Today at Stamford Bridge, London, Spanish Football's Atletico Madrid defeated Premiership contenders Chelsea FC 3-1 in the decisive second leg of their Champions League semifinal tie. Atletico will now meet Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo in the May 24th final in Lisbon, Portugal.What a year for La Liga teams.
Knowing that only a score would take them to Lisbon, Chelsea coach, the Portuguese Jose Mourinho, had his team thinking about attacking. Responding in kind, and knowing that a 1-1 tie would suffice for Madrid, Atletico coach, the Argentine Diego Simeone had his team play their regular game--looking for a goal but risking little in defense.
The game was interesting in that the most defensive teams in the Premier League and La Liga were actually forced to attack. But few chances were actually created over the first 35 minutes.
Then, at the 36th, William found himself in the far right corner of Atletico's side and surrounded by two Madrid players. He managed to get past both defenders, and once free was tripped, but his pass reached Chelsea's Spanish defender Cesar Azpilicueta who crossed quickly to Fernando Torres. Chelsea's Spanish, ex-Atletico striker, one-timed a shot that touched a Madrid defender on its way in for the score. It was the first goal Madrid keeper, Thibaut Courtois, had allowed in 595 continuous minutes of play.
Madrid did not panic, their script was still intact, their need to score was not outsized since a single goal would seem them through. And their patience paid off at the 44th minute when Tiago sent a great cross to a streaking Juanfran at the far right post of Australian goalkeeper, Mark Schwarzer, in for the injured Petr Cech. Juanfran acrobatically volleyed the ball across the goal to Adrian Lopez who rifled the ball up and in from close range. Game tied and advantage to Atletico.
The half ended 1-1 and the second half began with a desperate Chelsea and a calmer Madrid.
When after several minutes and many fruitless attacks ensued, and Atletico seemed unfazed and in fact was having at least as many chances, Mourinho started to substitute strategically. He brought in strikers for defenders and fresh strikers for tiring ones. Ashley Cole came out for Samule Etoo and later Torres came out for Demba Ba. But without a playmaker, strikers can often times find themselves rudderless and so it was with Chelsea as the coach did not bring the likes of Oscar onto the pitch.
At the 58th minute Etoo challenged Costa to a ball at the top of the box and brought the Madrid player down. Penalty! Costa set up to take it but found the penalty spot had a divot and the ball was cradled in it. He complained to the ref when the official asked him to put the ball right on the spot and receiving no solace the striker simply stomped the spot to even out the divot. The ref interpreted the stomping as dissent and gave Costa a yellow. The Chelsea players took advantage and used the occasion to try to rattle Costa further. But the striker would not wither.
Costa scooped the ball with his shot and placed it shoulder at height and to Schwarzer's right side when the keeper guessed left. Madrid 2, Chelsea 1.
Five minutes later a great Chelsea sustained attack saw the ball hit the Madrid post and head toward goal only to have Courtois' reflex save keep the ball out of the net. Nine minutes later Madrid put the game away.
At the 72nd minute another attack from Madrid found Eden Hazard lacking in his marking chores as Juanfran again got loose and unleashed a great cross that Arda Turan ran straight into and headed squarely. The ball beat Schwarzer but hit the crossbar. Only Turan is old school and he followed his shot into the box. He was duly rewarded when the rebound came right back at him. He simply had to slot it into the net for the third and final score.
This was not the game Mou had dreamed about, but frankly neither was it the one Simeone envisioned. But it was a well earned and fair win for the better team on the day. At the beginning of the Champions League tournament many might have thought an all-Spanish final was possible but they were probably thinking of Merengues and Catalans. Rarely have two teams from the same city competed for such a prize, but both finalists are surely deserving.