Simeone praises Atletico progress
27 November 2014, 12:39
Madrid - Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone hailed his players for turning round a poor start to their Champions League campaign to qualify for the last 16 with a game to spare.
Last season's beaten finalists smashed Olympiakos 4-0 on Wednesday thanks to a Mario Mandzukic hat-trick to gain revenge for their 3-2 defeat to the Greek champions on matchday one.
A run of four consecutive wins in Group A without so much as conceding a goal has put the Spanish champions in pole position to top the group as they just need to avoid defeat to Juventus by two goals or more in their final game to go through as group winners.
And Simeone insisted the pressure has been released now that they have achieved the minimum goal of making the knockout stages.
"We knew we needed to win to obtain the objective of the club which was to get to the last 16 from a very difficult group and we had to respond against very good opponents," said the Argentine.
"It is true that we very ruthless, we generated a lot of chances, but the most important thing is to score because if you create chances without scoring it doesn't mean anything."
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Mandzukic was the star of the show as he registered his first hat-trick for the club since his summer move from Bayern Munich.
And the Croatian's feats were even more remarkable given Simeone admitted he was a major doubt before the game due to a shoulder injury.
"We were thinking yesterday before the game that he wasn't going to play," added Simeone.
"He played very well. He scored, which is always important for a striker, but the most important thing is the team."
Atletico still have work to do in Turin in two weeks' time to ensure they avoid the likes of Chelsea and Bayern Munich in the next round. Right-back Juanfran is determined to round off the group in style.
"I am very happy for the team to have qualified," said the Spanish international.
"We want to win in Turin, we need to go through as group winners. We don't want to lose any game."
By contrast, it was an unhappy return to the Spanish capital for Real Madrid legend Michel as he saw his Olympiakos side torn apart for the first time in five group games.
The Greek champions now need to beat Malmo at home on matchday six and hope Atletico beat Juventus to qualify for the last 16 for the second consecutive year.
"It was a very hard defeat to take. We had a bad night and the responsibility for that is mine.
"The result and what Atletico showed is a reminder of how difficult the group is and the merits of what we have done so far.
"We can aspire to many things, but Juventus and Atletico are on another level."