Atlético Madrid’s Champions League opener against Porto began with a lovely tribute to Portuguese legend Paulo Futre at the Wanda Metropolitano; it was immensely moving, and belies the claim that soccer has no memory. Some two hours later, the clash ended up with a 101st-minute Antoine Griezmann goal that gave Atlético a dramatic last-gasp win, sparking scenes of jubilation that were a marked contrast to the air of discontent that had hung over the stadium throughout the evening. It was a goal that was healing in nature. Precisely because it was scored in such extreme circumstances, it will help to assuage the discord that has dogged Atlético during this initial period of the season. In soccer, there’s nothing more therapeutic than snatching a victory right at the death.
Hermoso goes from hero to villain
As I say, Atlético have been enveloped in an atmosphere of discord. There’s a growing sense of mistrust in Diego Simeone, the cornerstone of the project. Fans are vexed by what’s going on with Griezmann, and by the summer flirtation with Cristiano Ronaldo. What’s more, the team played poorly against Porto and after Mario Hermoso got the hosts in front at the start of stoppage time, he promptly undid his endeavours by giving away a penalty with a handball. By the time Hermoso’s goal arrived, the home crowd had jeered the substitution of Álvaro Morata, and had reserved particular opprobrium for the withdrawal of João Félix. Atleti’s opener proved only a brief respite, scuppered as it was by the silly concession of a penalty. Hermoso gave; Hermoso took away. The scene he made as he celebrated his goal had served notice that his head wasn’t in the right place.
Griezmann proves Woody Allen’s point
So if Griezmann hadn’t popped up with a buzzer-beating winner, the mood inside the Wanda at the final whistle would have been one of profound displeasure. However, the Frenchman’s back-post header, scored despite Pepe’s best efforts to give him a close shave with his outstretched boot, turned everything on its head in an instant. Woody Allen says he likes sport because of its capacity to change the mood in a heartbeat, throwing up plot twists that film and theatre cannot replicate. That’s what happened here. Griezmann, a man condemned to run-outs of no more than half an hour, turned the jeers into cheers in the blink of an eye. Hopefully this serves to calm the bad vibes that have hampered Atlético’s start to the season.