Kevin Gameiro was playing so well for Atletico Madrid that even a teammate tried to keep him from being substituted.
Gameiro helped Atletico to a convincing 4-2 win over Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League on Tuesday, and Antoine Griezmann looked in awe when he noticed the substitution board go up with Gameiro’s number on it.
Clearly surprised, he tried to stop coach Diego Simeone from replacing his teammate, signaling to the bench and voicing his discontentment.
“No, no,” Griezmann said from afar, looking incredulous and disappointed. “He is the best (in the game), he is the best.”
Griezmann failed to convince Simeone and Gameiro had to leave, but the French striker had already stayed on the field long enough to put in one of his best performances since arriving in Madrid this season. He scored a goal and set up another in the first leg of the last 16 in Germany, making another strong case to establish himself as the team’s starter over Fernando Torres.
The 29-year-old Gameiro was coming off another outstanding performance in which he scored three goals in five minutes to help fourth-place Atletico defeat Sporting Gijon 4-1 in the Spanish league on Saturday. The team next hosts Barcelona on Sunday.
“I was a little upset (with the substitution) because when you are playing well you want to stay until the end,” Gameiro, who came to Atletico from Sevilla last year, told Spanish media. “But the most important thing is that the team got the victory.”
The surprising 71st-minute substitution attracted a lot of attention after the game, with Simeone having to explain his decision to take out the team’s best player in the match.
“Gameiro played one of his best games since he joined us, but my intention was to put in some fresh players, players who could take advantage of the spaces,” Simeone said. “I would have replaced (Diego) Maradona or (Lionel) Messi. It would have been the same.”
Griezmann downplayed his reaction during the substitution.
“The coach knows what’s better for us,” the Frenchman said after the game. “I knew that Gameiro was helping a lot with his runs, but in the end the coach was right because he made the changes and we scored another goal.”
Gameiro, who was replaced by midfielder Thomas Partey, was a constant threat to the Leverkusen defense and was decisive in the result that left the Spanish club in good position to reach the quarterfinals of the Champions League for the fourth straight season.
He showed his speed and poise while setting up Griezmann’s goal in the first half, picking up a ball near midfield and fending off defenders in a long run into the area before rolling the ball for his teammate’s easy strike. The goal made Griezmann Atletico’s all-time leading scorer in the European Cup with 13, one more than Luis Aragones.
Early in the second half, Gameiro was fouled inside the area after clearing a defender near the end line, then calmly converted the penalty kick with a low shot into the middle of the net as the goalkeeper went the other way.
Gameiro, who had missed a critical penalty in the team’s elimination against Barcelona in the Copa del Rey, has been rotating with Torres, although he has been the first choice in the more important games. Torres entered Tuesday’s match and scored the important fourth goal.
“They are both playing with confidence and scoring goals,” Griezmann said. “It doesn’t matter who is playing, I get along with both of them and we need them to keep scoring.”
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