Diego Simeone eyes 'next step' for Atletico Madrid after Real defeat
Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone was positive and said his team could still take more steps forward and keep improving, after they gave neighbours Real Madrid a real scare in Wednesday's Champions League semifinal second leg, before exiting the competition 4-2 on aggregate.
Few gave Atletico a chance of overcoming a 3-0 deficit from last week's first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu, but Simeone's side had holders Madrid rocking when they quickly went 2-0 up through Saul Niguez's header and Antoine Griezmann's penalty.
Karim Benzema set up Isco for a crucial away goal just before half-time which swung the momentum back Real's way however. And although Griezmann and substitute Kevin Gameiro had chances to cut the deficit again, Simeone's side exited the competition for a fourth successive year to their city rivals.
Simeone almost left his job in despair following a penalty shootout defeat to Madrid in last season's Champions League final, but the Argentine struck a much more upbeat tone with his comments at the postmatch news conference at the Vicente Calderon.
"I am thinking differently now from that moment [in Milan]," Simeone said. "I try to be spontaneous. That is what I felt at that moment, not at this. This club has been eight years now growing enormously. It is not easy to keep sustaining yourself on the same path. We still need to keep improving, the next step is not small, it is very big, but if we can improve then there is a future."
Simeone said he was proud of how his team had given everything and believed in themselves within what had been an almost impossible situation given the scoreline pregame.
"I am happy, proud of how we competed as we have shown over these five and a half years," Simeone said. "Today we found ourselves with a 0-3, such a tough result from away leg. We said we believed we could do it, and people thought it was mind games, but the way games can develop can be marvellous.
"The first 25 mins our rhythm was tremendous. It was an almost perfect first half, then an extraordinary move from [Karim] Benzema caused us problems. But football is like this, and they have a lot of weight. We won the game today, we were close to achieving what we wanted, but it was not to be."
After what was the last-ever European game at the old Calderon, Simeone said he was sure such "magical nights" could be repeated in future at their new Wanda Metropolitano home.
"The first 20 or 30 minutes tonight will for sure stay in the minds of everyone who was here, it was a magic night at the Calderon and will be remembered forever," he said.
"The fans who are here today will be in the Metropolitano tomorrow. The passion and enthusiasm of the fans cannot be doubted. The best place to transmit that is your home -- today that is the Calderon, tomorrow it will be the Metropolitano."
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan