Win gives Atletico a sliver of hope

Atletico Madrid's Antoine Griezmann opening the scoring against Roma on Wednesday with a sensational strike to end his goal drought. They must beat Chelsea on Dec 5 and hope Qarabag can at least nick a point against Roma to reach the next phase.
Atletico Madrid's Antoine Griezmann opening the scoring against Roma on Wednesday with a sensational strike to end his goal drought. They must beat Chelsea on Dec 5 and hope Qarabag can at least nick a point against Roma to reach the next phase.PHOTO: REUTERS

MADRID • Diego Simeone refused to be downhearted over Atletico Madrid's slim chances of making the Champions League last 16 after Antoine Griezmann returned to form with a stunning overhead kick and assist for Kevin Gameiro to beat Roma 2-0 on Wednesday.

Twice finalists in the past four seasons, Simeone's men still need a miracle in the final round of games in Group C on Dec 5 to progress as they need to win away to Chelsea and hope second-placed Roma drop points at home to Qarabag.

"There is still one game to go and until the 90 minutes are over, we can't think negatively," said Atletico coach Simeone, whose team are two points behind Roma.

"I always have confidence because I know my players and they will give their maximum until the situation leaves us with no chance."

Chelsea swept aside 10-man Qarabag 4-0 in Baku on Wednesday to seal their spot in the knockout phase and move ahead of Roma into pole position to win Group C.

However, having been held twice by the Azerbaijani champions, Simeone believes they can cause an upset in the Italian capital.

"You can't underestimate anyone," added Simeone. "Football is marvellous. Sometimes the ball wants to go in and sometimes not."

Yet, even if progress to the last 16 for a fifth consecutive season is beyond them, Atletico did end a five-match winless streak at their new Wanda Metropolitano stadium and guarantee an Europa League place.

In a story of their season, Los Rojiblancos had lacked inspiration in the final third before Griezmann ended his eight-game goal drought in spectacular fashion by acrobatically thrashing home Angel Correa's cross 21 minutes from time.

Griezmann had been jeered by some Atletico supporters when he was substituted in Saturday's 0-0 LaLiga draw at home to Real Madrid. However, he was backed throughout as his name was chanted before kick-off.

"The night started well with the support from the fans," said Simeone. "We fed off that positive energy, and we found Antoine getting back to playing a great match."

Griezmann then turned provider with a through ball for Gameiro to round Alisson in the Roma goal for a tap-in five minutes from time.

Roma boss Eusebio di Francesco admitted Atletico were deserving winners, but said fate was in their own hands.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 24, 2017, with the headline 'Win gives Atletico a sliver of hope'. Print Edition | Subscribe