A big step for us: Simeone

Atletico Madrid's two-goal hero Antoine Griezmann celebrating after scoring his first goal against Barcelona in their Champions League quarter-final, second-leg clash at the Vicente Calderon. Atletico won 2-0 and progressed 3-2 on aggregate.
Atletico Madrid's two-goal hero Antoine Griezmann celebrating after scoring his first goal against Barcelona in their Champions League quarter-final, second-leg clash at the Vicente Calderon. Atletico won 2-0 and progressed 3-2 on aggregate.PHOTO: REUTERS

Atletico boss hails players and aims to win European Cup after getting to the last four

MADRID • Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone praised his team's spirit after knocking holders Barcelona out of the Champions League quarter-finals 3-2 on aggregate.

"There is a virtue in this team," he said after watching his side progress with only 23 per cent of possession and keep a 29th clean sheet of the season.

"We are a group of honest workers who can win or lose. We make ourselves strong with the tools we have. Today, once again, we have won a tremendously difficult game."

His side lost the first leg 1-2 after having Fernando Torres sent off in the 35th minute, but were spurred on by a raucous crowd in the Vicente Calderon and two goals from Antoine Griezmann sealed a 2-0 win on Wednesday.

After leading Atletico to the semi-finals of the competition for the second time in three seasons, Simeone admitted his next aim is to deliver the club their first European Cup, though they face a tough task in today's draw. They could face Bayern Munich, Real Madrid or Manchester City in the last four.

"They are all great teams for us, but for Atletico Madrid to be among the four best in Europe is a big step," he said.

Barcelona, who were bidding to become the first team to retain the Champions League, were left to rue referee Nicola Rizzoli's decision to give a free kick in added time instead of a penalty when Gabi appeared to be inside the area as he was penalised for handball.

But Atletico could argue that Andres Iniesta - whose shot struck Gabi - should not have been on the pitch. The Spaniard stopped a clear-cut scoring opportunity when he handled inside the area, resulting in Griezmann's goal from the spot two minutes from time.

There was little debate, however, that Atletico were worthy winners as Barca's star front three of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar were limited to few chances.

Messi did not have a shot on target for the first time in a Champions League game since April 2014, when Atletico shut him down. And the Argentinian's goal-less run extended to five games.

"I congratulate Atletico Madrid, they were better than us," Barca manager Luis Enrique told reporters after the game in which they had fewer shots on targets than their Spanish rivals (four to six).

"We had control without creating much danger."

Enrique also admitted his side are suffering a slump in form after a third defeat in four games.

"It is clear that we are not in our best form, especially if you consider how we were playing before, but we need to lift ourselves," he said, referring to Barca's 39-game unbeaten run before losing back-to-back La Liga games to Real Madrid and Real Sociedad.

Barcelona will return to the Vicente Calderon in May for the Spanish Cup final and Enrique insisted a league and Cup double would still mean a successful season despite missing the chance to become the first side to record back-to-back trebles.

"The objectives for Barcelona are always the highest possible," Enrique said. "We should be proud that Barca are always favourites for everything. We understand that we have to accept defeat, we have other competitions coming up that we can win."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 15, 2016, with the headline 'A BIG STEP FOR US: SIMEONE'. Print Edition | Subscribe