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Atletico eliminates Barcelona in Champions League

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Today, Spanish Football's Atletico Madrid beat visiting Barcelona FC 1-0 in the second leg of their Champions League quarterfinals, at the Vicente Calderon Stadium. Atletico move on to the semifinals on a 2-1 aggregate score. The draw for the pairings of the final four will be held in the early morning (EST) of this coming Friday.

Atletico was playing without their Brazilian striker, Diego Costa, and Barca without the injured Gerard Pique and Victor Valdes.

The result, though more managed than earned and relying more on rough play and a tolerant Howard Webb than on any skillful display, was deserved given what each team brought to the match.

At the worst of times to play a poor game, Lionel Messi, Neymar, Andres Iniesta, Pedro, and Alexis Sanchez were invisible in the second half of an away game they were losing. The fabled Barcelona tiki-taka seemed to appear on the defensive end as expressed by their goalkeeper's-box-dribbling goalie Jose Pinto and several defenders. But when the time came to passing the ball around in midfield and in attack, the Catalans inexplicably could not muster a three-pass series to save their lives.

The early score at home was a lucky touch only in as much as it happened when it did, but the score was earned and the lone goal could have had abundant company had any of David Villa's three crossbar rattling blasts found the net instead.

On the other side of the pitch, Pinto was actually in good form when saving and managed quite a few nice saves off the many shots Barca's defense seemed to be allowing Atletico. The Catalans sorely missed the skill and size of Pique and the experience of a Carles Puyol, let alone the calm and controlling presence of the always skillful Valdes.

From the moment the pressing strategy seemed to give Atletico both opportunities and breathing time--since Barca did not have their smothering possession--the hosts took the game to the visitors all over the field. At game's end Barca took over the possession balance, but it was meaningless and what will remain in the mind of the viewers of this match is the vision of Barca's players blasting the ball down the field instead of skillfully working it put pass by tiki pass.

Atletico took the wind out of the sails of their better opponent by working every angle at their disposal. Madrid coach, Diego Simeone, left nothing up to chance. From the dry and longish turf, to double and triple teaming Messi, to the constant strategic fouling of the talented Barca ball handlers, to the ultra pressing game in the first half, Madrid had a libretto and followed it to a tee. It is interesting to note that Real Madrid has followed this same libretto before, but the Catalans would always find a way to take advantage, Atletico, though is tougher and more disciplined.

This result coupled with Bayern Munich's 3-1 dismantling of Manchester United means that the four semifinalists are Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, and Chelsea. One can only hope that the Spanish teams do not need to eliminate each other. From a fan's perspective a Real Madrid vs. Chelsea and Atletico vs. Bayern would be a dream set of semifinals.

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