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Atletico Madrid defeats Barcelona in Champions League
Atletico wins 1-0 on the night, 2-1 on aggregate
Reigning champion Bayern Munich into semifinals
Bayern sees off Manchester United 3-1, 4-2 on aggregate
Every year there is talk of how the Champions League trophy will find itself lured back to Madrid for “La Decima” – or the tenth as Real Madrid refers to it.
That could very well be the case this season – but perhaps it will reside at Vicente Calderon for the very first time and in the hands of Diego Simeone, the manager of Atletico Madrid.
On Wednesday, his side produced a fine display to clinch its place in the semifinals of the Champions League and in doing so ended Barcelona’s hopes in the competition.
An early goal by talented playmaker Koke ensured Atletico recorded a 1-0 victory – a result which gave the home side a 2-1 aggregate victory.
Atletico, which was held to a 1-1 draw at Camp Nou in the first leg, should have had the game wrapped up by the interval after hitting the woodwork three times in the opening 20 minutes.
Despite missing top scorer Diego Costa through injury, Atletico continued to look the more dangerous.
Midfielder Gabi then missed a glorious opportunity in the second half to kill off any hopes of a Barcelona comeback but failed to score when in on goal.
Barcelona’s best opportunity came through midfielder Xavi but he failed to convert a rare chance in front of goal.
While Barcelona has won the competition four times, Atletico has never managed to claim Europe’s biggest prize – losing out in its only appearance in the final to Bayern Munich in 1974.
Now it has the opportunity to win not just La Liga, where it sits top with six games to go, but also the Champions League.
“It was a very important goal because it got us through to the semi-finals,” Koke told Spanish broadcaster Canal Plus.
“The work of the team across both legs has been spectacular.
“We ran a huge amount, we played the two games in the way we wanted and I think we were the clear winners.
“With these fans behind us it is very hard for us to lose a match here.”
Barcelona, which faces Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey final on April 16, failed to impress despite the presence of Lionel Messi and Neymar in attack.
Tata Martino’s side will now switch its focus to the league title race with Real and Atletico also in contention.
“We had the game within our grasp,” Barca midfielder Xavi said. “We had four or five very clear chances that normally we would put away.
“They made the most of those first 15 to 20 minutes when they played with a lot of intensity and scored the goal,” Xavi told Canal Plus.
“I think after that we stepped up to the challenge and deserved at least a draw.
“I think we played two good games and had our chances in both legs but it slipped through our fingers.
“We can only congratulate all the Atletico fans.”
The two teams will meet again on the final day of the league season at Camp Nou – a match which could be spectacular if this fixture is anything to go by.
In the night’s other game, Bayern Munich survived a scare against Manchester United to book its place in the semifinals.
The defending champion overcame its English opposition 3-1 on the night, 4-2 on aggregate following an entertaining second half.
Patrice Evra’s fierce effort gave United a shock lead after 57 minutes but goals from Mario Mandzukic, Thomas Muller and Arjen Robben sealed the win.
There were few who gave United any chance whatsoever of making it through to the semifinals of the competition given its horrendous season in the Premier League.
Last season, under Alex Ferguson, United won the league title by 11 points – this year it sits seventh and faces a struggle to even claim a place in the Europa League.
Thrashed at home by rivals Liverpool and Manchester City, United performed admirably to record a 1-1 draw in the first leg against a rampant Bayern side.
The German giant swept all before it last season – winning the domestic double as well as the Champions League under Jupp Heynckes.
Pep Guardiola, who won the competition with Barcelona in 2009 and 2011, has already wrapped up the league title after his side stormed past its rivals.
Its first defeat in 54 league games came against Augsburg on Saturday – although Guardiola had taken the opportunity to rest players ahead of the United game.
Bayern, without suspended duo of Bastian Schewinsteiger and Javi Martinez, enjoyed plenty of possession in the opening 45 minutes but failed to make any clear cut chances.
Winger Robben flashed an effort wide of the post, while United’s best effort was ruled out for offside after Antonio Valencia had netted from close-range.
While the first half may have been a rather dour affair, the second was a rollercoaster of emotion as both sides began throwing men forward in search of victory.
And it was United which struck first with 57 minutes played when Evra fired home an unstoppable effort from 20-yards into the top corner of Manuel Neuer’s goal.
That strike was wildy celebrated by players on the visiting bench but before they could even sit down, Bayern was level thanks to a fine header by Mandzukic.
Buoyed by the equalizer, Bayern bean to scent victory and Muller tapped home a second after beating Nemanja Vidic to Robben’s cross.
Robben added a third after leading the United defense a merry dance to round off the scoring and book Bayern’s place in the semifinal for the third time in four years.
“They scored the first goal so it was a tricky tie but in the end 3-1 was a very good result,” the Dutchman told Sky Sports.
“It was important to score straight after they made it 1-0. It was a wake-up call because the first 10 minutes in the second half were a disaster - we were slow and were not there.
“You can’t do that in the Champions League. After that we scored three goals. We wanted to attack and they were playing on the counter so you have to be careful.”
The defeat means United will not compete in Europe’s top competition next season and heaps more pressure on manager David Moyes.
Midfielder Michael Carrick says the absence of Champions League football at Old Trafford will be difficult to swallow.
“It was always going to be tough tonight and we’re not in the Champions League next season, not necessarily because of tonight, but because we have been weak and haven’t been good enough over the season,” he told Sky Sports.
“We need to finish the season as best we can and get ready for next season and come back believing we can win the title and qualify for the Champions League next season.”