Once again our boys put in an immense show of their talent against European giants, but once again we got no reward for our efforts. The 0-2 defeat to Atletico Madrid puts us in the UEFA Europa League next spring.
The biggest match of our season was barely a minute or two old when Atletico coach Diego Simeone was already cutting an agitated figure. Mergim Berisha wound the ball away from a defender and took aim - only the post prevented us from making a dream start! We continued the positive tone as we tore into the defensive Spanish side. Sekou Koita failed to trouble Oblak with a tame effort, but Dominik Szoboszlai went closer from a central position moments later. He forced the Slovenian keeper to stretch right out to keep the ball away from the corner of the net!
Atleti didn't get close to our penalty area until halfway through the first half, and a tricky Llorente drive flew past the target of Cican Stankovic. It was a probe of our resolve, but no more than that. Our boys continued to swarm over the visitors, and the ball went via Koita to Patson Daka, who couldn't quite shake off Trippier, who was the last man back for Atletico. With the half-time break approaching, we had a couple of slip-ups. Max Wöber let the ball slip away from his feet in the area, but Stankovic jumped out to save us. In the 39th minute, we got punished as Carrasco curled a set piece into the middle and Hermoso headed in. Atletico's first shot on goal gave them the lead.
The second half began in an even more nervy way than the first ended. Rasmus Kristensen just missed the target with an effort on the turn before we were left gasping by an agonising miss. Szobo and Berisha sliced the Atletico defence open with a one-two, and the Hungarian knocked the ball wide from 12 metres out – that should have been the equaliser! Our men continued to press - Berisha picked out Daka in a good position at the near post, but he was just knocked off the ball.
The agony of our missed chances was just continuing to pile up. Enock Mwepu was the next to have a go, sending a fierce drive out via the outside of the post! Substitute Noah Okafor added to the shot count - but it was over. Atletico then went on the attack. A Felix effort was saved in style by Stankovic, but our keeper was left helpless on an Atletico break. Correa crossed the ball towards the far post, where Carrasco was unmarked and volleyed in for 0-2. That was that (86').
Despite our near miss in the Champions League, there is no need to grumble. Lokomotiv Moscow were beaten in Munich, and our great efforts this autumn are to be rewarded with a spot in the UEFA Europa League in the spring!
We represented our style of football well against top level opponents. Of course we are disappointed now, but we are every bit as proud. We lacked a little resoluteness at both ends, and we faced two of the world's best goalkeepers in this group. We have played simply incredible football though! I could not have asked any more of these guys!
It's disappointing, of course, as we were really the better team. Atletico got the goals though, which shows how clever they are. We keep on trying and playing forward - everyone got fully stuck in! Well done to the team though, as it was still fun. We have played superbly in the Champions League. We have to take the positives from it!
Okafor for Daka (73'), Adeyemi for Koita (79'), Sucic for Mwepu (89'), Okugawa for Szoboszlai (89'), Onguene for Wöber (89')
Ramalho (71' foul)
Not available for action
Bernede (broken shin), Camara (suspended)