Friday, Nov 28, 2014

Atletico Madrid vs Galactico

Arda Turan scores his Atletico Madrid's third and final goal of the night in Stamford Bridge to give his side a 3-1 win over Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final. (Reuters) Arda Turan scores his Atletico Madrid's third and final goal of the night in Stamford Bridge to give his side a 3-1 win over Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final. (Reuters)
New York Times | London | Posted: May 2, 2014 1:52 am | Updated: May 2, 2014 4:54 pm

Sam Borden

Ten years ago, José Mourinho set off running on the big stage for the first time, his celebratory sprint in a designer suit and bulky overcoat serving as the indelible moment of Porto’s Champions League upset of Manchester United. It was bold. It was brash. It was perfect.

On Wednesday, however, Mourinho had nowhere to run. He could only glare, rooted like a sprinter whose relay partner had dropped the baton, as his opposing manager motored away instead. Atlético Madrid’s Diego Simeone surely did not consider the symmetry of his victory dash, but it was fitting all the same: After Arda Turan scored Atlético’s third goal of the night to seal a place in the Champions League final, Simeone scampered while Mourinho fumed.

Ultimately, even Mourinho had to admit Atlético deserved its trip to Lisbon after a commanding 3-1 victory at Stamford Bridge. Atlético has long been known as the second team in Madrid — playing understudy to the juggernaut Real Madrid. But Los Rojiblancos and their red-and-white-stripe-wearing fans will have a chance to turn the Spanish capital upside down when they play Real on May 24 in Lisbon in the first intracity final in Champions League history.

It will be an apt conclusion to a remarkable run: Atlético, a club known mostly for its neighbors, its poor finances and its penchant for losing top players to bigger teams, is on the verge of a Spanish league title and has not lost in 12 Champions League games this season.

It will need an even bigger effort in the final. The game offers Atlético a chance to win its first European title in 40 years (and, simultaneously, deny Real a 10th crown).

“The dream has come true,” said Atlético midfielder Tiago, who will be one of several Portuguese players with the chance to play for the title in their home country. “We have a great spirit, we are a great team, and we all work together.”

Chelsea, which was bidding to reach its second final in three years, will now turn its attention to a dying grasp at the Premier League title while ruing a defensive breakdown against Atlético that came at the worst time.

Zipped lips

The Blues, who forged a scoreless draw in the first leg last week and were without several starters because of injuries and suspensions, were still in position to advance after Fernando Torres scored in the 36th minute on Wednesday. Torres did not celebrate in a show of respect to Atlético, his former club, but the fans at Stamford Bridge roared all the same. With the goal, the fans knew, Chelsea could drop back and defend, a strategy that played to Mourinho’s tactical strength.

But just before the halftime, Mourinho’s back line had a critical lapse. Tiago lashed a diagonal ball from left to right, and Juanfran one-touched a soft pass back across the face of the goal that Adrián López finished to level the score at 1-1. Somehow, all of Chelsea’s defenders were caught ball-watching simultaneously.

The away goal by Atlético meant it held the crucial tiebreaker, and Chelsea had little choice but to press in the second half. Simeone did not retreat, though, and the game turned in seconds.

At one end of the field, Atlético goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois — who is actually Chelsea property but is on loan to Atlético — made a miraculous save to deny John Terry’s fierce header.

All but over

Moments later, Atlético’s star striker Diego Costa drew a penalty kick — after a woeful foul from the substitute Samuel Eto’o — and converted it from the spot to suddenly put Chelsea on the brink with 30 minutes remaining.

“The save is amazing,” Mourinho said, “and the penalty is a penalty. In one minute, a few actions decided the game.”

Diego Costa may well be on the Chelsea roster next season (Mourinho is one of many managers interested in signing him) but for the moment, he is still wearing stripes. There was a long delay before he took the penalty kick — much of it caused by Diego Costa, who earned a yellow card for time-wasting after he continually kicked at the grass around the spot — but his shot was true.

Plenty to celebrate

“I know there are offers for me,” he said of Chelsea’s reported interest. “But I feel well here at Atlético. So let’s see.”

After Diego Costa scored, Atlético took control, dictating the rest of the match while Chelsea chased in vain. Mourinho praised Atlético’s “mature” poise — particularly impressive because the club has little European experience — and Turan provided the coda when he tapped in a rebound from close range with 18 minutes left.

By then, the mood at Stamford Bridge had sunk. As the ball bounced off the back of the net, Simeone took off running. It was bold. It was brash. It was perfect. And Mourinho just stood still.

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