A DETERMINED Atletico Madrid hit the brakes on Pep Guardiola’s relentless march into the pantheon of sporting legend by ensuring that the Spaniard will not win the treble with Bayern Munich, in this era at least.
A 2-1 victory for Pep’s German side meant that they ultimately exited the Champions League semi-finals on the away goal rule following last week’s 1-0 loss in Spain, and for the third season on the trot, before Guardiola departs for Manchester City this summer.
It seems almost absurd but despite having entered 30 competitions and won 11 of them, there remains some lingering dust on Guardiola’s glowing reputation, chiefly due to observations that the teams he has managed would likely have won regardless and that he has been incredibly fortunate in the talent at his disposal.
If Manchester City overcome their toughest challenge yet by defeating the two Madrid teams to win the Champions League, sending the blue half of the city into the same wild ecstasy that swept Leicester on Monday, then it will represent the second time that Guardiola has joined a team which has just won Europe’s premier competition.
Either way the honours on Tuesday belonged to Diego Simeone’s Atletico side who have stealthily sung their very own Leicester symphony over the past few seasons. A team widely regarded as the perennial city sidekicks to their more esteemed neighbouring Galacticos have now reached the third Champions League final in their history.
It is their second under Simone, a tenacious former midfielder who soldiered through three World Cups with Argentina, and enjoyed two stints, ten years apart, with Atletico as a player. In 2014 Atletico agonisingly missed out on what would have been an astronomical success when a 93rd minute equaliser from Sergio Ramos denied them a victory over the bitter rivals who went on to win in extra-time.
Tuesday’s battle was suitably dramatic, with each side missing a penalty, Thomas Mueller in the 34th at 1-1, and a resurgent Fernando Torres in the 85th. There was a taut five minutes of injury time and a beleaguered Simone even slapped his assistant as the tension mounted.
The players will have little time for rest and, though they will doubtlessly be watching tonight’s semi between City and Real unfold in Madrid, they will also be in intense preparations for the weekend with the Spanish league title at stake in the tightest three-way race in recent memory.