up. In Liga, Barcelona and Real Madrid are so strong. UCL also has strong teams.

“These players represent the feeling which is Atletico Madrid. It makes me happy, to play like this whether we win or lose. We will not change, always trying to improve, but in our own way.”

Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri criticised his side for switching off in the closing stages a “Atleti came out much more aggressively with set-pieces and caught us by surprise. We knew it would be tough, that Atletico force you to play badly, to play slowly, they have been playing this way for eight years,” he said.

“Atletico can play for 85 minutes defending and playing long balls and we fell asleep and were second best. If anyone came here wanting to enjoy themselves they picked the wrong night.

“There will be great disappointment after this result but we can turn the tie around.

“It will not be easy, we will need a great performance but it can be done and we must believe in ourselves.”


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