Atletico Madrid will face city rivals Real Madrid in an all-Spanish Champions League final next month, after they beat Chelsea 3-1 at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.
With the tie goalless from the first leg, Fernando Torres opened the scoring in West London to briefly give Jose Mourinho’s side the lead, but goals from Adrian, Diego Costa—from the penalty spot—and Arda Turan saw Diego Simeone’s men romp into the final in confident style.
Few could argue that they did not deserve to progress to their first European Cup final since 1974.
Their opponents next month, Real Madrid, will have the weight of expectations on their shoulders, as they bid for their 10th European crown. But, having won one and drawn the other of their league meetings with Real this season (albeit losing both legs of their cup encounter), Atletico will have every reason to believe they can pull off a victory in Lisbon.
Chelsea, meanwhile, will not be returning to the final after winning the competition in 2012, with Mourinho now knowing he needs events to go his way in the Premier League if his first season back at the Blues is not to end without a trophy.
Mourinho told Sky Sports (via the BBC):
One minute in the second half decided everything. A minute where the Atletico goalkeeper makes an impossible save to a John Terry header then the penalty that kills the game.
Semi-finals and important matches are made of details and this was a very important detail.
Congratulations to them because they are a very good side and what they are doing in Spanish league is fantastic.
If the other semi-final, between Real and Bayern Munich, was a case of scissors eviscerating paper, then this meeting seemed destined to be stone against stone. Goalless after the first leg, both sides put a premium on solid defence, with Atletico delighted to call upon the back five that had not lost any of its previous 31 appearances as a complete unit this year.
Chelsea, however, went even better—naming six defenders in total, with Mourinho instructing Cesar Azpilicueta to roam the flank ahead of Branislav Ivanovic and negate the away side’s threat down the right. With Ramires and David Luiz both stationed in midfield, attack clearly was not the immediate priority for the Blues.
Nevertheless the home side started the more comfortable, passing the ball well from deep, albeit lacking the sort of pace and intent to get beyond the opposition defence. Atletico came closest to scoring in the opening stages—Koke seeing his inswinging first-time cross rebound away off the crossbar—but Chelsea had the better chances, as Willian fired open from a free-kick and Luiz dragged his shot wide on a rare foray inside the box.
Atletico continued to threaten intermittently, with Koke’s free-kick deliveries always dangerous and Diego Costa straining at the leash to get away from Gary Cahill’s attentions, but with just over 35 minutes gone on the night (and 125 in the tie) the deadlock was finally broken.
It was Torres who delivered the finish but Willian and Azpilicueta who created it—the Brazilian’s diagonal run dragging the defence out of position before he slipped a pass into the path of his onrushing team-mate. Azpilicueta barely hesitated before cutting the ball back into the path of Torres, whose low short deflected off the legs of a defender and beyond the reach of Courtois.
The forward did not celebrate the goal, out of deference to his boyhood club, but it lifted the roof at Stamford Bridge. Eight minutes later, however, the atmosphere and the state of the tie was turned on its head by the equaliser.
Some slack defending—notably from Hazard and Cole—contributed to the goal, but it was an impressive finish nonetheless. Koke spotted Juanfran’s overlapping run into the box and found him with a clipped ball, the full-back then cutting the ball back for Adrian to drive his shot off the turf and into the net.
Propelled by that goal, Atletico started the second half with far more assurance than they had in the first, with Turan forcing a close-range save from Schwarzer almost immediately. John Terry responded by powering a header that Courtois did well to save, but Mourinho nevertheless felt the time had come to make changes.
He withdrew Ashley Cole for Samuel Eto’o, restoring Azpilicueta to left-back and playing with two strikers. With 55 minutes gone, Chelsea were now going for goals.
The opportunity cost of that, of course, was that they gave up some of their defensive security, and it would cost them dearly moments later. As fate would have it Eto’o would prove the guilty party, the substitute bringing down Costa with a typical striker’s challenge to concede a stonewall penalty.
The drama did not end there, as fans of both sides were forced to wait for the kick to be taken, as Costa struggled to place the ball on the spot in a manner he found satisfactory. The referee eventually lost patience with the striker and booked him for time-wasting, but the sideshow did not affect his concentrating, as he blasted his shot into the roof of the net to put Atletico on the verge of the final.
Chelsea now needed to score twice to progress, and they nearly got one back immediately. Hazard won a free-kick on the left and Willian’s delivery was met convincingly by David Luiz, who could only watch in disbelief as it clattered off the post and straight at Courtois, who instinctively parried the rebound over his own crossbar.
It was the sort of moment that might inspire a superstitious man to conclude it was never meant to be Chelsea’s night.
Soon enough that was confirmed, and again Hazard’s failure to track Juanfran’s run cost both him and his side dearly. Again Koke found his full-back, this time from a far deeper position, and again the Spaniard drove the ball across goal.
This time it was Arda arriving at the far post. His initial header ricocheted away off the crossbar but the rebound fell perfectly into his path, and the Turkey international tapped home to break the hearts of everyone but the travelling supporters at Stamford Bridge.
With the edge taken out of the tie both sides created further chances; Chelsea because they desperately needed to, Atletico because their opponents were forced to leave gaps open at the back.
Ramires and Hazard forced Courtois to continue to impress against his parent club but never really looked like getting past, with Filipe Luis at the other end nearly lobbing Schwarzer to give the scoreline an even more emphatic look.
Eventually the final whistle blew. Chelsea will feel this was an opportunity missed but ultimately they can have few real complaints. Atletico’s goalkeeper was exceptional, and their striker made no mistake with the match’s defining moment.
The irony is that both may well be plying their trade at Stamford Bridge next season. First, however, they will have the chance to win the Champions League.
Last season it was an all-German showpiece. Now it is Spain’s turn.
"It's a dream," Atletico's Tiago, once of Chelsea, said. We have a great spirit, we are a great team, we all work together, now we are in the final in Lisbon, the dreams can be true.
"We know Real Madrid are a fantastic team with great players. They can win the game in any action but we are there. Last year we won the cup in their stadium so we are confident."
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Chelsea return to action against Norwich at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, as they bid to continue their outside shot at the Premier League title. Atletico, in contrast, will be one win from the title in Spain if they can win away at Levante on the same day.
The final of the Champions League is scheduled to take place in Lisbon's Estadio da Luz on Saturday, May 24.