El Niño: one golazo... and two bookings

Fernando Torres scored a goal and picked up two bookings, all within the opening 35 minutes. The goal still counts, and has the added sheen of those scored away from home in this stage of the competition. The red card also remains nailed on; to the effect that El Niño will miss the return leg in the Calderón and the heated debate unleashed by the decision will take some time to die down. My personal belief is that Torres cannot expect the disciplinary commission to rescind his sending off. He committed two harsh challenges, both unnecessarily, the second of which was extremely reckless. However, I know not everyone agrees with me. There is even a split among the ranks of the referees who have turned to punditry.

Whether or not it was Torres or Brych’s fault, the sending off overshadowed the game. Trying to hold on with ten men against Barça at Camp Nou for 65 minutes is a tall order. That aside, Atlético, who started excellently, doing themselves proud all over the pitch, reached the halftime unscathed. They even went on two forages up front right after the break that nearly resulted in a second goal, but at the cost of exposing themselves to two counter-attacks that fired up the crowd. And all of a sudden Barça sprang to life. The Atlético bunker had to endure a long quarter of an hour spell of constant cluster bombing. It was a tremendous exhibition of attacking football on the one hand, and defensive bravery on the other.

After getting their first goal Barça eased up somewhat, but not much. Atlético kept up the resistance, with Simeone providing them strength with the gradual introduction of fresh legs. The next goal threatened to put tie to bed. Another Barcelona goal and next week’s match in the Calderón would have been a write off. But it never came and the game - a true Champions League game - ended, with the promise of more excitement to come in the second leg. Atlético can be pleased with themselves: they won the eleven vs. eleven battle, lost when it was ten against eleven, remain in the fight after withstanding a ferocious assault and can count on having a referee with less of a penchant for reaching for his cards next week at home.