Football: Simeone laments cruelty of Champions League after Atletico exit following penalty drama

Atletico Madrid's Yannick Carrasco's penalty kick was saved by Leverkusen goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MADRID – Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone is not giving up on the Champions League, despite having not much luck in Europe’s elite club competition which he says has been “cruel” to him.

On Wednesday, Yannick Carrasco missed a penalty, awarded by the VAR (video assistant referee) after the final whistle was initially blown, as Atletico crashed out of the tournament following a dramatic 2-2 home draw with Bayer Leverkusen.

After Porto’s 4-0 victory over already-qualified Club Brugge, Atletico needed three points to set up a winner-takes-all meeting in Portugal next week.

But despite fighting back from behind twice, the La Liga club somehow failed to find a winner and now face a battle with Leverkusen just for a Europa League place. Brugge are top of Group B on 10 points, one ahead of Porto, while Atletico have five points and one more than their German opponents.

“The Champions League has been cruel to me,” said Simeone. “We lost two finals (2014 and 2016 – both to Real Madrid), one on penalties and another in the 93rd minute.

“But I’m hardheaded and I will continue to try as long as I have the opportunity to qualify for the Champions League and then find the something we lack.”

Xabi Alonso’s Leverkusen led twice thanks to goals from Moussa Diaby and Callum Hudson-Odoi.

But Carrasco’s first-half strike and Rodrigo de Paul’s equaliser gave Atletico 40 minutes to keep their Champions League campaign alive.

In chaotic scenes, the players were called back onto the pitch after the VAR spotted a handball from the final attack of the game.

But Carrasco’s spot-kick was saved by Leverkusen goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky, before Saul Niguez dramatically headed the rebound off the bar and Reinildo Mandava’s follow-up effort was diverted away by a last-ditch block.

“Everything has been a significant struggle, in many of the games where we did not gain points, we could have scored a few more goals if we were more effective,” added Simeone of their Champions League campaign.

Alonso, meanwhile, was not pleased with the penalty decision.

The former Liverpool and Real midfielder said: “In the Champions League they rarely whistle for such a dubious handball, that’s what bothered me. Was it a foul? Criteria and assessments in Spain and other European countries vary.

“I think that VAR is used too often. Today it could hurt us, and I don’t think it was the right decision.” AFP

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