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Defeat is hard to take but Atletico Madrid can look back on the season with pride

1.80K   //    29 May 2014, 00:32 IST
Atletico Madrid
Diego Simeone took Atletico to their first La Liga title in nearly two decades this season

As the clock in the Estádio da Luz stadium ticked over to 90 minutes, Atletico Madrid’s season was about to go from absolutely fantastic to downright unbelievable.

Diego Simeone’s team had already secured the La Liga title and broken the hegemony of Barcelona and Real Madrid in the league; something that hadn’t been accomplished since Rafa Benitez’s Valancia did so back in 2004. To the unobserved it seemed as though Atletico’s season had come out of nowhere however the steady progress that Simeone has made since taking over in 2011 meant that their challenge to Spain’s ‘big two’ was no surprise even if winning the league was.

They won La Liga by 3 points in a dramatic final day at the Camp Nou where a draw away to a dispirited Barca side got them their first title since 1995-96 where Simeone had played a crucial role as well. With their budget squad (which paled in comparison to the transfer fees paid by Real and Barca for Bale and Neymar respectively) Atletico went about their business this season and only ended up with 4 defeats in the league overall.

While they scored nearly 23 goals less than Barcelona and 27 less than Real, only conceding 26 times in 38 games was what ultimately took them to league glory. 4 or 5-0 score lines were not their specialty this season however grinding out results in a professional manner was.

So as their fans bit what little of their fingernails that they had left in Lisbon and Simeone frantically gesticulated to his players to hang on, up popped Sergio Ramos to head past the looming figure of Courtois and send the game into extra time.

In many ways it was hard to see Atletico come back from this. They took a gamble that didn’t pay off with Diego Costa and while they did what they had been doing all season in taking a lead and holding on to it, lasting 5 minutes of injury time and then another half an hour of extra time was a step too far.

The 4-1 result, after Bale had scored another important goal to pay back his huge transfer fee, Marcelo’s timid shot had squeezed past Courtois to send Atletico to certain defeat and finally Ronaldo took center stage with a penalty that signified their collapse, was harsh.

They didn’t deserve to go down the way they did on one of the biggest stages of them all however it can be difficult to not get caught up in Real’s La Decima celebrations. A 10th European Cup (the third for Carlo Ancelotti after his previous two with AC Milan) has perhaps justified their spending of over 1 billion Euro’s since their last triumph back in 2002.

When Zidane scored what is probably the best goal to date in the 21st century given the occasion and the quality of the finish no-one expected a 12 year wait for the next time they would lift the trophy. A few eyebrows were lifted when Bale signed in the summer and made him the most expensive footballer on the planet however with a late goal to win the Copa Del Rey against Barcelona and an extra time header to spurn Madrid onto victory in the Champions League final against their city rivals few can argue that he hasn’t at least put himself on the road to justifying the move.

Once the dust has settled then Atletico can look back on this season with immense pride and joy. For a team that had looked shattered in recent months given their comparatively small squad size, winning La Liga and being within 120 seconds of Champions League glory is an unbelievable achievement.

Indeed, given the progress that Simeone has brought to the club it doesn’t look as if it will be a flash in the pan season either. They may lose Diego Costa in the summer (with a few other clubs sniffing around their players as well) however for the first time as far as most people can remember there is no need for a player from the red and white side of the city to move onto bigger things.

Spain may have had a monopoly over Europe this season with Real getting their long awaited 10th European Cup and Sevilla triumphing over Benfica in the Europa League however it is Atletico Madrid that is the main talking point.

A team that had waited 18 years for league glory and had suffered massively in between, their late collapse and Simeone’s regrettable antics in the final minutes of the Champions League can’t take anything away from what has been an unbelievable season.

For La Liga’s sake we can only hope that this success is here to stay.

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La Liga Blog is a newly created Spanish football blog founded in 2011.
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