Atlético Madrid booked their place in the Champions League final on Tuesday, beating Bayern Munich on away goals despite an extraordinary 2-1 defeat at the Allianz Arena. It was a thrilling second leg, with the Spanish side again relying on their counter-attacking ruthlessness to progress.
True to form, Bayern dominated the first half from the kickoff, with Atléti struggling to even maintain possession outside of their own half of the pitch. They often defended with all of their players behind the ball, leaving them with no option to spring forward on the counter-attack.
The upshot was that Bayern grew ever more confident, and continued to crank up the pressure. They twice could've opened the scoring through Robert Lewandowski, though the Pole was denied by Jan Oblak after a fine layoff from Thomas Müller, a few minutes before skying the rebound on a venomous Franck Ribéry strike.
It took until just past the half hour, but eventually Bayern did have a deserved advantage. An Alonso free kick took a big deflection of José Giménez, with Oblak rooted to the spot and powerless to stop the ball hitting the back of the net.
Giménez's match went from bad to worse just three minutes later, when he was spotted rugby tackling Javi Martínez in the Atléti area. The referee rightly pointed to the spot, and only an excellent save from Oblak on Müller's spot kick stopped the Bavarians from seizing the aggregate lead.
The second half picked up where the first had left off, with Bayern once again dominating. But Atléti remained alert. With less than 10 minutes of the second half gone, they found themselves in a good counter-attacking position for the first time in the entire match. A fine Fernando Torres pass sent Antoine Griezmann through, and he calmly rolled the ball beyond Manuel Neuer to equalize on the night. As clinical as ever.
It was a goal from nowhere, and Bayern suddenly needed to score twice to avoid elimination. To their credit, their heads didn't drop, and they continued to pepper Oblak's goal with attempts. With just over 15 minutes remaining they were rewarded, with Lewandowski making amends for his earlier profligacy by powering home a header from point-blank range. The game was blown right open once more.
Bayern poured men forward in search of the goal they needed to progress, but in so doing left them exposed to Atléti's lethal counter-attacks. They managed to find space on the break inside the final 10 minutes, when Torres surged through on goal. He was brought down on the edge of the area by Martínez, though the referee made the erroneous decision of pointing to the penalty spot. Justice was, however, fortuitously done, with the Spaniard denied from the penalty spot by Neuer. Bayern's hopes were still alive.
However, for all of their pressure, they didn't quite have enough. Atléti hung on to record the most dramatic of away goals victories, and reach their second Champions League final in the space of three years.
Bayern Munich: Manuel Neuer; David Alaba, Javi Martínez, Jérôme Boateng, Philipp Lahm; Arturo Vidal, Xabi Alonso; Franck Ribéry, Thomas Müller, Douglas Costa (Kingsley Coman 73'); Robert Lewandowski.
Goals: Xabi Alonso (31'), .
Atlético Madrid: Jan Oblak; Filipe Luís, Diego Godín, José Giménez, Juanfran; Koke (Stefan Savić 90+3'), Augusto Fernández (Yannick Ferreira Carrasco 46'), Gabi, Saúl Ñíguez; Antoine Griezmann (Thomas Partey 82'), Fernando Torres.
Goals: Griezmann (54').
1. WHAT A MATCH
Real Madrid and Manchester City: you've got a lot to live up to.
2. Even the mighty Atléti can be intimidated
Atléti may well have won the tie, but it certainly wasn't their finest performance. This victory will be portrayed as the perfect Simeone display, but they gave away a few too many chances in a shaky first half for that to really be the case. Indeed, they started the match looking uncharacteristically intimidated, and had Lewandowski been a little less wasteful in front of goal, they could've established a commanding advantage in the first half.
3. Momentum might not matter, but it sure looks like it does
There was an interesting article by the Guardian's Sean Ingle on the importance of momentum in football last month. It's worth reading, but the upshot is that momentum actually may not exist; doing something well doesn't necessarily you're more likely to do it better the next time. However, this game could certainly serve as evidence on the contrary, with the match ebbing and flowing as each goal was scored. By the final whistle, Bayern were utterly dominant; it was a gripping contest in which mental fortitude seemed as important as tactical acumen and physical capability. Atléti had enough, but only just.