Atletico win sets up all-Madrid final in Champions League
A season of the unexpected for Atletico Madrid will end with a shot at a first Champions League title against its fiercest rival.
Having disrupted the established order of power in Spanish football, the capital's second club successfully negotiated its first European Cup semifinal in 40 years on Wednesday, overwhelming Chelsea 3-1 to setup a meeting with Real Madrid.
"They're a very powerful club used to those big European nights," Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. "It's been many years for us as a club, so it'll be a new experience. But we're keen and excited."
His side will also be undaunted by the prospect of facing the nine-time winners in the competition's first derby final. Simeone's side could be taking the Lisbon turf on May 24 as champions of Spain for the first time since 1996. Just two wins are required from the final three domestic matches to break up the Barcelona-Real Madrid stranglehold on the trophy.
"Playing like we play we are the strongest team in the world," Atletico midfielder Tiago said. "And we deserve what we have in this moment."
Although former Atletico striker Fernando Torres put Chelsea in front at Stamford Bridge after a scoreless first leg, Adrian Lopez levelled before halftime and Diego Costa netted a penalty on the hour before Arda Turan capped the visitors' second-half superiority with the third.
"We completely controlled the game against a great side," Simeone said through a translator.
It was a fourth successive semifinal loss for Jose Mourinho since winning the competition in 2010 with Inter Milan, after previous setbacks at Real Madrid before returning to manage Chelsea last year.
Without Mourinho, Madrid has ended a 12-year wait to reach a Champions League final after trouncing holder Bayern Munich 4-0 on Tuesday and 5-0 on aggregate.
After seeing Chelsea win the 2012 Champions League and 2013 Europa League from afar, Mourinho's first season back at the club could now end without a trophy. Although the Blues are second in the Premier League, they require leader Liverpool and third-place Manchester City, which has a game in hand, to slip-up in the final matches.
If Mourinho wanted to prove criticism of recent ultra-defensive tactics didn't affect him it came with the lineup, with six defenders in the starting eleven. In an anxious opening, Mark Schwarzer, deputizing in the Chelsea goal for the injured Petr Cech, was beaten in the fourth minute — with only the crossbar blocking Koke's looping shot.
This was a night when Chelsea had its goalkeepers in both nets. Thibaut Courtois was making his Stamford Bridge debut, but for Atletico where he has been on loan since joining Chelsea from Genk in 2011. The Belgium international had little to do before he was picking the ball out of his goal in the 36th minute after being beaten by a player who started his career at Atletico.
Willian outmuscled Diego Godin and Filipe Luis on the right flank, and as he fell over, Cesar Azpilicueta picked up possession. The Spaniard swept the ball back for Torres, who beat Courtois with a shot that deflected off Mario Suarez.
Torres doesn't often get the chance to celebrate a goal — this was just his 10th all season — but he didn't revel in scoring against his former side.
Penalty turning point: Mourinho
Not that Chelsea had much to celebrate for long as its defence was unpicked too easily. Tiago floated the ball to the byline where Juanfran had space to cut it back, past John Terry and Ashley Cole, to the unmarked Lopez to strike into the net.
It took Schwarzer's two-handed save at the start of the second half to deny Turan's skilful shot from close range, while Courtois also repelled Terry's header.
Chelsea's search for a goal saw forward Samuel Eto'o brought on in place of left back Cole in the 54th minute. The Cameroon international's first contribution was back in defence, bringing down Diego Costa as he struggled to contain his fellow forward.
Before taking the spotkick, Diego Costa placed and then re-placed the ball on the spot several times — earning a booking for timewasting. But he eventually dispatched the ball in the net.
"The penalty killed the game," Mourinho said. "After that moment the game was controlled by Atletico, very mature and professional."
Although Schwarzer's post kept out Turan's header, the winger moved into a central position to tap the rebound into an empty net in the 72nd.
There was no way back now for Chelsea. And Simeone, a nervy figure all night, was finally unburdened of his anxieties, launching himself on a Mourinho-style dash down the touchline.
"He has changed our mentality," Atletico's former Chelsea midfielder Tiago said of Simeone. "We all work together, we work as a team."