Barcelona and Atletico Madrid played to a 1-1 draw Tuesday evening in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League quarter-final at the Camp Nou.
Diego put Atletico ahead with a stunning, long-distance strike in the 56th minute before Neymar equalised for Barcelona midway through the second half. The result, which was the fourth draw of the season between these two sides, sets up a potentially thrilling second leg on April 9 in Madrid.
"We worked hard. Barcelona have great quality, but we believe we played a great game," Atletico midfielder Tiago told Tele Deporte, via Football Espana. "We’re all really excited now to go back to the Calderon and give our all."
With the advantage of one away goal from the first leg, Atletico could be considered slight favourites heading into next week's second leg. As Infostrada reports, the away team has historically held an advantage in Champions League knockout ties after drawing the first leg 1-1.
Regardless of who advances, both teams will have to overcome injury concerns, with Barca losing defender Gerard Pique and Atletico losing striker Diego Costa during the match.
"I think we deserved more and had more chances on goal but (Atletico) also played a great match," Barcelona midfielder Xavi said, per Inside Spanish Football. "We struggled mightily to create scoring chances. We must try and score there, but this was not a good result for us."
While Barca and Atletico are competing for a spot in the Champions League semi-finals, they're also competing for domestic glory. In La Liga, first-placed Atletico hold a one-point lead over Barcelona with seven matches left to play—but Diego Simeone's side must still head to Barca's Camp Nou on the final day of the season.
Atletico created the first clear chance in the fifth minute after Barcelona goalkeeper Jose Manuel Pinto scuffed a poor clearance directly to Koke. The Atletico midfielder threaded the ball through to David Villa in the box, but the former Barca striker fired wide of the post.
Barcelona received bad news in the 12th minute, as defender Gerard Pique left the match due to injury and was replaced by Marc Bartra.
The hosts enjoyed a dominant spell midway through the half and registered their first shot on target via Neymar's header in the 23rd minute. Lionel Messi's fine through ball set up Andres Iniesta three minutes later, but Iniesta's shot was blocked.
In the 30th minute, it was Atletico's turn to receive bad news. Striker Diego Costa, who had battled for fitness this week following a hamstring injury, left the match with an injury and was replaced by Diego.
Messi directed a header on goal in the 41st minute, and Neymar forced a save from Thibaut Courtois with a high drive four minutes later. At the other end, Pinto saved Villa's low shot in stoppage time to keep the teams level at 0-0 heading into half-time.
The breakthrough goal came in the 56th minute via Diego, the first-half replacement for the injured Costa. Dribbling to his right well outside Barcelona's box, Diego launched a powerful strike from long distance that sailed past Pinto and into the top corner for a 1-0 Atletico lead.
Barcelona were stunned but found an equaliser within 15 minutes.
Iniesta was the catalyst, holding the ball on the left before picking out Neymar's run with a well-timed pass in the 71st minute. After gliding past his marker, Neymar curled his shot past Courtois to make it 1-1.
From there, Barcelona turned up the pressure in search of a winner. Iniesta came close with a powerful, curled shot in the 74th minute, but Courtois stretched to save at his near post.
Barca came close again in the 85th minute, when Messi curled a free-kick on target only for Courtois to save again.
Reaction to follow…
|Barcelona Player Ratings vs. Atletico Madrid|
|Jose Manuel Pinto||4||5|
|Marc Bartra (for Pique, 12')||7||8|
|Alexis (for Cesc, 68')||N/A||7|
|Ratings by B/R UK|
|Atletico Madrid Player Ratings vs. Barcelona|
|Diego (for Costa, 30')||7||8|
|Jose Sosa (for Villa, 70')||N/A||5|
|Cristian Rodriguez (for Turan, 77')||N/A||6|
|Ratings by B/R UK|
Both teams return to La Liga at the weekend. Barcelona host Real Betis on Saturday, while Atletico host Villarreal the same day.