Blame Torres for Atletico's loss to Barca
Striker's two moments of folly prove costly in a game Atletico could have won
QUARTER-FINAL, 1ST LEG
(Luis Suarez 63, 74)
ATLETICO MADRID 1
(Fernando Torres 25)
The football world briefly caught a glimpse of what Fernando Torres was capable of in his pomp.
Barcelona couldn't cope with his blend of power and panache yesterday morning (Singapore time).
There was poise in the way the Atletico Madrid striker took his 25th-minute goal, latching on to Koke's laser-guided pass before slotting home between goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen's legs.
There was unerring precision in his through-ball to Antoine Griezmann several minutes later, which nearly made it 2-0 for Atletico in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie.
It seemed almost too good to be true. Then it went all pear-shaped.
Whether it was a rush of blood to the head, naivety or a loss of composure - or a combination of all three - he ended up costing his team a priceless win.
For an experienced player appearing in his 65th Champions League match, it was appalling that he collected two yellow cards in the space of six minutes, and neither at all necessary.
In the 29th minute, the 32-year-old needlessly clattered into Neymar to earn his first caution.
Six minutes later, he barged into the back of Sergio Busquets near the halfway line to receive his marching orders.
Stopping the world's best attack of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar with 11 men was already a tall order. With only 10, it was a near impossible mission for Atletico.
As expected, Atletico paid the price for Torres' folly.
Barcelona roared back with a brace by Luis Suarez in the 63rd and 74th minutes to overturn the deficit and seal a 2-1 first-leg win.
There was divided opinion on Torres.
"Certainly not Torres," said Atletico coach Diego Simeone, when asked who is to blame for the defeat.
Defender Filipe Luis incredibly directed his fury at Uefa, whom he insinuated was protecting Barcelona from losing, and those comments may very well land him in trouble with the European football body.
The neutral observers though, were not so kind in their assessment.
Former Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand thought Torres had "let everybody down" with his actions.
Ex-Liverpool striker Michael Owen accused him of "stupidity".
What everyone can surely agree on, though, was how Atletico let slip a golden chance of taking a solid result into the second leg at the Vicente Calderon next week.
The Rojiblancos had started the match superbly, defending stoutly with their trademark organisation and discipline and breaking forward with devastating effect.
Barcelona, on the other hand, looked extremely lethargic and vulnerable, and deserved to go behind.
But the tide turned once Torres was sent off.
With an extra player, there was nothing to stop Barcelona's fullbacks Dani Alves and Jordi Alba from overlapping on the flanks to reinforce the hosts' attack.
That Alves and Alba would pop up with one assist each didn't come as a surprise.
"I accept responsibility for our defeat," Torres said on social media after the match.
Indeed, he must be wondering what could have been if not for his two moments of folly.
BY THE NUMBERS
Diego Simeone's Atletico Madrid have lost all seven of their clashes with Luis Enrique's Barcelona. Previously, Simeone was unbeaten in six matches against Barcelona, when Tata Martino was coach.
They shouldn’t have been cards. If it had been the other way around, then they wouldn’t have been given. With 11 (men), we would have won without any doubt.
— Fernando Torres says Atletico Madrid are not treated equally by referees, compared to Barcelona
I don’t know what Barca players have to do to get sent off just like us. You can tell there is fear that Barca will be eliminated.
— Atletico Madrid defender Filipe Luis, suggesting that Uefa is afraid that Barcelona won’t be able to reach the final
Simeone: We are still alive
Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone and defender Filipe Luis insist they are still very much alive in their Champions League quarter-final against Barcelona.
Fernando Torres put Atletico ahead on 25 minutes but was then shown a red card after collecting a needless second caution.
A second-half brace by Luis Suarez then gave Barca a 2-1 first-leg lead.
But the home side, who had seen their long unbeaten record ended following a late defeat at home by 10-man Real Madrid in El Clasico last Saturday, were not able to add to their tally.
Atletico boss Diego Simeone (above) hopes the home fans in the Spanish capital can inspire his side to a second-leg win next week.
"Next week, I imagine a Calderon packed and chanting throughout the whole game with enthusiasm," he said. "We are still alive."
Like his coach, Luis believes the tie is very much in the balance ahead of the second leg at Vicente Calderon next week.
Luis said on BT Sport Europe: "We had our chances, but we always knew it was going to be really difficult, but we think we are still alive.
"They won, they have the result on their side, they had a lot of chances and, fortunately for us, they scored only two goals, so it could have been worse.
"We are still alive, we have to win now. It is possible but, it will be really difficult."
Luis was unhappy with the decision of German referee Felix Brych to dismiss Torres.
"It was a totally unfair red card, his second foul and his second yellow. We knew that was going to happen, Barcelona in the Champions League. We have to play against everybody and everything," the defender added.
"The manager said we needed an epic game to win. Now it will be difficult, but we are still alive."
Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said his team are ready to thrive in the hostile atmosphere at the Vicente Calderon.
"We have room for improvement and the match at the Calderon will be a nice one," Enrique said, on the Barcelona website. "We enjoy challenges. It will be a special game.
"We have to win at the Calderon. If there's any team that can do it, it's us."
Barcelona lost 1-0 at Atletico to crash out of the Champions League at the last-eight stage two years ago, but they are determined to ensure that does not happen again.
"It will be very similar to tonight," Suarez said, looking forward to next week's meeting. "But the result forces them to score no matter what if they want to go through."
Andres Iniesta added: "We know we'll suffer at the Calderon, but we have to if we want to stay alive in the Champions League."
- PA Sport.