Madrid: Atletico Madrid have little time to celebrate their stunning La Liga triumph and must immediately turn their focus on Saturday’s Champions League final against city rivals Real Madrid.
Atletico sealed their first La Liga title in 18 years thanks to a 1-1 draw at Barcelona on Saturday and now have a chance to win a first continental crown and deny their wealthy neighbours a record-extending 10th.
The fighting spirit Atletico have shown all season meant coach Diego Simeone never doubted they would come from behind to draw against Barcelona, the Argentine said on Saturday.
“I never thought for a moment that the team would not be able to do it. They always have a response, the bigger the challenge is, the more determined they are to achieve it. From the first moment I walked into the dressing room here I noticed that,” Simeone told a news conference.
“The work and effort of this team is the key and nobody makes any compromises. The team understands this.
“We were able to make history. Saturday will be one of the most important days in the history of the club. To become champions against Barcelona is a great feeling.
“But we have to play next Saturday and we have to prepare ourselves for the Champions League final. The Champions League title would be the cherry on the cake,” added the former Argentina captain, who was in the Atletico team the last time they won La Liga in 1996.
Atletico lost Diego Costa and Arda Turan to injury in the first half, but battled hard to grab the point they needed.
“We were calm at halftime as the team had started well although the injuries to Diego and Arda were a problem,” said Simeone. “From there, though, we continued to be competitive and fight for each ball which is what I asked for. We looked comfortable.”
The club did not say how long Costa and Arda might be sidelined but local media said Costa was a serious doubt for the Champions League final, while Arda was expected to be able to play.
Simeone made a special mention of former Spain coach Luis Aragones, who was a major figure at Atletico and died in February this year.
Aragones spent most of his playing career at the Calderon and then coached the club on several occasions. “It is a strange feeling, I feel very emotional,” said Simeone.
“I have been thinking of Luis and (former Atletico president Jesus) Gil. I am sure that Luis was out there helping us defend in the area in the second half. This victory is for Aragones.”
Following the final whistle, the Nou Camp crowd applauded the new champions as they celebrated on the pitch. “This was something unimaginable at the start of the season but totally deserved,” Atletico captain Gabi told Spanish television as his delirious teammates celebrated on the pitch behind him. We always believed in ourselves, even when we fell behind today,” he added.
“It is an honour to be part of this and to be able to compete with the big clubs. “Let the fans enjoy this now because they deserve it. We will celebrate this great title now and from Monday we will focus on the Champions League which is the priority now.”
It is the first time in 10 years that either Barca or Real Madrid did not win the league and Barca finished without major silverware for the first time in six years.