Atletico Madrid ready to upset Europe’s elite once again

“If you look at games like Atletico Madrid against PSV Eindhoven, you can see the difference in quality with Juventus, who are knocked out already,” lamented Bayern Munich president Karl-Heinz Rummenigge last month, after his club had eliminated fellow European giants Juve in the Champions League last 16.

Atletico Madrid ready to upset Europe’s elite once again

Rummenigge’s comments were widely reported in Spain at the time as an insult, and resurfaced after Friday’s draw paired Bayern and Atletico in the semi-finals.

The Spanish sports also recalled similar quotes from last season when the German said that “Atletico are a team who take the joy and fun out of football”.

There was much talk of a plan to “shut Rummennigge’s mouth” over the two upcoming legs.

The former Bayern forward was more polite about Atletico — who beat Granada 3-0 last night — when speaking from Nyon on Friday.

“It’s a difficult draw,” he said. “We have huge respect for the team that just knocked out the holders Barcelona.”

It was still not really surprising that Rummennigge has used Atletico when making his regular arguments in favour of a European Super League.

The team from the working-class south of Madrid are outsiders in more ways than one.

They have never won the European Cup or Champions League.

When Simeone took charge in December 2011, they were 10th in La Liga having just lost in the Copa del Rey to third-tier side Albacete.

Since then, the change has been staggering. Atletico having won the 2013 Copa del Rey against Real Madrid at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, and won the 2013/14 La Liga title on the final day at Barcelona’s Camp Nou.

All with a budget of less than a third that of their richer rivals.

Simeone himself often complains that Atletico’s recent surprise success has “annoyed” the big two in Spain, usually when suggesting that refereeing decisions have gone against his team.

“In Europe, it also seems we are beginning to ruffle some feathers,” he said, after the recent quarter-final first leg at the Camp Nou.

That night Atletico felt hard done by when centre-forward Fernando Torres was red carded for two fouls while Barca’s Luis Suarez got away with a number of controversial challenges.

“Rummenigge wants the teams he thinks are in charge to go through to the semi-finals, and he’ll end up getting just that,” said Atletico chief executive Miguel Angel Gil Marin.

“Football does not belong to Europe’s eight big clubs. We want to be treated equally.” Following Wednesday’s well deserved 2-0 second leg victory over Barca to complete a comeback 3-2 aggregate victory, Simeone again rolled out the idea of his team as class strugglers.

“We’re a group of honest workers who make ourselves strong with the tools we have. We believe a lot in life values — respect, perseverance, picking yourself up in difficulties, competing. We never have anything easy. For Atletico Madrid to be among the four best in Europe is a big step, but now we can do more.”

After Friday’s draw paired Atletico with Bayern, Atletico director Clemente Villaverde steered away from any controversy.

“In the first place, for me it’s a privilege to be here representing Atletico and their fans, with the chance to play a semi-final against a club as big as Bayern,” Villaverde said.

“But the players are those who must talk most — they are the soul of the club, and the fans are focused on them.”

Despite public diplomacy, Bayern and Rummennigge are likely to get a warm welcome at the Estadio Vicente Calderon on Wednesday April 27.

And Simeone and his players will enjoy another chance to take down another of their supposed betters.

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