Atletico into last eight after penalty drama
Atletico Madrid progressed to the Champions League quarter-finals for the second consecutive season after squeezing past Bayer Leverkusen 3-2 on penalties after the scores were locked at 1-1 on aggregate.
The Spanish champions won 1-0 on the night at the Vicente Calderon thanks to Mario Suarez’s deflected first-half strike in 120 minutes short on clear-cut chances.
And after a topsy turvy shootout including five missed penalties, Stefan Kiessling blazed Leverkusen’s final effort over the bar to hand Atletico a place in the last eight.
“Our best characteristic is that we are a team in every sense of the word,” said Suarez.
“We don’t care who we get in the next round. The best teams will be there and no one will want to face us.”
Leverkusen midfielder Simone Rolfes, meanwhile, believed his side should have committed more in search of an away goal.
“After a penalty shoot-out it is difficult to analyse a game. We may not have shown enough courage, but a little luck is also necessary,” he said.
“It is bitter to exit on penalties. Atletico were the more active team and we were not confident enough.”
Atletico boss Diego Simeone sprung a huge surprise prior to kick-off by handing on-loan Villarreal midfielder Cani his full debut at the expense of captain Gabi.
Mario Mandzukic was also recalled up front at the expense of Fernando Torres, but it was at the other end where the Croatian proved his worth early on as he cleared a shot from Son Heung-Min off his own line after Atletico struggled to clear a Leverkusen corner.
The Korean had an even better chance moments later as the Germans counter-attacked with menace, but a poor touch allowed Miguel Angel Moya to scurry from his goal and collect the loose ball.
That was to be Moya’s last involvement as he limped off with an injury to be replaced by Jan Oblak.
However, fortune favoured the home side 27 minutes in when Suarez’s shot from Cani’s cushioned header was deflected past the helpless Bernd Leno.
Mandzukic then had a huge chance to put last season’s beaten finalists ahead in the tie when he latched onto Arda Turan’s through ball, but he was caught for pace by Wendell and the Brazilian full-back made a fine last-ditch challenge.
Cani’s cameo ended at the break as he was replaced by Raul Garcia, but despite a positive start to the second period from Atletico, chances were had to come by for both sides.
Karim Bellarabi tested Oblak from distance with an effort from distance that the Slovenian comfortably held, whilst Arda Turan volleyed over Griezmann’s cross at the other end.
Turan went close again 10 minutes from time when he was found by another neat pass from Griezmann, but this time his driven effort was beaten away by Leno.
Torres was introduced for Mandzukic seven minutes from the end of normal time, but it was Garcia who had the best chance to win the game when his fierce strike was turned behind by Leno early in the second period of extra time.
Suarez was also on target in the shootout as he, Griezmann and Torres scored for Atletico, whilst Garcia fired over and Koke’s effort was brilliantly saved by Leno.
However, only Rolfes and Gonzalo Castro could find the net for Leverkusen as Oblak denied Hakan Calhanoglu and Omer Toprak and Kiessling couldn’t even hit the target.