x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Atletico's home is where the heart is

Despite taking the lead, Liverpool are held to a 1-1 draw by Atletico Madrid in the Champions League.

The Liverpool player Lucas Leiva, right, fights for the ball with Antonio Lopez of Atletico Madrid.
The Liverpool player Lucas Leiva, right, fights for the ball with Antonio Lopez of Atletico Madrid.

After grizzly times and some unsavoury squabbles with authority, Atletico Madrid discovered a fistful of chances in their meet and greet with Liverpool. A chance to try, a chance to learn and a chance to atone. It also gave Simao Sabrosa the chance to equal Robbie Keane's opportunism by prodding Atletico level with a paltry seven minutes remaining. They deserved to take something out of a breathless evening after hounding Liverpool, who appeared pale without the injured former Atletico striker Fernando Torres, all over the pitch. After shipping nine goals in three games, coming amid the chaos of being informed they are soon to be evicted from their bouncing Vicente Calderon home on such nights, they showed they were men of good character. It should be acknowledged that Atletico have been suffering somewhat in Spain. A 1-0 loss to Sevilla was followed by a 6-1 thrashing in Barcelona. They also went down 2-1 in the Madrid derby after Gonzalo Higuain scored a penalty for Real in the 96th minute. They gathered their thoughts and went at this game with some relish. In whipping up a storm, they managed to get out of it with a draw. Their supporters were also quick on the draw to point their pistols at the Uefa president Michel Platini. Their fans booed the Champions League anthem, apparently in reference to the three-match stadium ban handed down to them by Uefa for alleged racist chanting and claims of baton-twirling police attacks on visiting fans during an earlier match with Marseille. Liverpool proved too slick in the opening period. Keane wriggled clear of the home defence to score on 14 minutes, but Simao crammed in a levelling goal. The Spanish side adopted the form of squatters for much of the first half but prompted by the introduction of the Argentina striker Sergio Aguero's invasive persona, came to life with all the spring of a posse of bloody-thirsty matadors. In their bristling, bullring of a ground, the home side should have restored parity at the outset of the second half. It all started to go off in a riotous period after the break when Maniche crumpled the net with a shot that was deemed offside. The visiting goalkeeper Jose Reina fingered another Simao shot on to a post, while the visiting attacker Ryan Babel almost scored in the closing moments. The bruising will have soothed considerably over the blistered body of Atletico, and the buffeted head of their head coach Javier Aguirre. Liverpool are full of bruises ahead of their match with fellow English Premier League leaders Chelsea on Sunday with doubts over the fitness of Keane, Xabi Alonso and Steven Gerrard. Liverpool and Atletico continue to lead Champions League Group D on seven points. A drawn match, but Atletico earned the right to draw breath. In trying moments, they learned that tepidness will not win the day. dkane@thenational.ae