Atletico Madrid’s emotions run wild after a penalty triumph for the ages

The noise was deafening inside Atletico Madrid’s Estadio Metropolitano as Inter’s Lautaro Martinez made the long walk from the centre circle to take his team’s fifth penalty in Wednesday evening’s Champions League last 16 shoot-out.

Most of the record crowd of 69,196 at the Metropolitano were roaring at the top of their lungs as Martinez ran up and smashed the ball high into the crowd behind Jan Oblak’s goal.

The cacophony cranked up even further as the Atletico players raced to hug their goalkeeper, whose saves from Alexis Sanchez and Davy Klaassen helped Atletico win the shootout 3-2 after Atletico had overturned a 1-0 first leg deficit, going 2-0 down on aggregate, but came back to draw 2-2 and force spot kicks.

“This is Atletico,” said Oblak on Movistar TV from the pitch as Atletico’s players and fans were still singing around him. “We are used to this. There is never a calm game and we have to fight until the end. Luck always plays a role in shootouts. The fans were fantastic, as they always are at home. They never let us down.”

The Atletico fans had made tremendous noise as each Inter player stepped up to take their kick. The deafening clamour appeared to affect Chilean veteran Sanchez, whose second penalty for Inter was too central. Oblak had already gone to his right but stuck up a left hand almost backwards to knock the ball away. It was even louder as Davy Klaasen stepped up for Inter’s third and Oblak went full length to his right to palm the ball out.

Jan Oblak, Atletico Madrid

Jan Oblak is mobbed by his team-mates after Atletico’s penalty shootout win (Javier Soriano/AFP via Getty Images)

As the shootout began, Diego Simeone paced up and down by the benches, waving to the stands to urge his team’s fans to make more noise. He watched as Inter’s Hakan Calhanoglu and Atletico’s Memphis Depay both hammered home unstoppable penalties, but then had to look away. So the Argentine only knew by the reaction of the crowd that Oblak had made his two crucial saves.

“I watched the first two penalties, then did not watch as Jan saved,” a grinning Simeone said at the post-game news conference. “That had worked, so I stuck with it. We’ve found penalties tough before but they went well for us tonight. I’m very happy for Jan; an extraordinary keeper, one of the best in Europe, and who wants to be with us. He saved us at the start of the game, two difficult saves. He deserves what happened to him.”

Oblak had been needed as Inter almost added to their 1-0 first leg early on but could do nothing about Federico Dimarco making it 2-0 on aggregate just past the half-hour mark. Antoine Griezmann’s opportunist strike just two minutes later pulled Atletico back into the tie and Depay’s neat finish on 87 minutes made it 2-2 on aggregate. Stefan Savic lasted 120 minutes despite having his testicles squeezed by Inter’s Marcus Thuram in an off-the-ball clash that wasn’t punished by referee Szymon Marciniak.

Many in the stadium then thought Atletico had created a winner when Griezmann picked out Rodrigo Riquelme 12 yards out but the young substitute missed the chance. Simeone said that made it even more impressive that the 23-year-old academy graduate then nervelessly netted his spot kick in the shoot-out.

“Riquelme missed the goal but then he asked for the ball to take the penalty and scored it when we needed it,” Simeone said.

Memphis Depay, Atletico Madrid

Memphis Depay put Atletico 2-1 up on the night and level on aggregate (Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

Atletico historically do not have a good record in shootouts — before Wednesday night, they had won only five of their 14 in official competitions in the club’s history. Their most famous was also among the most painful moments ever for Atleticos when Real Madrid beat them on spot kicks in Milan in the 2016 Champions League final, with Oblak not coming close to saving any of their rivals’ five kicks. They also lost 4-1 to Real Madrid in the shootout which decided a Spanish Supercopa in January 2020.

Simeone’s team had since beaten PSV Eindhoven and Bayer Leverkusen in Champions League shootouts but penalty pain struck again last season when they exited the competition in the group stages after Yannick Carrasco missed a 98th minute penalty against the latter and then inadvertently blocked a goalbound follow-up on the line.

Atletico also have a fatalism deep within the club’s psyche, which has continued even as they moved from their crumbly old Vicente Calderon stadium by the river just south of the city centre, to the shinier new Metropolitano in Madrid’s northern outskirts.

Those bitter memories and doubts will have come back to many in the stadium on Wednesday, including for Griezmann, who was watching from the bench, with his tremendous influence on the game ending when he left exhausted at half-time in extra-time.

Diego Simeone, Atletico Madrid

Diego Simeone revels in his team’s victory at full-time (Mateo Villalba/Getty Images)

“I was nervous,” Griezmann said. “The last shootout was the (Supercopa) and we lost, but I trusted in my team-mates. Plus, we have an incredible goalkeeper who has finally won a shootout.”

The one Atletico player not completely happy afterwards was midfielder Saul Niguez, the only Rojiblanco to miss from 12 yards, with his weak effort saved by Inter keeper Jorgen Sommer.

“It’s really difficult for me to write in these moments but the same as I write in good moments, I have to in bad ones,” Saul tweeted. “I am in a shit moment of form. I know that.”

Another reason for the rollercoaster of emotions on Wednesday night was that Atletico’s recent form had not been good. Simeone’s team were awful while being beaten 2-0 at Cadiz last weekend, the relegation-battlers’ first La Liga win since September. Memories of being humbled 4-0 on aggregate by Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey semi-finals last month were also still fresh.

Not many Atleticos heading to the stadium on Wednesday expected their team to overcome Inter, who had won all of their last 13 games in all competitions. This was not a trademark backs-to-the-wall defensive triumph from Simeone’s team — more a mad, frenzied scramble in which quality, especially that of Griezmann and Depay, shone through, as well as the coolness of Oblak and most of their takers in the shootout.



Simeone’s Atletico hero status was under threat – now he’s turned it round

Amid the celebrations, Simeone walked onto the pitch from his place by the bench and slowly circled around clapping supporters, soaking up the atmosphere, with what looked very much like a tear in the grizzled Argentine’s eye.

Nobody really thinks that Atletico will go on and win this year’s competition — in terms of income and budget, they are the smallest of the eight clubs in the quarter-finals, and will likely be outsiders whoever they get in Friday’s draw — but there is the possibility that Wednesday’s emotional shootout will galvanise them in the one competition they have not won during Simeone’s more than a decade as coach.

“When we came to the stadium today, it was emotional, how our fans received the team,” he said afterwards. “We had come from a bad game in Bilbao, an ugly game in Cadiz, but they supported us from the start.

“The only thing I say to our fans is, ‘thanks’. I am 12 years at this club and I still have the same emotion as a kid going to train the team. Those at the top have no idea what it is like at the bottom. No idea.”

(Top photo: Thomas Coex/AFP via Getty Images)

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