Atletico Madrid were held to a surprise 0-0 draw by a spirited Astana side in Tuesday’s Champions League clash at the Astana Arena.
Diego Simeone’s side held top spot heading into Group C’s early kick-off and could have pulled three points ahead of Benfica with victory in Kazakhstan.
Koke struck the woodwork once in each half but Atletico toiled too often in possession against a well-disciplined home side.
Fernando Torres – chasing his 100th Atleti goal – also spurned a good chance and Antoine Griezmann came close in the second half, but Astana held on for a famous point which keeps alive their hopes of at least battling for a Europa League spot by finishing third.
Astana, in their maiden Champions League campaign, now have two points from their four matches following a 2-2 home draw with Galatasary on matchday two.
Tiago came close early on for Atletico with a blocked effort inside the area but Astana, roared on by a vociferous home crowd, denied them any real rhythm in the opening 25 minutes.
Junior Kabananga’s scuffed volley from 20 yards forced Jan Oblak into a save but chances were few and far between in the opening half-hour, until Torres stole in behind Evgeny Postnikov following Juanfran’s long ball and prodded wide across goal.
Koke looped an effort onto the crossbar with a free-kick just before half-time but Atletico otherwise struggled to find a way past a stubborn home side.
Diego Godin glanced a header straight into Nenad Eric’s hands and Tiago dragged a shot wide from 20 yards as Atletico began to turn up the pressure after the interval.
Simeone threw on Jackson Martinez in an effort to break through a robust defensive line but Atletico’s build-up play on the synthetic turf was too often laboured or undone by wayward passes.
Griezmann, who had been quiet throughout, fizzed a low shot just wide of the far post after a neat one-two with Koke, before the Spain midfielder almost got lucky with a looped cross from the left that bounced off the top of the bar.
Eric saved down low from Jose Gimenez’s header as Atleti began to push further forward as Astana legs grew tired, and the 2013-14 finalists almost snatched the victory with the last kick of the game, as Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco collected Griezmann’s cross and shot across goal, only for the goalkeeper to claim well low to his left.
Ultimately, however, Astana held on for a famous point and restored some pride following their 4-0 defeat in Madrid on matchday three.