Atletico Madrid booked a place in the last eight of the Champions League for the first time in 17 years in style, with a 4-1 win over AC Milan at the Vicente Calderon taking them through 5-1 on aggregate.
With the advantage of a win and an away goal in Italy, Diego Simeone’s side were always favorites to progress and even more so after Diego Costa put them in front inside three minutes. Milan, who, as in the home leg, had their chances, got back on level terms from the head of Kaka. But Arda Turan’s deflected strike before half-time proved crucial and a Raul Garcia goal and a second for Costa secured Atletico’s passage.
The result is the further affirmation of Simeone’s remarkable turnaround of the long-suffering club. The relentless energy and industry that has characterized their play as it did their coach during his playing career was again in evidence on this occasion. While that intensity combined with their relatively thin squad may ultimately see them outgunned in the long haul of the Primera Division title race, no side will relish playing them in the knockout format of the Champions League. Milan have also turned to a former stalwart to turnaround their fortunes, but, while they showed some signs of progress over the two legs, Clarence Seedorf remains several stages behind his counterpart in the rebuilding process.
Costa had got the crucial goal in Milan three weeks ago seven minutes from the end. And, with the return leg still in its formative stages, the man who made his Spain debut in his home stadium against Italy last week doubled his side’s aggregate advantage. From Koke’s well-flighted cross, Adil Rami was caught ball-watching, allowing Costa to run off the back of him and stretch to send a wonderfully athletic and controlled volley past Christian Abbiati.
To their credit, Milan refused to let their heads drop and pushed in search of the two goals they now needed. Mario Balotelli was frustrated at not being able to get a shot on target under pressure from two defenders, but with 27 minutes on the clock his side were level. Balotelli played his part with an incisive first-time pass out wide to allow Andrea Poli to chip a fine cross to the back post. Former Real Madrid man Kaka arrived to head past Thibaut Courtois with the help of a touch off the outstretched leg of Juanfran.
Milan kept pressing and could have gone ahead in the tie on away goals. But minutes after putting his side level, Kaka headed over from the center of the box. And the visitors were then dealt a cruel and, as it proved, fatal blow five minutes before the interval.
Costa was again involved, this time showing his strength and awareness to chest the ball perfectly into the path of Arda on the edge of the box. The Turkish midfielder had fortune in his favor when his shot deflected off Rami and looped over Abbiati.
The goal provided the springboard for Atletico to take control in the second half. They nearly made the tie safe when Gabi’s shot shaved the outside of the post following more fine play from Costa. Still, Atletico were able to prevent any real threat of a Milan comeback. A rare attempt from the visitors saw Robinho’s strike repelled by Courtois.
With 70 minutes on the clock, Atletico’s quarterfinal place was secured. From Gabi’s free-kick, two Atletico players were offside, but crucially Garcia wasn’t and he rose above Nigel de Jong and Rami to head down past Abbiati for his 14th goal of an impressive season. The proverbial icing was then fittingly slathered on the cake by Costa with five minutes left. Substitute Jose Sosa slipped as he cut inside and Costa pounced, charging down the right of the box and sending a low shot into far corner of the net.