Diego Costa scored a potentially crucial away goal seven minutes from time to give Atletico Madrid a 1-0 victory over Milan in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie at the San Siro. The result makes Diego Simeone’s side strong favorites to reach their first quarterfinal in the competition since 1997.
It would be just the latest in the long line of unwanted streaks ended for Atletico in the past year. Having snapped a run of 26 games without a victory over their local rivals Real Madrid to win the Copa del Rey final last season, Atletico then went to the top of La Liga earlier this month for the first time since their double-winning season of 1995-96. And their incredible upward trajectory under Simeone now looks set to continue.
It was far for a smooth night for the Spanish side against a Milan outfit, who like Atletico did just over two years ago, have turned to one of their most respected former players to try and turn their fortunes around.
Struggling in mid-table in Serie A, Milan caused Atletico plenty of problems in the opening half. Thibaut Courtois, on loan from Chelsea, had to be at his absolute best to keep the scores level, aided by the woodwork.
First the Belgian flew across his goal to touch Kaka’s left-footed effort from the right side of the box onto the crossbar. And an even better save, indeed one of the best likely to be witnessed in the Champions League this season, was needed to somehow turn Andrea Poli’s header onto the post. Kaka went close again before the interval with a right-footed effort from a similar position to his earlier strike that this time skimmed the roof of the net on its way over the crossbar.
There were fewer chances after the half-time interval, but it was Atletico who took full advantage of their one clear opportunity to take a decisive step toward the last eight. Milan full-back Ignazio Abate’s attempt to head clear from a corner only succeeded in looping the ball up to the back post where Costa showed his strength to hold his position and then power a header past Christian Abbiati in the Milan goal. The hosts were unable to get back on level terms and will now have to provide something out of keeping with their woeful season in order to keep their only hope of being in next season’s Champions League alive.