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Sensational Atlético head to semis

At the fifth time of asking, a match between Atlético Madrid and Barcelona finally produced a winner as Atlético Madrid advanced to the Champions League semifinals with a1-0victory over Barcelona in their second leg quarterfinal on Wednesday night at a boisterous and jam-packed Estadio Vicente Calderón, thus giving Atletico a 2-1 victory on aggregate.

A sixth minuteKoke goalproved to be the difference as Atlético will play in their first European Cup/Champions League semifinal since 1974. Barcelona head coach Gerardo Martino made a few slight changes from last week’s first leg by shifting Cesc Fàbregas to play up top in attack with Lionel Messi and Neymar, while Andres Iniesta stepped into the midfield alongside Xavi and Sergio Busquets. With Gerard Piqué injured, Marc Bartra took up the center-back duties with Javier Masherano while Dani Alves and Jordi Alba rounded out the back four in front of goalkeeper Pinto.

There was no Diego Costa to be found in Atletico’s gameday 18 man rosters as Atletico head Coach Diego Simeone was forced to leave the Brazilian-born striker off due to his hamstring injury. David Villa andAdrián lined upin attack with Koke and Raúl García forming the attacking wings. Gabi and Tiago slotted in as holding midfielders while Juanfran, João Miranda, Diego Godín and Filipe Luís were tasked with shielding goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

With the Vicente Calderón soaking up its first Champions League quarterfinal since a 1997 return leg versus Ajax, Atlético came out with their tails up and struck early with a goal in the fifth minute. Adrián unleashed a bullet that struck the post and bounced back into play. Eventually the ball fell to Villa whose cross reached Adrián who then headed back to Koke and the Madrid-born player had acres of space to fire in past Pinto from close-range to put Atletico up 1-0 in the match and 2-1 in the aggregate.

Barcelona’s shoddy defending combined with Atlético’s relentless pressing, almost resulted in a second for Atlético in the 11th minute when Busquets lost possession deep in his own half, allowing Koke to swoop in and feed Villa on the left but the former Azulgrana striker’s shot smacked the crossbar and out.
The Catalonians finally started to work their way into the match and two minutes after Villa’s chance, Messi nearly leveled the match but his header off an Alves cross sailed just wide. But the woodwork once again came to Barcelona’s rescue in the 19th when Villa got past Mascherano and sent in a shot on goal but once again was denied by the post. That was followed up five minutes later by some sublime work from Neymar who managed to shake Adrián and Thiago before feeding Messi but the Argentine’s effort was off target.

Barcelona came out the stronger of the two to start the second half and were inches away from equalizing when Xavi found a cutting Neymar but the Brazilian was unable to get a good shot off against Courtois as Atlético were ultimately able to clear. As the match trickled into the final half hour, Barcelona owned the large majority of the possession but were thwarted time and again by the impenetrable wall that was the Atlético defense. Simeone had all 10 outfield players behind the ball, electing to defend and occasionally springing a counter to rattle Barcelona’s nerves, including one in the 70th minute that saw Gabi come close to all but putting the tie away, but his shot was kick-saved by Pinto.

In desperate need for a goal to at least extend the tie, Barcelona brought all numbers forward and it almost paid off with a Neymar goal in the 76th, but his diving header spun just wide of the post. Atlético substitute Cristian Rodriguez then came close in the 90th but again Pinto was up for the task saving a shot from the left. In the end, Barcelona were simply unable to break down Simeone’s men as a home side lifted by their vocal supporters raised their arms in triumph at the sound of the final whistle with dreams of a Champions League and La Liga double still very much intact.







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