CHAMPIONS LEAHIE

Koke says Atlético should be Champions League winners

Koke has been a runner-up twice in the Champions League with Atlético Madrid but believes it can be a different story this season.

Koke: I'm telling my friends this is Atleti's Champions League

Atlético Madrid captain Koke says his team should be considered kings of Europe if the Champions League cannot be completed this season.

Beat Liverpool, be crowned champions

The midfield orchestrator of Diego Simeone's team believes Atlético are capable of going on to lift the silverware if UEFA can get the competition back on.

However, Koke says focus should not be lost from the more pressing task of ensuring Atlético earn their place in the competition next season through their LaLiga placing. To miss out would be "a failure", he said.

Coronavirus concerns led to the Champions League being suspended in April, three weeks after Atlético scored a famous success by beating defending title holders Liverpool at Anfield.

After a 1-0 home win, Simeone's men stunned Liverpool 3-2 after extra time on Merseyside to reach the quarter-finals - and for that reason alone, Koke reckons Atletico can lay a claim to being the pick of this year's crop in Europe.

"When I talk to my friends, I tell them that this is Atleti's Champions League," Koke told COPE and Radio Marca.

He said Atletico's performances may seem "very repetitive" but Koke regards that as a strength.

"We can't change our philosophy," he said. "They won't remove our style or our way of life. If everything is suspended, this year we are champions of the Champions. Like in boxing, we have eliminated the champion." This is a similar argument to that made by Scotland fans after their side overcame rivals England after their 1966 World Cup glory.

After defeats to Real Madrid in the 2014 and 2016 finals, Atlético may feel they are due a better outcome from the latter stages in Europe. However, there are domestic matters that must take priority for now.

Atlético have ground to make up in LaLiga to secure a top-four finish, but their current sixth place is slightly deceptive as they sit just two points behind third-placed Sevilla, indicating all is to play for over the remaining 11 rounds.

"First we have to think about LaLiga," Koke said. "The Champions League does not return until August. We have to focus on LaLiga and get into the Champions League. If we don't, it will be a failure for us."