Motivation is not a factor for Diego Simeone, who expressed his pride after watching Atletico Madrid threaten to complete an improbable semi-final comeback against Champions League titleholders and city rivals Real Madrid.
Facing an uphill task following last week’s forgettable 3-0 defeat away from home, Atletico fought back to win Wednesday’s return leg 2-1 at the Vicente Calderon.
With a spot in next month’s Cardiff showpiece on the line, Atletico produced a trademark and spirited display to leave Madrid sweating as Saul Niguez and Antoine Griezmann struck to see the hosts lead 2-0 by the 16th minute, but Isco hit back approaching half-time as the visitors secured a 4-2 aggregate triumph.
While Atletico were unable to gain some sort of revenge for their Champions League final defeats to Madrid in 2014 and 2016, head coach Simeone – a reported target for Serie A side Inter – could not fault his players or the fans following the final European fixture at the iconic stadium before moving to the Metropolitano next season.
“We gave our all. We’ve done so for the last few years. Years go by but the players keep on growing,” Simeone said. “Waking up every day and planning games makes me motivated. We fought against the reigning champions. We learn from this and will improve from it.
“I’m happy and proud to have shown what we are all about. We fought, we’re the third side in Spain, we’ve got to two Champions League finals. We had an awful result last week but we believed we could come back. Some people thought we were messing around but we weren’t.
“The first 30, 35 minutes will remain with the people here for a long time. They took advantage of a mistake at the back for us to score a goal and this happens. The magic of the Calderon tonight will remain with me for a long time.
“I say what I feel. I feel proud. I think it’s a success for the club to be at the top of the European game. We won the Europa League, Super Cup, Copa del Rey. We’ve grown a lot and we have little steps still to take.”
He continued: “The first 25 minutes took a lot out of us and it was hard to keep that up. We had a great side up against us and they scored from our first error of the game.
“It was an almost perfect first half. It was brilliant from [Karim] Benzema but that’s football.
“Our players have such big hearts and that they give so much is amazing. We need to clone them. Today [Wednesday] is an important day – we did not lose even though we are eliminated. It will allow us to continue growing.
“I don’t think we didn’t have the right attitude last week. We just weren’t good enough at the Bernabeu. We are a side who depend on the team; Real Madrid are a side who depend on individuals and individuals can just have their moments. The side played well today and we were close to achieving something amazing.
“We can transmit emotions. The crowd today will still be there at the new stadium. The passion and illusion of the people is something you cannot change. Today home is the Calderon. Tomorrow it’s the Metropolitano.”
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