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Thursday April 10, 2014 MYT 5:18:41 AM
Thursday April 10, 2014 MYT 5:18:41 AM
by iain rogers
MADRID (Reuters) - Atletico Madrid hit new heights in their incredible season when Koke's goal secured a 2-1 aggregate success against Barcelona on Wednesday that put Atletico into the last four of Europe's elite club competition for the first time in 40 years.
The stunning 1-0 victory at an electric Calderon stadium followed last week's 1-1 draw in Barcelona in their Champions League quarter-final, first leg and denied Barca a record-extending seventh consecutive appearance in the last four.
A fired-up Atletico blew Barca away in the opening 20 minutes and after midfielder Koke volleyed in from close range in the fifth minute former Barca forward David Villa twice hit the crossbar.
"It was a very important goal because it got us through to the semi-finals," Koke told Spanish broadcaster Canal Plus.
"The work of the team across both legs has been spectacular
"We ran a huge amount, we played the two games in the way we wanted and I think we were the clear winners," he added.
"With these fans behind us it is very hard for us to lose a match here."
Barca showed more intensity and had their chances in the second half against an exhausted Atletico but the home side held out with inspirational coach Diego Simeone willing them on from his technical area.
"We had the game within our grasp," Barca midfielder Xavi said. "We had four or five very clear chances that normally we would put away.
"They made the most of those first 15 to 20 minutes when they played with a lot of intensity and scored the goal," Xavi told Canal Plus.
"I think after that we stepped up to the challenge and deserved at least a draw.
"I think we played two good games and had our chances in both legs but it slipped through our fingers," he added ruefully.
"We can only congratulate all the Atletico fans."
Barca seemed to be settling into their usual dominant rhythm in the opening minutes on a warm night in the Spanish capital but were rocked back when Adrian burst clear in the fifth minute in a typical Atletico counter-attack.
His initial shot cannoned off the crossbar and when the ball was crossed back into the middle he nodded it across goal for Koke to volley in at the far post.
Atletico had the bit between their teeth and Barca suddenly went to pieces as Villa was twice allowed space in the area and twice saw his shots come back off the frame of the goal.
The game settled down after the frantic opening 20 minutes and Barca had a good chance to equalise when Lionel Messi, who had earlier headed narrowly wide, missed the target after brilliant work from Neymar on the left.
Barca began the second half strongly and immediately had Atletico on the back foot.
Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois saved brilliantly at Neymar's feet in the 49th minute and Atletico somehow scrambled the ball away when it seemed easier for Xavi to score.
Xavi should have done better with a free header from a Daniel Alves cross on the hour, while five minutes later at the other end substitute Diego tested Jose Manuel Pinto with an angled strike.
Atletico captain Gabi had a chance to put the game beyond Barca when he raced clear in the 70th minute but Pinto was able to save his weak effort.
Atletico came close again two minutes later with another swift break and Neymar's diving header drifted just wide of the post 12 minutes from time.
(Editing by Rex Gowar)
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