New and improved Atletico ready to go the distance

Atletico Madrid striker Antoine Griezmann scoring the winner against Rostov in the 94th minute. His late effort ensured that Diego Simeone's side maintained their 100 per cent record in the Champions League this term.
Atletico Madrid striker Antoine Griezmann scoring the winner against Rostov in the 94th minute. His late effort ensured that Diego Simeone's side maintained their 100 per cent record in the Champions League this term.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MADRID • Atletico Madrid's last-gasp 2-1 win over Rostov on Tuesday which sealed a place in the Champions League last 16 was the latest demonstration that Diego Simeone's side are even more determined to win the trophy that has twice slipped from their grasp.

After losing to Real Madrid in the final last season on penalties and in extra-time in 2014, Atletico have got stronger in the competition.

They have won all four of their Group D games so far. Only Leicester City can match their 100 per cent record although the Foxes' perfect run was put to the test by Copenhagen this morning (Singapore time).

Simeone's men had beaten Bayern Munich, PSV Eindhoven and Rostov 1-0 but Tuesday's dramatic late win over the Russian side was the closest they have come to dropping points. They needed a 94th-minute Antoine Griezmann goal to snatch victory.

The striker opened the scoring just before the half-hour mark to end a run of five games without a goal before Sardar Azmoun quickly equalised. The Frenchman thought his winner had been ruled out for offside and had to wait before wildly celebrating.

"In Atletico we always appreciate these types of wins," said defender Filipe Luis. "At home we want to win every game 3-0 or 4-0 but sometimes teams close up shop and it's tough. This is the Champions League, and we've proved we're in the top 16 teams in Europe."

Atletico have evolved from being built on defence and counter-attacks to a fluid, complete team with an ability to hammer opponents. They demonstrated this in La Liga with a 7-1 victory over Granada in October and Saturday's 4-2 win against Malaga. They have also retained a knack for winning testing games by the tightest of margins.

"We have more alternatives this season," said midfielder Koke, who has taken a more central role after being used on the left wing in previous campaigns. "We were hard to predict last season too, but now we are even more varied."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 03, 2016, with the headline 'New and improved Atletico ready to go the distance'. Print Edition | Subscribe