On the most demanding night of their season so far, Atlético Madrid worked one of their miracles, returning from Porto with a ticket to the Champions League last 16. It was an evening that reminded me of something the club’s former goalkeeper and head coach, Abel Resino, told me just before their disastrous home game against AC Milan. Resino said he preferred a draw with Milan over a win, because the way Atleti work, they’d be better off going to Portugal needing the three points at all costs. It was worse than that against Milan, of course, because they ended up losing. So they not only had to beat Porto, but also hope Liverpool did them a favour against the Rossoneri. But that’s Atleti: the greater the chaos, the closer the way out of it. Not good for the ticker, but what a ride.
Atlético profit as tempers flare in Porto
Atlético didn’t have a good group stage, and played badly for an hour last night. They needed Jan Oblak, a keeper back on top form, to save them. In the second half, Antoine Griezmann nicked a fortunate goal at a corner, shortly before Yannick Carrasco got himself stupidly sent off - albeit Clément Turpin, who isn’t a good referee, might have kept his red card in his pocket. Soon after, though, it was Porto’s Wendell who suffered from excessive officiating, and it was 10 vs 10 once more. The match’s descent into an ill-tempered affair threw Porto off their game, allowing Atleti to shut up shop, hit a defence in disarray with quick breaks and make sure of victory, despite conceding from a stoppage-time penalty. It was quite a finale to a topsy-turvy game. At San Siro, meanwhile, Liverpool beat Milan.
Simeone elated - and well he might be
Atlético boss Diego Simeone was ecstatic, and with good reason. It’s been a tough time for him; for months now, he’s struggled to find the right formula. But, as he noted post-match, Los Rojiblancos’ togetherness as a group has got them through. It’s just as Resino suspected: given no option but to win at the Estádio do Dragão, they would do just that. Over at the Bernabéu, Real Madrid enjoyed a smoother route to victory, their 2-0 triumph over Inter Milan confirming them as comfortable group winners in the end. Today, Barcelona, Sevilla and Villarreal are all in action with last-16 qualification very much on a knife edge - but after Atlético’s heroics last night, a greater sense of optimism suddenly surrounds LaLiga's Champions League representatives.