Praise for Messi and Atletico's new stadium

Barcelona forward Luis Suarez celebrating his late equaliser against Atletico Madrid on Saturday. The table toppers had their seven-game winning streak halted by a resolute Atletico side playing at their new Wanda Metropolitano home.
Barcelona forward Luis Suarez celebrating his late equaliser against Atletico Madrid on Saturday. The table toppers had their seven-game winning streak halted by a resolute Atletico side playing at their new Wanda Metropolitano home.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MADRID • Both teams hailed the atmosphere at Atletico Madrid's Wanda Metropolitano on Saturday, as the thrills of a 1-1 draw that ended Barcelona's perfect start drowned out fears the LaLiga match would be overshadowed by the political tension sweeping across Spain.

Barca's previous league match on Oct 1 was played behind closed doors at the Nou Camp as a protest against a violent police crackdown on an independence referendum in Catalonia, deemed illegal by the Spanish government.

The Catalan giants' visit to the Spanish capital was marked by a sea of Spanish flags and chants of "Viva Espana" (Long live Spain), but fans at the 68,000-capacity ground were more enthralled by the action.

Luis Suarez salvaged a point nine minutes from time to cancel out Saul Niguez's stunning first-half strike for the hosts.

"What we like is playing and enjoying ourselves in a spectacular atmosphere like today," said Barca captain Andres Iniesta, who has called for dialogue between politicians on both sides of the independence debate.

Atletico moved into the Metropolitano only last month, but the stadium, which will host next season's Champions League final, has already received rave reviews.

But the star of the show was still Lionel Messi, with Barca coach Ernesto Valverde and his rival number Diego Simeone in agreement, despite the Argentinian failing to add to his 17 goals this term for club and country.

He had arrived back in Spain late last Thursday, after rescuing Argentina's floundering World Cup qualifying campaign with a stunning hat-trick in the altitude of Quito in Ecuador two days earlier.

"Evidently, that journey didn't tire him out too much," said a smiling Simeone. "Messi was extraordinary. Every time the ball went through him, there was danger."

Messi, whose wife Antonella Rocuzzo announced on Instagram yesterday that she was expecting their third child, nearly won the match with the last kick of the game. But his free kick hit Atletico 'keeper Jan Oblak and the points were shared. Barca had opened their campaign with seven straight wins.

Real Madrid (17 points) closed the gap to Barca (22 points) with a 2-1 victory at Getafe earlier. Cristiano Ronaldo shrugged off a glaring miss with a deadly first-time strike in the 85th minute to claim his first league goal of the season.

"It was important for him to get his first goal," coach Zinedine Zidane said. "We will see how it goes now, but I am very happy with his goal and also Isco's assist."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 16, 2017, with the headline 'Praise for Messi and Atletico's new stadium'. Print Edition | Subscribe