Romantics win classic finale
(Alexis Sanchez 33)
ATLETICO MADRID 1
(Diego Godin 49)
The La Liga crown changed hands three times in 90 minutes, but the romantics won in the end.
Nerves shredded, legs wobbled and lungs were spent, but Atletico Madrid never yielded, never succumbed to their inexperience.
Barcelona had history in their favour, but not their opponents' tenacity.
Diego Simeone's weary warriors began the winner-takes-all contest as underdogs, but ended it as lion-hearts.
In the most spell-binding finale to a La Liga season in 53 years, Atletico held on for the precious, priceless point that earned them their first title since 1996.
That took their improbable dream of double a step closer to reality and destabilizing the greatest football dynasty of a generation.
The game ended 1-1.
The final whistle marked relief as much as euphoria.
Atletico were emotionally and physically spent.
They have a week to find the reserves of strength, the resolve of champions to repeat the feat against Real Madrid.
One Spanish titan down, one more to go. The dream continues.
But it threatened to become a nightmare at the Nou Camp within the first half an hour.
Atletico feared the worst and accepted the inevitable when Diego Costa pulled up lame in the 13th minute. The Brazilian had been declared fit. His rebelling body disagreed.
After being replaced by Adrian Lopez, Costa buried his face in his hands. The fragile hamstring was tweaked, but the heart was broken. There was nowhere to hide the tears.
Diego Simeone has moulded a menacing, hungry team, devoted to the collective cause, but Costa's 27 La Liga goals brought them this far. His journey deserved a more fitting finale.
And then midfielder Arda Turan collapsed in a heap after an innocuous challenge from Cesc Fabregas.
Simeone offered a rueful shake of the head in disbelief, perhaps wondering if he'd stepped under any ladders as he replaced a second distraught player.
Lady Luck had cheated on Atletico twice in 22 minutes.
Third time unlucky came via the extraordinary boot of Alexis Sanchez. His 32nd-minute strike defied physics. Such finishes conspire against common sense.
A rare excursion into the final third allowed Fabregas to float a chip onto Lionel Messi's chest. Both men had been anonymous for the opening half of an hour; their impact negligible.
How they swiftly made amends.
Messi's pecs pinged the ball into Alexis' path but he was in the right-hand corner of the box. He had possession but no obvious pathway. The angle was too acute.
But the enterprise was outrageous.
The Chilean spun away from his static marker and flashed a ferocious shot through the imperceptible gap between Thibaut Courtois' left hand and his near post.
Barcelona went in at half-time top of the table and champions-in-waiting.
But Atletico are shaped in Simeone's image. They do not quit.
David Villa smashed his effort against the post early in the second half to wake his jittery teammates from their slumber. It was an alarm call to arms, but the hosts didn't hear it.
From a corner in the 48th minute, defensive stalwart Diego Godin dashed towards the penalty spot and planted his header past Jose Manuel Pinto. The goalkeeper never saw it. The Barca defence never saw Godin. He was left unmarked.
He towered. They cowered.
The title pendulum swung towards the visitors once more.
Atletico hearts were in mouths when Messi put the ball in the net on 64 minutes, but the Argentine was correctly ruled offside.
By this point, nerves were being sliced open like fingers being dragged along a cheese grater. Desperate men on both sides attacked with increasing recklessness.
With only 20 minutes of the La Liga season remaining, it was almost impossible to predict who would prevail at the peak.
Gerardo Martino threw on Neymar, Xavi Hernandez, the kitchen sink, everything he had, everything Barcelona had left to give.
Nothing was spared. No one was held back. The fans were on their knees. So were half the players.
Barca wanted to preserve the dynasty, win one more title, one more triumph for the late Tito Vilanova, but Atletico held on.
The underdogs prevailed.
But Simeone's men are underdogs no more. They are worthy champions.
Bring on the Champions League final.