Atletico Madrid eliminates Barcelona from Champions League
ABS-CBN Sports on Apr 14, 2016 09:53 AM
Atletico's scorer Antoine Griezmann is lifted by his teammate Atletico's Gabi Fernandez, as they celebrate the opening goal during the Champions League 2nd leg quarterfinal soccer match between Atletico Madrid and Barcelona at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid, Spain, Wednesday April 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Paul White)
TALES AZZONI, AP Sports Writer
MADRID (AP) — Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar all failed to deliver as holder Barcelona was dumped out of the Champions League quarterfinals on Wednesday in a stunning 2-0 defeat by Spanish rival Atletico Madrid.
Barcelona's star trio was kept in check by some tough defending from the home side, and France striker Antoine Griezmann scored a goal in each half as Atletico overturned a 2-1 loss at Camp Nou in last week's first leg to win 3-2 on aggregate.
The result sent Diego Simeone's team, which had played most of the first leg match with 10 men, to the semifinals for the second time in the last three seasons.
And it shattered the hopes of favorite Barcelona, which had reached the semifinals seven times in the last eight years.
"It wasn't our best day," Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said. "We weren't lucid and we struggled to create chances. After they scored, they did what they do best - which is defend. They did that very well and delivered a complete performance."
The defeat ended Barcelona's hopes of repeating the treble of Champions League, Copa del Rey and Spanish league titles.
Its performance was summed up by another disappointing display from Messi, who again failed to score his elusive 500th career goal.
The playmaker is enduring his worst scoring slump with Barcelona in five years and hasn't scored since a win over Arsenal in the round of 16 of the Champions League on March 16.
Only twice Barcelona had failed to advance after winning the first leg in its previous 40 attempts in UEFA competitions.
"The players wanted to retain the trophy, the fans too, but today it was not to be," Luis Enrique said.
It was Atletico's first win over Barcelona since Luis Enrique took over the Catalan club after the 2013-14 season. Luis Enrique's team had won the previous seven games against Simeone.
"We never stopped believing," Simeone said. "We worked, knowing the situation, knowing what we can do. They had individuals who could break the game open, but we stayed together and stayed strong."
Simeone succeeded by keeping in check Barcelona's offensive trio, who didn't threaten until late in the game, and even then couldn't create many clear chances.
Atletico Madrid left the Camp Nou infuriated with the refereeing last week after its striker Fernando Torres was sent off in the 35th minute. On Wednesday, it was Barcelona that had reason to complain after a hand ball by Gabi Fernandez that appeared to be inside the area — but was judged by the referee outside the box in second-half injury time.
Messi's ensuing free kick sailed over the crossbar in his team's last chance.
Needing a victory, Atletico pushed forward early on and had a few decent scoring chances before Griezmann finally broke through with his header from near the penalty spot. After a ball recovered near the sideline, youngster Saul Niguez used the outside of his left foot to make a well-placed cross to the France striker, who headed past Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
His second came after a dangerous counterattack started by Filipe Luis, whose cross into the area was blocked by Andres Iniesta with his arm — giving Atletico a penalty that was calmly converted by Griezmann in the 88th.
"We've worked really hard defensively. We deserve it," Griezmann said. "The team has made a great effort to be among the best four teams in Europe."
Griezmann has scored six goals in this season's Champions League, and 10 in the last 10 Atletico games in all competitions.
Barcelona had also been eliminated by Atletico in the quarterfinals of the 2013-14 season, when the rival eventually reached the final and lost to Real Madrid. Last season, Atletico fell to Madrid in the quarterfinals.
Barcelona and Atletico remain in a close fight for the Spanish league, where Barcelona's lead has been cut to only three points with six rounds to go. The Catalan club is winless in three consecutive league games, while Atletico won six of its last seven.
In Wednesday's other game, Bayern Munich advanced 3-2 on aggregate after a 2-2 draw at Benfica.
Real Madrid and Manchester City, which reached the last four on Tuesday, will also be in Friday's draw for the semifinals.
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni