David Villa receiving his first national team call up in a minute is a feel-good story that certainly resonated with Rojiblancos worldwide. Though he only spent a year at the Vicente Calderón, Villa was a true servant of the club. He'll be remembered on the Manzanares for years to come.
Although Villa is likely the most accomplished international to play for Atlético, the current squad is doing good work. Koke controlled the midfield in Spain's 3-0 evisceration of Italy last weekend. Yannick Carrasco started for Belgium against Greece. Antoine Griezmann scored against the Dutch, finishing cheekily through Jasper Cillissen's legs after a classic one-two with Olivier Giroud.
In any case, Villa and the international break inspired us to look back at what current Atlético players have done on a global stage. Here are four of the current squad's best international moments.
Diego Godín's game-winner against Italy
When: 2014 World Cup
Where: Natal, Brazil
Why it mattered: The winner of this match would move on to face Colombia in the round of 16. If you were a real jerk, you could dismiss this goal as relatively meaningless for two reasons:
1) This match is better remembered for a vintage Luis Suárez bite on Giorgio Chiellini.
Nevertheless, we love us some Diego Godín. And this goal was vintage Faraón in every possible way.
Stop me if you've heard this one before: a huge moment. A corner delivered just inside the penalty spot. Diego Godín rising highest to meet it. Godín running toward the stands, overcome by the moment, kissing the crest on his shirt.
You can't have a pulse and watch Godín — on the verge of tears — hurdle the sideboards and tug on his shirt to display the Uruguay crest and not feel something. The palms held up to the Uruguayan people — “I did this for you”— seal the moment. Iconic.
The Summer of Griezmann
When: Euro 2016
Where: All over France, but the moment took place in Marseille.
Why it mattered: It's easy to forget that throughout most of the 2015-16 season, Griezmann was more or less just a guy. A great player, sure. But no trademark hotline bling celebration. No Beats by Dre ads set to "Seven Nation Army." No endless Manchester United transfer rumors.
Around April, you could feel the star turn coming. Before the Euros, there was a lot of hype surrounding El Principito. Previously labeled as un-clutch, Griezmann's timely Champions League scoring completely altered his public perception. After he personally saw off Bayern Munich and Barça, people knew about the flashy Frenchman.
The French press expected a Zidane-like performance. Atlético fans didn't worry about him faceplanting, but actually thought if he played too well, he might leave! Diego Simeone was calling him one of the three best players in the world. No pressure.
The Euros started not with a bang, but with a whimper for Griezmann. He was so much of a non-factor in the opener against Romania that manager Didier Deschamps dropped him and Paul Pogba against Albania.
Grizi proved Deschamps wrong, scoring a dramatic late winner. A classic header in the 90th minute. Running off screaming "¡Vamos!", Grizi was so hype that he forgot all about his soon-to-be-trademark celebration:
“I’ve been doing it when I score for Atlético and I should have done it when I scored against Albania, but the emotion was too much and I forgot about it.”
Thus began a month of — as the L'Equipe put it — Griezmannia. Slight, tousled, and with a not insignificant "everyboy" quality, Griezmann became a star, a legitimate A-lister in world football.
Grizi's coronation seemed almost pre-ordained. He'd clearly put some thought into the Hotline Bling celebration. And with his boyish good looks and easy-on-the-eyes game, it was only a matter of time.
I recall missing the Ireland game, having some other commitment. At some point, I checked my phone, and saw that Griezmann had scored twice — once to equalize, and once to win the game. I remember asking my friend Sam about it because his response was so telling.
"It's honestly magical," he said. "He's got charisma. He's such a showman. And he's not the biggest guy, but he's money with the headers."
We both could feel Grizi blowing up. And after a cheeky-as-hell chipped finish against Iceland, his star continued to rise.
For me, the moment of the tournament took place against Germany. Germany were still the champs, the winners of the 2014 World Cup. France were at home in rowdy Marseille, but the fans were still tense. They were three years removed from basically hating their team. Prostitution scandals and poor performances had alienated the fanbase.
An example: in the fall of 2013, I studied abroad in Tours, a university town about an hour south of Paris. France hadn't qualified outright for the 2014 World Cup, forced into a playoff against Ukraine. After going down 2-0 in the first leg in Kiev, France had to scale a mountain in the return fixture. And they did. They brought it back in Paris. And how's this for an indicator of the squad's quality at the time: Mamadou Sakho was the hero, scoring a double.
People lost their minds in the streets that night. It was a weekday, and I was sitting in my room at my host mom's house, doing my homework. Fireworks were booming in the streets. People were screaming, more relief than excitement.
It made sense that France still felt like a little brother. My host brother used to talk about how the French were so ready to condemn and disparage anything they created. It was half self-preservation, half pessimism.
So you could feel the nerves in the stadium through the TV when the game started. Near the end of a back-and-forth first half, France won a penalty. I remember feeling a jolt as I saw Griezmann step up to take it. He was fresh off missing a crucial penalty in the Champions League final against Real Madrid, opting for power, cannoning off the crossbar. He'd also scored that clinical near poster against Manuel Neuer in the Champions League semis. But it was still Neuer, the pound-for-pound best keeper in the world.
"What an opportunity! Their man of the month. Their star of the tournament."
The whistle blew. Unlike in the Champions League final, Grizi took a moment. He took a deep breath. Then he started his run up.
Neuer dove the wrong way. Griezmann went top shelf.
"DRIVES IT IN!"
Grizi ran to the sidelines, overjoyed, pausing only to Hotline Bling for a second. The stadium: deafening.
"And Marseille is ABLAZE with joy! France may be going all the way!"
Grizi would add to his tally in the second half with a cheeky poke through Neuer's legs.
"France, brace yourselves! They're coming! They're surely coming, the French!"
Though Cristiano Ronaldo somehow upstaged him despite playing about 10 minutes in the final, Griezmann had officially become one of the world's biggest stars. And that penalty against Germany was the moment he arrived.
The pause. The tension. The fact that all this took place on his turf. The fact that all of France's big clubs had once turned their back on him, saying he was too small, forcing him to chase his dream in Spain. It was perfect. It felt like the story had already been written. You could see the anointment of the Little Prince right before your eyes.
At that point, it was Grizi's world. The Euros had catapulted him to legitimate stardom. Nothing was the same.
Fernando Torres' Euro-winner against Germany
When: Euro 2008
Where: Vienna, Austria
Why it mattered: Technically, this took place while El Niño was playing for Liverpool. But we're still gonna claim this one.
This moment is doubly drenched in red and white because it also involved Don Luis Aragonés, Spain’s manager at the time. As the story goes, Aragonés was making the rounds in the locker room before the match. He was trying to spend a moment with each player. Torres sat at his locker with his head down. He had been on a miserable run of form, unable to buy a goal at the Euros.
Aragonés approached. He drew a cross on Torres’s forehead.
“Niño,” he said, “you’re going to score today.” And walked away.
The rest is history. Xavi played the ball into Torres’ path. He outpaced Philipp Lahm to dink the ball over Jens Lehmann and into the open goal. Spain won, 1-0, and kicked off an era of footballing dominance that lasted nearly a decade.
Before this moment of brilliance from El Niño, Spain wasn't Spain yet. Much like Griezmann in the 2016 Euros, this goal was that moment.
Saúl's Triplete vs. Italy
When: 2017 U-21 Euros
Where: Kraków, Poland
Why it mattered: Saúlito was a man among boys at this summer's U-21 Euros. He was the best player on a Spain squad that included Marco Asensio, Dani Ceballos, and the underrated Kepa. And the semifinals against Italy was when our number eight truly announced himself.
Playing in a 4-3-3 that maximized his talents (nudge, nudge, Cholo), Saúl was clinical, beating the lauded Gianluigi Donarruma three times.
(Check out this reaction from Iñaki Williams after Saúl's second strike.)
"Saúl, always, it seems, the man for the big occasion," the commentator observed after his first strike. And — as we all know after watching him play for Atlético — that couldn't be more true.
(Sidebar: Ceballos balled out in this match. Atlético board -- you've got to listen to Jeremy Beren! Ceballos seemed like such an Atlético player, and he would've looked great in the red and white. Dani C may be one who comes back to haunt us.)
Which international moment is your favorite?
This poll is closed
Godín’s goal vs. Italy
Griezmann’s EURO 2016 run
Torres’ goal vs. Germany
Saúl’s hat trick vs. Italy U21