Brazilian-Belgian duo driving Atletico's title hunt
20 February 2014, 13:39
Madrid - A combative Brazil-born forward who could play a key role for Spain at the World Cup and a lanky Belgian goalkeeper on loan from Chelsea inspired Atletico Madrid to a 1-0 Champions League win at AC Milan on Wednesday.
Diego Costa stole the headlines after his magnificent leap and bullet header in the 83rd minute of the last 16 first leg at the San Siro but it was Thibaut Courtois who rescued Atletico midway through the first half when he flung himself full length and tipped an Andrea Poli header onto the post.
While the in-form striker and keeper again shone, it was another impressive team effort from Diego Simeone's gritty side, who resisted some intense Milan pressure before turning the screw in the second half and landing a late sucker punch.
Argentine Simeone, who had a stint playing for Milan's city rivals Inter, continues to squeeze the best from his limited squad and has moulded a team with a mean defence backed up by one of the game's most talented keepers and a lethal attack centred around the belligerent Costa.
Wednesday's success means they are close to securing a spot in the last eight of Europe's elite club competition for the first time since 1997, when Simeone was an Atletico player, and they are also joint top of La Liga with Spanish powerhouses Barcelona and Real Madrid.
"These ties are defined by moments and players who can make a difference," Simeone told a news conference. "Courtois and Costa did the business."
The 25-year-old Costa, who has made himself available for adopted country Spain after turning his back on his native Brazil, has 21 goals in La Liga this season and five in just four Champions League appearances.
His form has been crucial to Atletico's success but he was quick to praise Courtois after Wednesday's match.
The Belgian international, 21, who is almost two metres tall, has gone from strength to strength since Chelsea loaned him to Atletico in 2011 and won the Zamora award for La Liga's most efficient keeper last term.
"Courtois is one of the world's best keepers," Costa said in an interview with Canal Plus. "He knows that, he knows what he is capable of and we have every confidence in him.
"Courtois brings us a huge amount and he is always an incredible help to us."
While Atletico have the upper hand ahead of Milan's visit to the Calderon on March 11, Simeone warned his players they should not take anything for granted.
Milan may have fallen on hard times but with seven European titles they can never be treated lightly, he added.
"It's a good step forward but there is still a lot to play for at the Calderon," Simeone said.
"The result was positive tonight but we cannot treat it as a guarantee. With a team like Milan we will have to work to get through to the next round."
Atletico's next game is Sunday's La Liga match at Osasuna.