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Atletico Madrid vs. Hannover 96: 5 Things Learned in Europa League Quarterfinal

Yoosof FarahSenior Writer IIIMarch 29, 2012

Atletico Madrid vs. Hannover 96: 5 Things Learned in Europa League Quarterfinal

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    In what was a great advert for Europa League football, Atletico Madrid took a big step towards the semifinals with a 2-1 home win over Hannover 96 in the quarterfinal first leg.

    Radamel Falcao opened the scoring in the ninth minute at the Vicente Calderón—flicking a header in past Ron-Robert Zieler from a Gabi free-kick—before Mame Biram Diouf equalised shortly before halftime, meeting Lars Stindl's excellent pinpoint cross to tuck the ball past Thibaut Courtois, the young keeper on loan from Chelsea.

    The game looked destined for a draw, but substitute Eduardo Salvio had other plans when his superb long-range effort curled into the top corner, giving Diego Simeone's side a precious lead to take into the return leg in Germany.

    It was an exciting, fast paced match full of tension, drama and rash challenges, and whilst there were a lot of fans dressed as blue plastic seats, the atmosphere was nonetheless electric.

    Here are five things we learned from the match in Spain.

Atletico Madrid Deserved the Win

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    From the start there was only one team going to win this match, and it wasn't the Bundesliga club.

    Atletico Madrid—currently eighth in La Liga, four points off a Europa League place—were the better side from the beginning, and fully deserved their win.

    Radamel Falcao's early opener seemed a long time coming given the intense pressure the hosts put their visitors under from the first whistle.

    And whilst Los Colchoneros proceeded to spurn golden opportunities as the game progressed, the late winner was just reward for the performance Diego Simeone's men put in.

    Their give-and-go football, quick passing play and clever interchanges all over the midfield and final third left Hannover chasing shadows—and struggling to win possession—for most of the match.

Radamel Falcao Is New Sergio Aguero

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    Radamel Falcao—who has again proved himself this season as one of the best strikers in world football—has filled the gap left by Sergio Aguero perfectly.

    The 26-year-old striker—Atletico's record signing at €40 million (£35 million)—was the focal point of his team's attacks throughout the game, and caused problems throughout with his clever movement, intelligent link-up play and accurate finishing.

    He is the key man for his side, and without Falcao, Atletico have a big chunk of their attacking arsenal removed.

Mame Biram Diouf Shows Manchester United What They're Missing

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    Mame Biram Diouf is a striker reborn now that he's been given a chance to play.

    The 24-year-old Senegal international left Premier League giants Manchester United in January to get more playing time, and secured a £1.5 million transfer to Hannover 96 on a two-year deal.

    And it now seems his contract needs to be extended, after his equaliser for Die Roten against Atletico Madrid took his tally to seven goals from 11 games—as well as four assists—since he joined the club.

    Receiving very limited service throughout the game, Diouf proved his efficiency when he slotted home the first chance he was given in the game, combining the perfect pace, movement, composure and finishing to meet Lars Stindl's cross.

    It looks like the former Molde striker—who scored seven goals in six Premier Reserve League games for the Red Devils this season—is finally living up to his potential, and will no doubt become very hot property across Europe if he keeps up his current performances.

Atletico Madrid Should Win Europa League

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    Atletico Madrid definitely have what it takes to win the Europa League.

    They've dismantled teams of differing football styles and cultures with consummate ease, and in the last round thrashed Besiktas 6-1 on aggregate.

    Before that they completely ripped apart Lazio, winning 3-1 away before beating the Serie A side at home.

    Hannover 96 present the toughest challenge Atletico will face in the tournament, and at the moment they look set to overcome this hurdle too.

    After all, Hannover are a peculiar Bundesliga team, combining English physicality and high-tempo, all-action football, with catenaccio style defending and the overall technical quality that has become the trademark of German football in recent years.

    If Atletico do beat Hannover and make it through to the semifinals, they should in theory win the competition, as there's no tougher opponent—given their tactics and playing styles (league form goes out of the window in Europe)—they can face.

Return Leg Will Be a Cracker

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    The return leg at the Niedersachsenstadion—or AWD-Arena as it's now called—will no doubt be a cracker, and definitely well worth a watch.

    Because if the first leg is anything to go by, this match will contain rash tackles, boiling tensions on the pitch, great technical football, a stellar defensive play and those priceless moments of magic.

    Plus, Hannover's home stadium is a fortress as they've only lost twice there in 22 matches this season, and have beaten the likes of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund on their own patch.

    And considering Hannover's home matches in Europe are always a sell-out, the atmosphere in the stadium will be electric, which should amplify the performances on the pitch to the next level.

    So if there's one Europa League game you'll watch next week, it has to be this one.

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