Atletico Madrid are through to the Champions League semi-final after beating Barcelona 2-1 on aggregate in a storming match.
Koke netted after six minutes of a scintillating contest, Atletico hounding Barca at every opportunity with the visitors appearing shell-shocked by the raging environment in the early going.
At no point did the noise in the Vicente Calderon cauldron abate and the crowd were probably the standout performers on the night. They were certainly the most consistent and no team will look forward to visiting this side of Madrid in the semi-final.
Not content with setting up Atletico to dominate and then frustrate Barca, Diego Simeone had the Calderon on their feet and spent most of the match calling for more noise. If it was possible for the Atleti fans to get louder, that is.
The only goal of the game came when Atletico struck the post through Adrian and Los Rojiblancos maintained the pressure, the ball eventually coming to Koke to lash past Jose Pinto.
Barca struggled to create meaningful chances and the ones that did come their way weren’t taken, Atletico’s determined defence rendering the visiting attack largely toothless. Meanwhile, the effort of the Atleti midfield meant Barca were rarely able to establish any fluency and the forwards’ quick breaks kept the Barca defence nervy all game.
Diego Costa missed out due to the thigh injury picked up in the 1-1 draw in the first-leg with Adrian and David Villa in attack for Atletico. Arda Turan was also absent but Atleti were otherwise full strength.
Speculation in the Spanish Press had Cesc Fabregas starting as a false nine for Barca but the Catalans at often had a more orthodox shape with Messi through the middle, Cesc occasionally pushing up as the central attacker.
Atletico were relentless in the opening minutes and were quickly rewarded with a goal. Adrian would have claimed it but for the woodwork before Koke capitalised seconds later.
Atleti were denied twice more in the first 45 minutes by the frame of the goal, each time from David Villa as Atletico’s intensity threatened to reap further rewards. Every time a Barca player found himself in possession he was usually accompanied by two and sometimes three opponents.
Messi could have levelled the scores with a free header in the penalty area but the Argentine put the ball wide. Barca recovered somewhat from the initial onslaught and Messi had a half-chance to equalise after smart work by Neymar down the Barca left.
Barca were able to take a stranglehold on possession as the first-half entered its final third but struggled to break down a well-drilled Atletico. The home side had no compunction about bringing every player, including both strikers, behind the ball.
Los Cules began the second-half on the front foot, Courtois diving at Neymar’s feet as the Brazil forward looked to take the ball round him while Messi was denied a simple finish by some desperate Atletico defending.
Xavi Hernandez could have scored with a header as Atletico’s attacks were reduced largely to solo runs from Villa and Adrian, the strikers too often lacking support to make much of the space behind the Barca defence. Equally, Barca didn’t often get behind the deep Atletico backline.
Diego Ribas, on as a substitute, danced into the Barca area and tested Pinto as the game entered its final third while Gabi put a tame effort against the goalkeeper’s legs when an Atletico counter left the captain clean through.
Atletico found new life as the half went on and perhaps should have had a penalty when Javier Mascherano barged Villa in the back. Howard Webb waved away the protests and then gave a free-kick to Barca on the edge of the area.
A Neymar diving header represented Barca’s best chance of the second-half but Barca’s policy of flinging crosses into the penalty area did little to improve their chances of scoring. Atletico’s centre-backs gobbled up the aerial balls with little challenge from their diminutive opposition.
Barca’s repeated crosses suggested a team out of ideas and as time followed suit and the noise level persisted, Atletico focused their minds and held firm to produce a phenomenal result that they fully deserved.
Atletico Madrid 1-0 Barcelona – Atletico win 2-1 on aggregate
Koke 6 (AM)
Atletico Madrid: Courtois; Juanfran, Godin, Miranda, Filipe; Koke, Gabi, Tiago, Garcia; Adrian (Diego Ribas 62), Villa (Rodriguez 79)
Barcelona: Pinto; Alves, Mascherano, Bartra, Alba; Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta (Pedro 71); Messi, Cesc (Alexis 61), Neymar