The AtlÃ©tico Madrid supporters at the Metropolitano didn’t watch the game that brought them closer to the league title, but they did live it. Still not allowed in but determined not to be left out, if they couldn’t see their players on Wednesday night their players could hear them, the song drifting through the open the southeast corner of the stadium. Fans gathered in Parking Lot B under Spain’s tallest flagpole, the 338 square meters of red and white that normally flies away due to the wind that night every night, while the on the other hand the players clung to the lead which brought them closer, so close, to become champions.
Diego Simeone called the suffering âunnecessaryâ – but, at the end of his 500th first-team game for the club he joined at eight, Koke said: âWe are AtlÃ©ti and if we don’t suffer, it wouldn’t be us. . âThis 2-1 win over Real Sociedad leaves them in the lead with two games to go, and the captain said:â We heard from the fans over there and we needed them, especially for that extra effort in the last few minutes. âAnd he was right.
For once, the team that had watched a Lionel Messi free kick in the 90th minute pass just past the top skylight, a Fidel Chaves penalty in the 92nd minute hit their post and IÃ±igo MartÃnez headed in the 87th. minute fly into their net in the past three games, which have spent almost an entire season at the top but also on edge, looked set to win comfortably. Fifth-placed Real Sociedad was supposed to be AtlÃ©tico’s toughest game, but this time around there was no doubt. In less than 10 minutes, they had accumulated five shots, including two clear chances. After 16 years, they were leading. And after 27 years, there were two. It could have been three, four, more, and the chants continued through the stadium. When they started to serenade Simeone, you could almost feel him wondering if he should wave. It was done.
Except that with AtlÃ©tico it never really is, with this season it never really is either. Jan Oblak had already made a few saves, then with seven minutes remaining a corner slipped and from the edge of the six-yard box Igor Zubeldia scored, only one goal between them now, back on the edge of the box. Cliff. Sitting in the stands, Luis SuÃ¡rez, who had just been removed from his post, threw off his boots, the noise echoing around. First to the right, then to the left, then his shin guards. In front of him, Diego Simeone had a dark vision. âLevante came to my mind when we played fantastically but ended up losing,â he said afterwards. “It 2-0 becomes 2-1 and you are dizzy.”
Suddenly they were afraid, the tension tearing their nerves apart, the enormity of it all. Simeone was on the pitch half the time, hopping, literally crossing the line. In the stands, AtlÃ©tico’s substitutes and staff came closer and closer, descending the stairs and leaning over the barrier as if they were drawn into the match, unable to resist, desperate to to intervene. Looking down from above, it was easy to be drawn more to them than the game itself, a perfect pressure photo, every action is a threat. Away, aware of the stakes, fans who have too often seen defeat pull the claws of victory to really let go, turned up the volume.
There were eight minutes left but it was going to be forever. On the left, Real Sociedad coach Imanol Alguacil sensed it, rushing to quickly hand the ball over to his players. They could feel it too, going for it. Mario Hermoso was blocking a cross, and you could feel the nervousness, the realization that the smallest thing could now be the biggest. And so every moment is magnified. Portu shot. MartÃn Merquelanz entered the box, one foot close to his, a penalty pending. Hermoso won the ball and then lost it again, a door to AtlÃ©tico’s area suddenly opened.
From the outside, AtlÃ©tico’s anthem sounded defiantly, trying to carry players beyond the line, but this was quickly replaced by something more basic. “Atleti, breath huevos!“came the parking order – put your balls in. What they already were: their balls and everything.” It was touching having them there, “Simeone said.” I understand the government. , I understand everything, the needs, but football needs people, it belongs to the people.
In the stands, they shouted and moved around and held their heads in their hands. On the sideline, Simeone seemed to be praying. “It was Mario,” he later admitted. “He was carrying the ball and I was like, ‘Please, please get rid of it’, no pasa nada, don’t be embarrassed to hit it for a long time if need be. The next time they did it, and it came back right away. The arms cut in the air, demanding time, the fingers tapping on imaginary watches. They looked at the referee and wondered why his whistle was not in his mouth yet.
And then, finally, it was. The arms are raised. Simeone turned around and sprinted in the tunnel, fists clenched. The teammates hugged, some still too scared to smile. But they had. “The suffering of the champions,” called El PaÃs, as did AS. Game after game, fear after fear, they were now close to the finish line.
From inside the makeshift locker room under the bleachers, AtlÃ©tico scarves hanging on the walls, SuÃ¡rez sent a video: âHere we are, come on, one more step. Still clinging to the lead they have held for five months, another heartbreaking victory gives them four points ahead of Barcelona and five over Real Madrid, who have one game less. There are 10 days and two matches left, far so close. “It’s going to be tough,” Simeone said, “the fatigue is there, the anxiety is there.” Standing on the sideline, Koke insisted, “It might not look like it, but there is still a world to go.” It is mid-May, close to midnight and the sky is lighting up, a fireworks display starts from parking B.