Sunday 18 March 2018

Wait over as Atletico clinch title

Barcelona 1 Atletico Madrid 1

Alexis Sanchez of FC Barcelona celebrates with Lionel Messi after scoring the opening goal
Alexis Sanchez of FC Barcelona celebrates with Lionel Messi after scoring the opening goal
Atletico Madrid's forward David Villa (C) vies with Barcelona's goalkeeper Jose Manuel Pinto (L)
Barcelona's defender Gerard Pique (L) and Barcelona's midfielder Cesc Fabregas (C) vie with Atletico Madrid's Portuguese midfielder Tiago Mendes (R)
Diego Godin of Club Atletico de Madrid celebrates after scoring his goal
Atletico Madrid's Portuguese midfielder Tiago Mendes (R) vies with Barcelona's Brazilian defender Adriano (L)

Sid Lowe at Camp Nou

Atletico Madrid have done it. Exactly a year after they went to the Santiago Bernabeu and took the Copa del Rey from Real Madrid, they went to the Camp Nou and took the league title from FC Barcelona.

It is their first in 18 years. What Diego Simeone and his side have achieved is barely believable. Spain suffered a collective coronary as the season headed into the final minutes of the final day with a single moment sufficient to change the destiny of the title.

But in the end Diego Godin's header from a corner was enough to clinch a 1-1 draw that means that for the first time in a decade Spain has a champion that is not Real Madrid or Barcelona.

Simeone's side have taken on the duopoly and defeated it. This is a monumental achievement: not only has it been 10 years since someone else won the title, the nearest anyone has been over the last five years was 24, 39, 25, 28 and 17 points. Atletico finished this season three points ahead.

They came into the final game needing a result from the Camp Nou as for the first time in history two contenders faced each other on the last day with the title in play. Atletico did it the hard way. The clock showed 94:04 when, on the penultimate weekend, Adrian Lopez's shot was turned away by the outstretched hand of Willy Caballero.

A goal would have given them the title. Instead, they had to avoid defeat here. Barcelona, who had given up on the league, had benefited from an extraordinary run of results and now controlled their fate.

It was only the third time in history that two contenders had come face to face on the final day. It was not easy for the visitors. Atletico lost their top scorer Diego Costa in tears in the first half and then Arda Turan departed too.

Then, out of nothing, Barcelona took the lead through a thunderbolt from Alexis Sanchez. This was the first time that Barcelona had taken the lead in the five meetings between them this season and momentarily, it felt like the end.

But Atletico responded. In the final minutes of the half Atletico pushed Barcelona back, swift into tackles, quick to move the ball and accurate with it. Then from a corner on the right, Godin leapt and headed powerfully down and into the corner to seal the club's first title in 18 years.


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