Atletico Madrid showed masterclass on Tuesday night as Diego Simeone’s side ground out a 1-0 win against Liverpool in Madrid to give themselves hope of reaching the Champions League quarter-finals.
Saul Niguez raised the roof by scoring in the fourth minute before Atletico’s defence kicked in, suffocating the European champions and denying them a single shot on target.
If Alvaro Morata had not slipped when given a good chance in the second half, Atleti might even have taken a two-goal lead to Anfield, where they can expect an onslaught next month.
Yet even if Liverpool are still favourites to overturn this deficit and go through, the roar from the Atleti fans at the final whistle, aimed at their fist-pumping players on the pitch, suggested Simeone’s team now believe.
Few had tipped them to keep this tie even alive for the second leg, let alone progress, given their own stuttering form while Liverpool, unbeaten in the Premier League, are gunning for a treble.
Jurgen Klopp said on Monday Atletico were a “results machine” but the temptation was to see his words as platitudes, not an accurate reflection of a side that sits 13 points behind La Liga leaders Real Madrid and had already lost six times this season.
Yet Atletico under Simeone have also become synonymous with upsetting the odds, just as they did when winning the Spanish title in 2014 and then twice reaching the Champions League final.
For all their failings this season, they summoned that spirit here to produce the kind of performance full of tenacity, resilience and guts that was always going to be needed to give them any chance of success.