Even though Atletico Madrid was eliminated from the Copa de Rey, the team has plenty to look forward to for the rest of the season.
Atletico outplayed Barcelona at Camp Nou on Tuesday in the Copa del Rey semifinals, but the 1-1 draw in the second leg still fell short of a comeback – in part because of a missed penalty and an officiating mistake.
Still, the impressive performance filled Atletico with hope for the Spanish league and Champions League.
“We take a lot of positive things from this match,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. “Hopefully this will be an important step for us ahead of what’s left in the league.”
Atletico, which won the league title in 2014, got off to a struggling start and is only fourth in the standings, seven points behind Real Madrid – which has two games in hand.
Without the regularity that had been a trademark of Simeone’s team in recent years, the title remains a longshot. But Atletico needed a boost to at least get back in the fight for one of the direct qualifying spots for the Champions League.
Atletico is four points behind third-place Sevilla, and six behind second-place Barcelona. Only the top three teams advance without having to go through a playoff round.
“We are proud of what we’ve done, proud of having done everything that was within our reach,” Atletico midfielder Saul Niguez said. “We hope this will continue so we can become more consistent. This is the Atletico Madrid that we know. Nobody can count us out. We will keep working hard and hopefully this will be a turning point for the rest of the season.”
Atletico’s failure to cap its comeback on Tuesday could be pinned on some of its own mistakes, including the 80th-minute missed penalty by Kevin Gameiro. But Simeone also appeared to put some of the blame on the refereeing, as Antoine Griezmann had a goal wrongly called off for offside early in the second half.
“I have no doubt why in the Champions (League) we have more chances than we do in the league or in the Copa,” he said, apparently hinting at favoritism toward Barcelona and Real Madrid in the local competitions. “I have no doubt.”
Atletico had midfielder Yannick Carrasco sent off in the 69th minute, while Barcelona had Sergi Roberto red-carded in the 58th and Luis Suarez sent off in injury time.
Atletico’s next game in the league is at home against Celta Vigo on Sunday at Vicente Calderon Stadium. It will host Barcelona in three weeks, and will also play at home against Sevilla. Its match against leader Madrid will be at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in April.
Atletico faces Bayer Leverkusen in the last 16 of the Champions League, with the first leg in Germany later this month.