COPA DEL REY | ATHLETIC 1-2 ATLÉTICO MADRID
Courtois and Costa conquer San Mamés to set up Madrid derby
Atlético Madrid booked their place in the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey after becoming the first team to defeat Athletic Bilbao at the new San Mamés.
San Mamés, the Copa del Rey, the downpour, a bold Athletic, a fallen soldier (Filipe Luis), a critical situation. Everything that surrounded Atlético’s victory in Bilbao elevated the sense of achievement. But what made it most significant was the quality of the opposition. Because Valverde’s men had Atleti on the ropes just before half-time, with the score already 1-0 to the hosts, and the visitors were trembling at the knees. Everyone that is, apart from the everpresent Thibaut Courtois, who made three magnificent saves before the break, allowing Simeone to kick some life into his players at half-time before it was too late. The landscape of the game changed and Atleti turned the game around to set up a semi-final Cup re-match with Real Madrid. If anyone was trying to paint Los Rojiblancos as victims again, Simeone’s men weren’t paying attention.
The game did not deceive anyone and it begun in the same way it ended: enthralling the spectator. With just 30 seconds on the clock, Diego Costa was put clean through on goal, with all the time in the world. Once there he opted for a resource he has perhaps already abused, aiming for the far post (Real Madrid will know what I’m talking about), and the goalkeeper outguessed him.
From then on until half-time, Atleti stood still. Athletic did not. Iturraspe set the tempo, Muniain was audacious and Aduriz tried to get his head on anything that flew above him. The injury to Filipe Luis after 12 minutes knocked the stuffing out of Atleti, and Miranda struggled to cope with wave after wave of attacks from Valverde’s side on his own.
The pressure of the infallible San Mamés Barria, where no-one aside from the hosts had triumphed since it opened in September, was getting to Atlético. Mikel Rico shaved the post, Muniain shot straight into Courtois hands, and then Aduriz rose above everyone to head into the net.
San Mamés erupted and Athletic believed they could take on the world. But the man who proved he genuinely could was Courtois, who made three saves in quick succession, denying Iraola, Aduriz and Rico. Atleti somehow made it in to the dressing room at half-time still alive, and Simeone sorted things out. Diego Costa moved up front and the team switched to a 4-4-2. Costa, whose every touch was booed and whistled by San Mamés, rose to the occasion and should have equalised, but was denied by an outstanding save by Herrerin, who quickly became Athletic’s hero of the moment.
But Raúl García would not be denied, and a moment later had two shots. The first was well struck and well saved by Herrerín, the second he mis-hit, but scored his 13th goal of the season. That’s football. It was a knife in the heart for Athletic, who never gave up, but gave the impression they had stopped believing.
Courtois made two further saves, but the crucial blow was delivered by Diego Costa on the counter attack, facilitated by a blunder by San José. Where the centre-back was going is more of a mystery than JFK’s rubber bullet. This time Costa changed his mind, took the ball round the goalkeeper and broke his drought in 2014. San Mamés fell at last, Atleti qualified for the semi-finals and the legend of this Simeone team lives on.