... And so Atlético Madrid move on in the Europa League, as predicted. They do it without quite knowing what brings more satisfaction - the fact of looking to the future with certainty, or the relief of leaving this unbearable group phase behind. Nobody has been excited by this invention. A money-making format which features sub-standard teams and matches to forget. Against Hapoel there was another one. There's no motivator who can fire up a football team to the right level for these training sessions in front of a crowd; not even Simeone. The UEFA Cup was a different matter, and it's missed, because the differences between clubs were reduced by the pressure of not being able to allow yourself a bad night. Not now. It's probably not for nothing that the Vicente Calderón was empty again, or the match commentators spoke about everything besides the football. Raúl Garcia's goal served to sentence the encounter, but also to induce a definite cooling in the Atlético ranks.
Atlético didn't seem the better team, although they are. Without pressing issues to resolve, they left the intensity for another day. And without the attitude, even the best Atlético is a vulgar spectacle. Without football tying everything together, there were few things to remember from this one. The most unexpected was that Hapoel looked better than they are. The best, that Adrían found his deadly change of pace. The game's only goal came from one of his bursts down the right flank. His cross from the by-line, after he'd beaten two opponents, should have ended in the hands of the goalkeeper, but it wasn't to be. Apoula showed his aversion to stemming the tide, and cleared just where he shouldn't have: in the centre. The ball fell to Emre who with his back to goal cleverly set up Raúl García on the penalty spot who put his team up with the inside of his boot.
It seemed like the perfect start for a goal fest, but it was but the end of the party. Atlético did little more. A piece of play from Adrían after a sublime bit of control and a shot from Diego Costa were the only remaining highlights of the first half. Hapoel even did the unimaginable, and took advantage of their opponents' lack of bite to mount a few attacks. Maman and Danin's headers riled Simeone and encouraged a timid whistling from the few faithful supporters cheering on their team. They were allowed to move too freely and the people in the stands were not pleased.
Everybody - fans, viewers and even players expected 'El Cholo' to provide a half-time team-talk to rouse his men to greater things. But the second half began with the danger closer to Asenjo, whose brave save avoided an equalizer. Only after that did Atlético find the indignation to add a bit of intensity to their game; it wasn't anything savage, but more out of commitment. Only then did Hapoel fold.