Atletico remains Diego Simeone's team, even from afar
ABS-CBN Sports on May 05, 2018 07:53 AM
FILE - In this Tuesday, May 9, 2017 file photo, Atletico de Madrid head coach Diego Pablo Simeone speaks during a press conference before a training session ahead of the Champions League semifinal, 2nd leg soccer match between Atletico de Madrid and Real Madrid at the Vicente Calderon stadium, in Madrid, Spain. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza, File)
By Tales Azzoni, Associated Press
MADRID (AP) — Diego Simeone could watch from only the stands, closer to the fans than to his players. He was cheering, not coaching.
But there was no doubt: Down on the field that was Simeone's team.
With a stout defense and an efficient attack — vintage Simeone — Atletico is back in a European final.
Atletico defeated Arsenal 1-0 on Thursday, advancing to the Europa League final 2-1 on aggregate and keeping alive its hopes of ending the season with a title.
The team will face Marseille in the final on May 16 in Lyon.
It will be Atletico's fifth European final in nine years, and the fourth under Simeone.
"I'm just someone who represents a group that has been working extraordinarily hard for the last six years," said Simeone, who earned his 50th win in 80 European matches with Atletico — 29 of them coming in the Champions League.
Simeone couldn't be on the bench on Thursday because he was sent off early in the first leg in England for shouting insults at the referee. He watched Atletico's win from one of the club's boxes, with the fans nearby. He yelled, jumped, clapped, complained and, in the end, celebrated.
As the crowd chanted his nickname "Cholo," Simeone joined the crowd by wildly waving a team scarf from the tribune, smiling broadly.
"I saw and I felt what the fans feel," Simeone said. "I didn't have a great time because I'm not comfortable being in that position (away from the bench). I have to improve in this sense."
Any improvement will be too late for the final, for which Simeone will have to stay far from the bench after UEFA's disciplinary panel on Friday handed him a four-game suspension for his antics in the first leg. His ejection at the time came after Sime Vrsaljko was sent off 10 minutes into the match in England.
Simeone admitted it was a mistake to go after the referee, but he had been right a few days before the match when he practiced with 10 men, foreseeing a possible ejection. Players said that was crucial when it actually happened on the field.
It was Atletico at its best in both matches against Arsenal, playing tight defensively and being efficient exploring its chances on the attack. Arsenal tried to control possession but it struggled to break through the Atletico defense.
Great defense has been a trademark for the team coached by Simeone, the former Argentina defensive midfielder.
Atletico has the Spanish league's best defense this season with 18 goals conceded in 35 matches, and it hasn't been scored against in 12 straight home matches at Wanda Metropolitano Stadium.
But Simeone's Atletico can also thrive in offense.
Thursday's winner was scored by Diego Costa, who represents another right move by the coach. He worked hard to bring the striker back from Chelsea even though Atletico was enduring a signing ban from FIFA.
"He came for these types of moments," Simeone said. "He came to be important for the team, to be crucial. We needed an angry type of striker like Costa in the team."
Simeone will be trying to win his second European title with Atletico, adding to the Europa League trophy he won in 2012, soon after taking over the club. Simeone led Atletico to two Champions League finals, losing to Real Madrid in both 2014 and 2016. Simeone's Atletico also lost to its city rival in the 2017 semifinals.
The Europa League title would help Atletico save a season that started with high expectations but mostly disappointed until now. The team was eliminated in the group stage of the Champions League for the first time in five seasons, and fell in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey.
Atletico did well in the Spanish league — it is second behind champion Barcelona — but it never really contended for the title.
"Making it to this final is the result of great work by the club, the coaches and the players throughout the years," Simeone said. "We took an important step and now we will try to end it with a victory against Marseille in the final."