Atletico Madrid demonstrated their remarkable team spirit to come roaring back from two goals and a man down to draw 2-2 at Liga debutants Girona on Saturday, after Antoine Griezmann had been sent off for the first time in his career.
Girona looked set to enjoy a dream top flight bow when Uruguay international Cristhian Stuani rose to head in a sweeping cross from Alex Granell midway through the first half and three minutes later showed his predator’s instinct to nod in a loose ball from close range.
Argentine forward Angel Correa pulled one back for Atletico with a long range strike in the 78th minute, after Griezmann had been dismissed for two successive bookings, one for diving to try and win a penalty and another for dissent.
Defender Jose Gimenez then beat Girona goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz to Koke’s chipped free-kick to head Atletico level in the 85th minute and cap a thrilling encounter at the Montilivi stadium, which was hastily expanded for the club’s first Liga game.
“Girona are a solid team that knows how they want to play and they proved that in the first half, but I’m delighted with the good things we did, we again showed that we never give up and keep fighting until the end,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone told reporters.
Girona boss Pablo Machin said: “We were on our way to a memorable win, not just because it was a historic game for us but because of how we played. Just when it looked like we’d done everything to win, Atletico did what champions do and as well as their quality they had that slice of luck which we didn’t.”
Stuani returned to Spain this summer after two years at Middlesbrough and already has half the amount of league goals with Girona he managed last season. His quick-fire strikes had the home supporters on their feet as they savoured the club’s first game in the top flight in their 87-year history.
Atletico nearly struck back early in the second half when Griezmann launched himself acrobatically at a high through ball, but his bicycle kick flew past the far post.
Once Correa had got them back in the game with his sublime strike, substitute Luciano Vietto should have levelled when he was played in the area, only to blast over the bar. Girona tired despite their numerical advantage and Gimenez eventually pulled Atletico out of trouble.
Elsewhere on Saturday, Real Sociedad twice came from behind to win 3-2 at Celta Vigo, snatching three points with a late penalty from Willian Jose after Uruguayan Maxi Gomez had scored twice on his debut for Celta.
Sevilla meanwhile drew 1-1 at home to Espanyol, with Argentine midfielder Ever Banega being sent off for two successive yellow cards on his first game back at the Andalusian club, one for a foul and the other for protesting the foul.