Atletico Madrid play vs Astana key for Champions League group, says Diego Simeone
Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone said there is no doubt that of the three matches remaining to play in Champions League, Tuesday's contest against Astana in Kazakhstan is the key.
Atletico Madrid brushed aside Astana 4-0 a fortnight ago at the Vicente Calderon stadium. The Spaniards were surprise 2-1 losers at home to Benfica in the previous Group C round but the win over Astana put Los Rojiblancos top of Group C and ahead of Benfica with Astana at the foot of the standings. However, Atletico Madrid face the tougher games against Benfica and Galatasary in the coming weeks.
Astana have picked up one point from three games in their maiden group stage campaign and Tuesday's visitors will be heavy favourites to extend their unbeaten run to six matches in all competitions.
"Tomorrow's match is the determining factor for our team future because all teams find it difficult to win at this stadium and we have to go through it," Simeone said. "No one should think that based upon the result from the Calderon, that this match will be easy."
About Astana's artificial turf, Simeone said it was not ideal, but part of the playing conditions.
"This is how I feel. When we were little we played on mud, grass, synthetic turf, high grass," he said. "You have to play football and I consider it to be a circumstance like the wind, the sun, the cold, the snow. You have to play football just like the phrase suggests and not think about those things."
The club chartered a plane for the long-distance flight and Simeone said they arrived late and had only rested in the hotel upon arrival.
Asked whether he would be happy with a draw, he added: "Before a match it is tough to say what you could be happy with. Yes we are convinced. Astana is very tough to beat at home, they have much enthusiasm and are very capable in their own stadium."
Atleti were denied maximum points and the chance to climb to the top of the Primera Division at the weekend with a 1-1 draw against Deportivo La Coruna. But Astana extended their winning run in the Kazakhstan Premier League to five matches with victory against Irtysh Pavlodar on Saturday.
The win was key to keeping Astana's qualifying hopes for next year's Champions League so the club bring momentum to Tuesday's contest.
Meanwhile, Atletico Madrid's Fernando Torres is in search of an elusive 100th goal for Atletico Madrid. He has been stuck on goal No. 99 for his boyhood club since scoring against Eibar on Sept. 19.
Since then, the former Liverpool and Chelsea striker, who returned to Atletico midway through last season, has gone goalless in eight matches across all competitions. Upon arriving last year, he immediately helped it eliminate crosstown rival Real Madrid from the Copa del Rey with a pair of goals, but otherwise has had a subdued output in attack.
This season he has scored twice in 12 appearances and has yet to find the net in the Champions League.
"I think our team has been playing well in defence," Torres said. "Our season has been good so far. We will be playing in their stadium and of course they will be feeling their strongest."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.