Glorious failure a fitting finale for Atletico’s Calderon
By Rik Sharma
MADRID (Reuters) - In the dying minutes of their Champions League semi-final second leg against Real Madrid, a thunderstorm rolled in and drenched Atletico Madrid's Vicente Calderon stadium.
Atletico manager Diego Simeone relished it, roaring and urging the fans to raise their volume for the final stages of their fourth consecutive Champions League elimination by their neighbours.
At the end he raced on to the sodden pitch as if Atletico had won.
They did beat Real 2-1 on Wednesday but lost the tie 4-2 on aggregate. A fittingly glorious failure on the final European night their stadium since 1966 will play host to.
The 3-0 first-leg defeat gave Atletico little hope of a comeback, although in the days prior to the semi-final the Argentine coach and his players insisted they could overcome their city rivals and reach the Cardiff final.
The fans believed too, with over 500 appearing outside the team hotel the night before the game to show their support and the Calderon enjoying one of the loudest and most impressive atmospheres in its 51 years as Atletico’s stadium.
Next season they move to the Wanda Metropolitano, to the north-east of the city, away from their traditional stronghold, and it will take some doing to be anywhere near as intimidating a stadium for opponents.
However, Simeone has faith the fans will bring their new home to life.
“The emotions will move over. The same people that are here will be at the Metropolitano, the passion and hope is not negotiable,” he told reporters.
Real Madrid taunted Atletico with a banner display in last week’s first leg, reading “Tell me how it feels”, making reference to their Champions League final victories over their city rivals in Lisbon (2014) and Milan (2016).
Atletico responded with a banner of their own. “Proud to not be like you” was their response. But when they leave the ramshackle, rusting but beloved Calderon, they will take a step closer to being like Real, one of Europe’s super-clubs with a state-of-the-art stadium to match.
The fans pushed the hosts on from the start and after 12 minutes Saul Niguez headed home. Antoine Griezmann added the second from the penalty spot four minutes later, sending the stadium into overdrive.
"The first 20 minutes of this magic night at the Calderon will be remembered forever,” Simeone said.
"We have to be proud of the players. They kept hope, showing we weren’t talking for the sake of talking but because we believed.”
In his five-and-a-half seasons at the helm of Atletico, Simeone's team have become worthy rivals for Real domestically. But European clashes remain the final, impossible hurdle.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)