Sports / Soccer

Simeone wins tactical battle with Martino

(China Daily) Updated: 2014-04-11 07:10

Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone got his tactics spot on in the battle with Barcelona counterpart and Argentine compatriot Gerardo Martino as his unfancied side dumped its wealthier rival out of Europe on Wednesday.

Barca was unable to cope with a fired-up Atletico in the opening 20 minutes of the Champions League quarterfinal, second leg at the Calderon, when Koke scored the only goal of the game in the fifth minute to secure a 2-1 aggregate success.

Although Barca improved in the second half, Atletico turned in a brilliant defensive display, almost scoring several times on the counter attack, to claim its place in the last four of Europe's elite competition for the first time in four decades.

It was a classic smash-and-grab raid and Atletico's gutsy performance was typical of a side which takes inspiration from a coach who as a combative and never-say-die midfielder was said to play "with a knife between his teeth".

"I think the first half, those opening 20 minutes, were very good due to our aggression, our speed, our focus, our commitment," Simeone said.

"Later on, obviously, Barcelona started to grow into the game, above all they had more of the ball," said the 43-year-old, who has transformed Atletico into genuine contender in Spain and Europe since taking over at the end of 2011.

"I don't know if they had many chances but the crosses coming over quickly from (Daniel) Alves on the right were causing us a few problems.

"Later in the second half it was a matter of winding down the clock and waiting for a chance to counter attack and look for the second goal to calm things down."

It was one of the greatest nights in Atletico's history and its fans, packed into the arena next to the Manzanares river, were thoroughly enjoying another excellent performance in the club's best season since it won a La Liga and King's Cup double with Simeone in the team in 1996.

Simeone paid tribute to his players, who were visibly tiring in the latter stages but dug deep to keep waves of Barca attacks at bay.

"When someone is working like they are working there are times when you don't need many words," Simeone said.

"The truth is I have admiration for these players beyond the affection I have for them as people.

"I admire the way they sacrifice themselves, the way they work for the team and never betray it."

- Reuters

(China Daily 04/11/2014 page23)

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