Clean-sheet masters Atletico Madrid reach Champions League quarter-finals

Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone lauded his side's determination to keep making their mark on the Champions League after they reached the quarter-finals for a fourth consecutive season.

Clean-sheet masters Atletico Madrid reach Champions League quarter-finals
Atletico Madrid's Slovenian goalkeeper Jan Oblak was instrumental in his side's progression to the next round. Photo: AFP

Simeone's men have lost out in the final to cross city rivals Real Madrid in two of the past three seasons.

However, they have another chance at Champions League glory as a 0-0 draw with Bayer Leverkusen on Wednesday sealed their place in Friday's draw 4-2 on aggregate.

“Firstly there is joy,” said Simeone.

“It shows the great effort the club and, above all, the players have made in the way they have competed and given their heart and soul in the past four years.

“Everyone has done their bit to be amongst the top eight teams in Europe.”

Atletico were far from their best at the Vicente Calderon as they relied on a stunning triple save from goalkeeper Jan Oblak to prevent just a second Champions League defeat in the past four seasons.

However, the Spanish side got the job done in Germany three weeks ago thanks to goals from Saul Niguez, Antoine Griezmann, Kevin Gameiro and Fernando Torres.

“We didn't need to attack like crazy,” said Atletico's top scorer Griezmann.

“We tried to see the game out at the back and that is what we did. We are in the quarter-finals and we are all happy.”

Another European reunion with Real is one of seven possible opponents for Atletico in the last eight along with Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Monaco, Leicester City and Juventus.

“Now hopefully we can get a good draw and through to the semis,” added Griezmann.

“We have to show every year we are among the best teams in Europe and every year we achieve it.”

New Leverkusen boss Tayfun Korkut was taking charge of his first Champions League game and summoned a much-improved performance as they forced Atletico onto the back foot for long spells.

However, Korkut hailed Atletico's desire to defend as Oblak's miraculous triple save to deny firstly Julian Brandt and then two follow-up efforts from Kevin Volland midway through the second-half secured Los Rojiblancos' 17th clean sheet in their last 20 home Champions League games.

“I haven't seen anything like it,” said Korkut.

“I've watched it again and it isn't just him. There were many defenders throwing themselves to block the shot.

“You see how this team defends their goal. They are all there to put their foot or any part of their body on the line.”

Korkut was hired after a 6-2 thrashing at Dortmund following their first leg defeat saw Roger Schmidt sacked.

And with Leverkusen languishing in 10th in the Bundesliga, Korkut is hoping to gain momentum from their impressive showing to make a late run to qualify for Europe next season.

“We saw that we have the quality to cause them problems. Atletico suffered and we had a lot of chances,” he added.

“For me the important thing is that the team has taken the first steps forward comparing with where we have come from in the Bundesliga.”


Putellas becomes second Spanish footballer in history to win Ballon d’Or

Alexia Putellas of Barcelona and Spain won the women's Ballon d'Or prize on Monday, becoming only the second Spanish-born footballer in history to be considered the best in the world, and claiming a win for Spain after a 61-year wait.

FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award.
FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award. Photo: FRANCK FIFE / AFP

Putellas is the third winner of the prize, following in the footsteps of Ada Hegerberg, who won the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or in 2018, and United States World Cup star Megan Rapinoe, winner in 2019.

Putellas captained Barcelona to victory in this year’s Champions League, scoring a penalty in the final as her side hammered Chelsea 4-0 in Gothenburg.

She also won a Spanish league and cup double with Barca, the club she joined as a teenager in 2012, and helped her country qualify for the upcoming Women’s Euro in England.

Her Barcelona and Spain teammate Jennifer Hermoso finished second in the voting, with Sam Kerr of Chelsea and Australia coming in third.

It completes an awards double for Putellas, who in August was named player of the year by European football’s governing body UEFA.

But it’s also a huge win for Spain as it’s the first time in 61 years that a Spanish footballer – male or female – is crowned the world’s best footballer of the year, and only the second time in history a Spaniard wins the Ballon d’Or. 

Former Spanish midfielder Luis Suárez (not the ex Liverpool and Barça player now at Atlético) was the only Spanish-born footballer to win the award in 1960 while at Inter Milan. Argentinian-born Alfredo Di Stefano, the Real Madrid star who took up Spanish citizenship, also won it in 1959.

Who is Alexia Putellas?

Alexia Putellas grew up dreaming of playing for Barcelona and after clinching the treble of league, cup and Champions League last season, her status as a women’s footballing icon was underlined as she claimed the Ballon d’Or on Monday.

Unlike the men’s side, Barca’s women swept the board last term with the 27-year-old, who wears “Alexia” on the back of her shirt, at the forefront, months before Lionel Messi’s emotional departure.

Attacker Putellas, who turns 28 in February, spent her childhood less than an hour’s car journey from the Camp Nou and she made her first trip to the ground from her hometown of Mollet del Valles, for the Barcelona derby on January 6, 2000.

Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas (R) vies with VfL Wolfsburg's German defender Kathrin Hendrich
Putellas plays as a striker for Barça and Spain. GABRIEL BOUYS / POOL / AFP

Exactly 21 years later she became the first woman in the modern era to score in the stadium, against Espanyol. Her name was engraved in the club’s history from that day forward, but her story started much earlier.

She started playing the sport in school, against boys.

“My mum had enough of me coming home with bruises on my legs, so she signed me up at a club so that I stopped playing during break-time,” Putellas said last year.

So, with her parent’s insistence, she joined Sabadell before being signed by Barca’s academy.

“That’s where things got serious… But you couldn’t envisage, with all one’s power, to make a living from football,” she said.

After less than a year with “her” outfit, she moved across town to Espanyol and made her first-team debut in 2010 before losing to Barca in the final of the Copa de la Reina.

She then headed south for a season at Valencia-based club Levante before returning “home” in July 2012, signing for Barcelona just two months after her father’s death.

In her first term there she helped Barca win the league and cup double, winning the award for player of the match in the final of the latter competition.