Barcelona 1 Atletico Madrid 1 match report: Thibaut Courtois' defiance and Diego Coasta rocket give Atletico Champions League chance
Atletico take the advantage in all-Spanish quarter-final
Wednesday 02 April 2014
Barcelona’s chances of reaching a seventh consecutive Champions League semi-final were left on a knife-edge as on-loan Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois denied them a first-leg lead at the Nou Camp.
The Atletico Madrid goalkeeper pulled off three brilliant late saves as Barcelona came back from a goal down in the Camp Nou but could not force the second against Diego Simeone’s side.
Jose Mourinho will have noticed this season how Barcelona have struggled to beat the Belgian goalkeeper and with his goal under siege in the final stages, and a Champions League semi-final at stake, the 21-year-old held firm.
The first half was determined by injuries. Gerard Pique fell awkwardly after jumping up and over Diego Costa to win a header and was in immediate discomfort. The man who holds Barcelona’s defence together tried to run the injury off but was replaced by Marc Bartra on 12 minutes.
It was later revealed that Pique would be out for four weeks with a hairline fracture of the pelvis.
Barcelona’s goalkeeper Jose Pinto looked nervous every time the ball was played back to him and Atletico Madrid were looking the more dangerous team with Costa going close from David Villa’s pass. It would not be long before Costa followed Pique down the tunnel but first there were chances for Barcelona.
Neymar wheels away in celebration after scoring Neymar headed tamely at Courtois from Xavi’s free-kick and then Leo Messi released Dani Alves down the right but his over-hit cross went beyond everyone.
Then came the moment of the first half. Messi produced some mesmerising close control to shuffle around Miranda. He then released Andres Iniesta who got his shot away quickly, but not so quickly that Diego Godin could not read it perfectly and slide across to intercept.
The advantage Atletico had gained from Pique’s injury was wiped out as Costa pulled up in a sprint. Atletico Madrid’s top scorer had passed a late fitness test on a right knee injury to start but pulled up on the half-hour and after a touchline summit with Simeone came off to be replaced by Diego Ribas.
Barcelona had started to see more and more of the ball and the injury to Costa would only shake Atletico’s confidence further.
The injury count was nearly up to three when Arda Turan went in late on Iniesta. From Xavi’s free-kick Bartra headed just wide. Gabi was the next to give away a free-kick, receiving a booking for a foul on Neymar.
The Brazilian was having a poor first half, loose in possession and easily brushed off the ball but he was winning his fair share of free-kicks.
Messi headed Alves’ cross down but Courtois saved comfortably and Alves soon found space down the right again only for his cross to be blocked.
Thibaut Courtois applauds the supporters as he leaves the field Both Simeone and Gerardo Martino were glad to hear the half-time whistle. Simeone would have had to emphasise the need for greater discipline in the second half. Turan was booked late on for chopping down Messi and it could easily have been his second caution of the first 45 minutes. Koke had also been booked earlier for a foul on Neymar.
But there were also reasons for Barcelona to welcome the break. David Villa had his goalbound shot saved by Pinto in injury time and Bartra then upended the former Barcelona forward who was rising to the challenge of filling Costa’s boots in attack.
Juanfran soon became Atletico’s fourth booking of the night five minutes into the second half and defences continued to dominate with Bartra looking composed in place of Pique and Godin, the Uruguayan who England will face at the World Cup, imperious for Atletico.
Then the stalemate was broken. Gabi rolled a short free-kick to Diego Ribas and the substitute let fly from 30 yards out with a shot that bent back the fingers on Pinto’s outstretched hand as it made its way into the top corner.
Diego was re-signed by Atletico in the winter transfer window having enjoyed a loan spell at the club two seasons ago. His return had so far not been the glorious homecoming supporters had hope for, with his presence on the pitch coinciding with more setbacks than victories, but this was a goal worthy of a Champions League semi-final place and even the hobbling Costa jumped off the bench to celebrate it.
But the visitors’ lead did not last. A magical pass from Andres Iniesta inside Juanfran put Neymar clear and he swept the ball past Courtois to bring Barcelona back into the tie. Iniesta worked his magic again moments later when he shot from the edge of the area and somehow Courtois turned the ball around a post. Courtois had earlier saved brilliantly from Sergi Busquets and would tip a Messi free-kick over with four minutes left.
Diego Rivas was added to the referees’ list of Atletico names as Barcelona coach Martino threw on Alexis to run at the visitors in the last 15 minutes.
At the other end Pinto was the antithesis of Courtois’s poise but Atletico were finding it increasingly difficult to test him as they saw out the last five minutes camped in their own half.
The 1-1 favours them ahead of next week’s second leg. They will hope Costa can return to fitness but failing that they know, in Diego Rivas, they have a man whose confidence has never been higher and in Courtois they have Europe’s most in form goalkeeper.
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