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Uefa Champions League

Atletico Madrid giving their hearts and souls in Champions League, says Diego Simeone

Manager lauds his side’s determination to keep making mark in Europe despite bitter recent heartbreak as they see off Bayer Leverkusen reach quarter-finals

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 March, 2017, 9:56am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 March, 2017, 8:48pm

Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone lauded his side’s determination to keep making their mark on the Champions League despite the bitter heartbreak they have suffered in the competition.

Simeone’s men have lost out in the final to cross city rivals Real Madrid in two of the past three seasons. However, they have another chance at Champions League glory as a 0-0 draw with Bayer Leverkusen yesterday morning (Hong Kong time) sealed their place in Friday’s quarter-final draw 4-2 on aggregate.

“Firstly there is joy,” said Simeone. “It shows the great effort the club and, above all, the players have made in the way they have competed and given their heart and soul in the past four years.

“Everyone has done their bit to be among the top eight teams in Europe.”

Atletico were far from their best at the Vicente Calderon as they relied on a stunning triple save from goalkeeper Jan Oblak to prevent what would have been just a second Champions League defeat in the past four seasons.

However, the Spanish side got the job done in Germany three weeks ago thanks to goals from Saul Niguez, Antoine Griezmann, Kevin Gameiro and Fernando Torres.

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“We didn’t need to attack like crazy,” said Atletico’s top scorer Griezmann. “We tried to see the game out at the back and that is what we did. We are all happy.”

Another European reunion with Real is one of seven possible ties for Atletico along with Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Monaco, Leicester and Juventus.

“Hopefully we can get a good draw and through to the semis,” added Griezmann.

“We have to show every year we are among the best teams in Europe and every year we achieve it.”

New Leverkusen boss Tayfun Korkut was taking charge of his first Champions League game and summoned a much-improved performance as they forced Atletico onto the back foot for long spells.

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However, Korkut hailed Atletico’s desire to defend as Oblak’s miraculous triple save to deny firstly Julian Brandt and then two follow-up efforts from Kevin Volland midway through the second-half secured Atletico’s 17th clean sheet in their last 20 home Champions League games.

“I haven’t seen anything like it,” said Korkut.

“I’ve watched it again and it isn’t just him. There were many defenders throwing themselves to block the shot.

“You see how this team defends their goal. They are all there to put their foot or any part of their body on the line.”

Korkut was hired after a 6-2 thrashing at Dortmund following their first leg defeat saw Roger Schmidt sacked.

And with Leverkusen languishing in 10th in the Bundesliga, Korkut is hoping to gain momentum from their impressive showing to make a late run to qualify for Europe next season.

“We saw that we have the quality to cause them problems. Atletico suffered and we had a lot of chances,” he added.

“For me the important thing is that the team has taken the first steps forward comparing with where we have come from in the Bundesliga.”