[dropcap]A[/dropcap]fter 180 minutes of frenetic action at both the Estadio Vicente Calderon and the Allianz Arena, Atlético Madrid have progressed to the Champions League final at the expense of Bayern Munich.
Despite an evolving playing squad and the odds being stacked against them, Diego Simeone’s plucky side continue to overachieve and go toe-to-toe with Europe’s biggest clubs.
Although the Spaniards continued their typical style of soaking up pressure and proving ardent in defence, Los Rojiblancos were good value for their progression and stand a great chance of becoming European champions for the first time in their history this year.
When the draw for the semi-finals was being made, there is an argument to suggest that all three of the other remaining teams would secretly have wished to land the La Liga side over the other options.
However, Simeone’s charges continue to be one of the most difficult opponents on the continent to negotiate and have ended Pep Guardiola’s ambition of winning the top tournament with the Bundesliga giants.
Last night in particular, Atleti’s tactics were all-so familiar but very, very effective.
Few would state that the way Simeone sets up his side to play is the most appealing to watch, but the objective of a football match is to end up on the winning side – and the Argentine adopts a strategy that has Atlético victorious more times than not.
In the first half at the Allianz Arena, the Spaniards soaked up wave after wave of Bayern attack, before a fortuitous Xabi Alonso effort broke the deadlock.
Many teams, most teams in fact, would have buckled under the pressure of a world-class team piling pressure on them, but Atlético have a collective hunger and confidence in the way they defend to not capitulate on the back foot.
When the opportunity came, the superb Antoine Griezmann added to his burgeoning reputation and goal haul for the campaign by making no mistake and scoring the goal to send his side to the San Siro.
A sucker punch of mammoth descriptions, the Frenchman’s goal was a classic example of why Simeone’s side remain so dangerous, despite appearing to be on the constant retreat.
The industry of under-rated captain Gabi, work-rate and poise of Saúl Ñíguez and Koke and defiance of Diego Godín and young compatriot José María Giménez continue to impress.
Looking forward to the final, the chance of a Madrid derby in Milan would offer the perfect opportunity for revenge for Simeone’s men.
A late, late Sergio Ramos header broke Atleti hearts in Lisbon two years ago and facilitated La Décima in extra time, but had things been ever so slightly different it would have been the men in red and white that were victorious.
Regardless of whether Atlético win the Champions League or La Liga this season or not, Simeone and his team deserve endless credit for their continued prolific form at the highest level of the game.
Whether the Argentine’s style would work at other clubs remains to be seen, but his marriage to the Spanish capital city side is ideal.
The neutral will surely hope Atlético go on to complete their underdog story and become kings of Europe, but now, after eliminating both Barcelona and Bayern Munich, the Vicente Calderon outfit can no longer be written off.
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