Atlético were in charge, of course, against a rival who decided to sit back with nine men in their own box to protect their 2-0 lead from the first leg. They were in charge, but with no real authority, and with a lack of firepower. Like a drummer with just one drum, incapable of surprises, without even a miserable cymbal. The overall feeling was that if Simeone had decided to take just one creative midfielder (Arda, or maybe Koke) then things might have had a happy ending. He decided it was double or nothing in the Cup and now it comes down to the game in the Pizjuán to see if a season that looks like it might be extraordinary really could be, or if it will be merely satisfactory, with the Champions nearly tied up.
It's a shame because the situation was ready made for a grand gesture. For a start the ground wasn't particularly hostile. As the match was played in Moscow the temperature was a spring-like minus eight, not what the mercury was registering in Kazan itself, and only 1,500 fans turned up to the desert of Luzhniki. They could be called brave, except for the fact the 26 Atlético players who travelled to Russia had already made Ulysses look like a day-tripper and added a new dimension to the word. Rubin made it clear that they were frightened of a come-back from the visitors, putting everyone in their own area, except for poor Rondón, sent 50 yards up the pitch.
But Berdyev's plan wasn't that foolish, against an Atleti side who over nearly 180 minutes were incapable of scoring. For Atleti's midfield, with no Arda or Koke, the nine enemies looked like 90, a wall they could only imagine getting through using long balls or shots from distance. The grass wasn't even fit for the cows, being plastic. Only Adrián remembered that the ball will roll, and showed clear signs that he's getting better, despite his tendency to fluff the final decision: it appears that for him the 18 yard line is painted with kryptonite.
Constant pressure alone gave Atleti chances: a shot from Falcao was turned away for a corner by the extravagant if resolute Ryzhikov, a close range chance that Falcao missed after Adrián decided not to shoot, and a miracle appearance from Kysliak on the killer pass from the same player. The best chance came from the keeper himself who came from the ball, like a pub team goalie, and ended up with a defender clearing a bouncing ball off the line.
The best news at half time was that it appears that 18 year old Saúl is now ready for the big time in the first team. Manquillo also put pressure on Juanfran. The second half called for things to be shaken up but when Simeone looked over at the bench he realised he'd left everyone back in Madrid. So nothing changed, except for a couple of moments of genius from Rondón in his solitary battle against the world but that in the end did nothing more than scare Atleti.
Saúl produced a fine chance, but César Navas killed the danger. The goal finally came from a piece of play that had more to do with real football than desire: a magnificent piece of play from Adrián that led to Falcao firing home. But it was too late. With 84 minutes played not even the direct red card for Navas could save Atleti. A stramash at the feet of Miranda, a shot wide from Cebolla... and nothing more. The holders fell because in truth they weren't that bothered about keeping the trophy.