In Wednesday’s round of Champions League quarterfinals, Bayern Munich travelled to take on Benfica with a slim one-goal lead over the Portuguese club, and Atlético Madrid hosted Barcelona down 2-1 on aggregate. Diego Simeone’s club looked bright in the away leg at the Nou Camp, and even grabbed a vital away goal. Atlético may have even grabbed a victory against Barça had it not been for Fernando Torres’ sending off in the first half. Both teams had a lot to fight for at the Vincente Calderón Stadium Wednesday, but who could put in a winning performance and secure a spot in the semifinals?
The hosts started the match on a positive note with Gabi, Yannick Carrasco and Antoine Griezmann all testing Marc-André ter Stegen within the opening ten minutes. All Atléti needed to advance was a 1-0 result in regulation, and it was clear that they were not intimidated by Barça’s star power. They would prove to be a constant thorn in Luis Enrique’s side all night.
In addition to their encouraging attack, Atlético’s defense was also playing at the top of its game throughout the first half. Barça’s first semblance of a chance didn’t come until the 34th minute when Lionel Messi’s free kick went high and wide. Two minutes later, Griezmann put the hosts ahead. Saúl Níguez set up the chance with a lovely side-footed cross, and the French striker was left with a free header from 12 yards out. Griezmann made no mistake as he found the back of the net to potentially send his club on to the next round.
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In the 41st minute, Neymar tested Jan Oblak with a curling drive from distance, but the Slovenian goalkeeper easily dealt with the optimistic effort. Neymar’s shot was Barça’s first attempt on target of the match, and showed how well Atlético had shut down the MSN partnership to start the match. Could the continue this form into the second half, or would Messi and Co. finally find a way through?
On the hour mark, Griezmann tested ter Stegen again with a low drive, and this time the German goalkeeper easily stopped the shot. Despite the score line, which would have been good enough to send Atlético through, Diego Simeone’s men continued to push for a second and looked the brighter of the teams to start the second half.
Luis Suárez had a chance to put Barça on level terms in the 65th minute, but he just couldn’t direct his shot past Oblak. The Uruguayan striker did well to roll past his defender and the fact that this was his first real sight of goal was unbelievable. It felt as if Atlético’s defense had figured out the seemingly impossible puzzle of how to neutralize the Barcelona attack.
In the final stages of the match, Barcelona began to push for an equalizing and potentially Champions League saving goal. The last ten minutes of the match were Barça’s best of the match as they continually tested and pressed Atlético’s backline. All of this pressing left Barcelona exposed for the counterattack, and in the 86th minute, Atlético finally broke through.
Filipe Luís started the move with a long run from his own half. The Brazilian had Griezmann streaking through on the right wing and, after nutmegging Javier Mascherano, he tried to slide in the Frenchman. The ball would’ve found its way through to Griezmann, but Andres Iniesta used his arm to block the pass and Atlético were awarded a penalty kick. Griezmann stepped up to the spot and narrowly slid his shot past ter Stegen to put his side two goals ahead.
Despite the two-goal deficit, all Barcelona needed to do in order to force extra time was score just once. In the 91st minute, it looked as if the reigning European champions were going to get a penalty kick of their own after Gabi was given a handball, but the referee judged that the 32-year-old was just outside the penalty area (replays seemed to think otherwise). Messi took the ensuing free kick and sent it just over the bar.
As the final whistle blew, fans in Madrid must have been overjoyed. Their club had somehow managed to knock out the favorites and now they found themselves in the last four of the Champions League. Joining them in the semifinals will be Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, and Manchester City. For Barcelona, they must now turn their attention to holding onto the top spot in La Liga.