Yesterday, I sat in a booth at a Buffalo Wild Wings with a couple buddies - one a Juventus fan, the other an Arsenal supporter - and took in the majesty on display at the Vicente Calderón. I reflexively dipped a chip in salsa, ate it and repeated the process ad nauseam as Atlético Madrid (also reflexively, it appeared) cleared ball after ball, withstood wave after wave of Barcelona pressure and eventually pieced together one of the best defensive performances in recent Champions League history. Antoine Griezmann's opener got me on my feet. His penalty had me strutting around the bar. Gabi's handball and the subsequent Lionel Messi free kick that missed the net by millimeters...well, my stomach made its way to my mouth, as did Nicola Rizzoli's refusal to blow up until the seventh minute of added time. It felt like AGES.
But it ended. 2-0, 3-2 on aggregate. Atlético knocked out the holders and progressed to a second Champions League semifinal in three years. Notes, observations below:
- Atleti finally broke the hoodoo and snapped Barcelona's seven-game winning streak in fixtures between the two sides. Oddly enough, Wednesday's game was the fifth time Atleti opened the scoring against Barça but the first time it eventually became a win since Luis Enrique took over.
- The tifo was beautifully done. Juntos hacia la victoria!
- In the first half, Barcelona managed one touch in the Atlético 18. Like. What?
- Griezmann's first goal was a superbly-taken header, but Saúl Ñíguez's outside of the boot cross was outstanding. He's so good.
- Everyone was awesome and 100% committed to the cause, but I want to give a special mention to Lucas Hernández. His growth in the past three months alone has been monstrous. He's 20 years old!
- Juanfran finally won his individual battle with Neymar after the Brazilian beat his ass up and down the pitch for a year.
- Griezmann's penno wasn't very good, but they all count the same. He's up to 29 goals in all comps this season, with six coming in the Champions League (off three braces!)
- Messi's free kick at the end was extremely close to rendering Jan Oblak helpless as it dropped into the net. (And he should have been taking a penalty, Gabi is a lucky lad.)
- I'm expecting Real Madrid in the draw tomorrow.