Sta­dium change but pas­sion re­mains the same, says Sime­one

New Straits Times - - Sport -

MADRID: In the dy­ing min­utes of their Cham­pi­ons League semi-fi­nal sec­ond leg against Real Madrid, a thun­der­storm rolled in and drenched Atletico Madrid’s Vi­cente Calderon sta­dium.

Atletico man­ager Diego Sime­one rel­ished it, roar­ing and urg­ing the fans to raise their vol­ume for the fi­nal stages of their fourth con­sec­u­tive Cham­pi­ons League elim­i­na­tion by their neigh­bours.

At the end he raced on to the sod­den pitch as if Atletico had won.

They did beat Real 2-1 on Wed­nes­day but lost the tie 4-2 on ag­gre­gate. A fit­tingly glo­ri­ous fail­ure on the fi­nal Euro­pean night their sta­dium since 1966 will play host to.

The 3-0 first-leg de­feat gave Atletico lit­tle hope of a come­back, al­though in the days prior to the semi-fi­nal the Ar­gen­tine coach and his play­ers in­sisted they could over­come their city ri­vals and reach the Cardiff fi­nal.

The fans be­lieved too, with over 500 ap­pear­ing out­side the team ho­tel the night be­fore the game to show their sup­port and the Calderon en­joy­ing one of the loud­est and most im­pres­sive at­mos­pheres in its 51 years as Atletico’s sta­dium.

Next sea­son they move to the Wanda Metropoli­tano, to the north-east of the city, away from their tra­di­tional strong­hold, and it will take some do­ing to be any­where near as in­tim­i­dat­ing a sta­dium for op­po­nents.

How­ever, Sime­one has faith the fans will bring their new home to life.

“The emo­tions will move over. The same peo­ple that are here will be at the Metropoli­tano, the pas­sion and hope is not ne­go­tiable,” he told re­porters.

Real Madrid taunted Atletico with a ban­ner dis­play in last week’s first leg, read­ing “Tell me how it feels”, mak­ing ref­er­ence to their Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal vic­to­ries over their city ri­vals in Lis­bon (2014) and Mi­lan (2016).

Atletico re­sponded with a ban­ner of their own. “Proud to not be like you” was their re­sponse.

But when they leave the ram­shackle, rust­ing but beloved Calderon, they will take a step closer to be­ing like Real, one of Europe’s su­per-clubs with a state-of-the-art sta­dium to match.

The fans pushed the hosts on from the start and af­ter 12 min­utes Saul Niguez headed home. An­toine Griez­mann added the sec­ond from the penalty spot four min­utes later, send­ing the sta­dium into over­drive.

“The first 20 min­utes of this magic night at the Calderon will be re­mem­bered for­ever,” Sime­one said.

“We have to be proud of the play­ers. They kept hope, show­ing we weren’t talk­ing for the sake of talk­ing but be­cause we be­lieved.”

In his five-and-a-half sea­sons at the helm of Atletico, Sime­one’s team have be­come wor­thy ri­vals for Real do­mes­ti­cally.

But Euro­pean clashes re­main the fi­nal, im­pos­si­ble hur­dle. Reuters

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