They will take this. Leicester City will take this narrow hard-fought defeat, albeit while railing against the injustice of a penalty that should not have been awarded.
They now head to the King Power Stadium for the second leg of this Champions League quarter-final with the tie, and their European adventure, still in the balance. Still believing. “We’re still alive,” manager Craig Shakespeare declared.
But then, Atleti would take this also. A win, and almost as importantly, a clean sheet, and the raucous cheers of their fans at the final whistle had an ominous edge. They know that as obdurate and dogged as Leicester defended, Atleti have trademarked that in recent seasons under coach Diego Simeone and taken it to a new level.
Simeone had said it would be tight. That it would go down to the wire and so it will prove. Leicester can draw deep encouragement from the way in which they recovered after a fierce, early storm, overcoming the injustice of the penalty, and ended the match with goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel not having to save them as he did in Seville in the previous round.
To get out of the Vicente Calderon with such a scoreline is a steal, but if they are to progress the English champions will have to produce an even more heroic performance at home. And they will have to come out and score.
In fact, it will have to be even better than what they achieved to defeat Sevilla – and they do not have that precious away goal – because Atleti are more hard-working, will defend for their lives and will not flinch from the task of grinding out a goalless draw to go through to the last four if that is what they have to do.
Leicester will also have to cope without defender Robert Huth, booked for a foul on the quicksilver Antoine Griezmann and now suspended, and will hope that captain Wes Morgan returns from injury. It is touch-and-go and although his replacement, Yohan Benalouane, was outstanding after a nervy start, they cannot afford to be without both of their first-choice centre-halves.
But it can be done. Shakespeare will continue to summon the spirit of this squad – even if there was a bizarre spat at half-time between Shinji Okazaki, who was then taken off, and Riyad Mahrez - as he remains on course to emulate Tony Barton from 1981 and Roberto di Matteo in 2012 in replacing a title-winning manager and leading a team to European glory.
There were 6,000 Leicester fans in the Spanish capital for such an historic occasion for the club - half of them inside the stadium – but it came on a day in which supporters stood accused of appalling behaviour and mindless chanting, but also counter claims that they were brutally treated by the police.
On the pitch, more happily, the Foxes' tale continues. The hunt is still on. "Foxhunting," read the headline in Tuesday’s Mundo Deportivo newspaper, but despite the determined chase Atleti could not quite kill off their prey as, in the technical area, Simeone hopped from foot to foot in growing frustration.
They could not, despite their intense pressure, find a second goal to kill it although they should have when Fernando Torres created space, only to slip and hack his shot wildly wide when clear on goal. It was a Torres moment.
Then Leicester felt hard done by. The only goal should never have happened. It was a bad mistake by Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson who had a clear view when Griezmann was tripped by Marc Albrighton and should have seen it was just outside the penalty area and therefore only a free-kick.
Instead, he gave the penalty. Griezmann had run at pace from inside his own half down the Leicester right and Albrighton had sprinted over – and it was obvious that his speed and intent meant he was going to bring the forward down. Still, it was outside the area but Griezmann was allowed to send Schmeichel the wrong way and Atleti had the lead.
Eriksson is the referee who enraged Manuel Pellegrini, with the then Manchester City manager accusing him of being on Barcelona’s side during a tie in 2014, and he later turned away Leicester’s own penalty appeals with Atleti players accusing Mahrez of diving. He then sent off Leicester’s sports scientist Tom Joel for running around the pitch to give water to Albrighton who had stomach cramps. It was an intense evening.
Atleti had threatened to overwhelm Leicester with Griezmann dropping into space, creating havoc, and he did just that to tee up Koke whose powerful shot beat Schmeichel but cannoned away off the post. More chances came and Yannick Carrasco should have done better than to volley over when Huth’s header fell to him.
Once behind, though, Leicester dug in. Vardy ran hard but only had seven touches before being substituted, and Shakespeare switched formations to 4-1-4-1, with Wilfried Ndidi charged with denying Griezmann space. It worked.
There were more half-chances but too often the Atleti players made the wrong choice – most evident when substitute Angel Correa dribbled through only to cut the ball back to no-one – or were denied by Leicester’s wall of blue shirts and more often than not by Benalouane.
It became ever more edgy. A goal for either side would have transformed the tie while Leicester were enraged by the Atleti bench apparently imploring Eriksson to issue more yellow cards.
“It seemed like they were betting everything on the second leg,” Simeone said of Leicester’s doggedly-defensive approach. Now we will see if the gamble worked.
A view from Atletico
Jan Oblak speaks:
We are happy as well. One -nil is a good result. We are happy with a clean sheet but we know the second game in England will be difficult, We prepared good. We played our game, they played theirs. I'm happy with our team. It was a good game. One-zero is good but it's not sure [decisive]. We are not strong favourites. We play in their home so we need to show we are a good team and we play good football.
Craig Shakespeare speaks
"We would have taken 1-0 before the game but you saw what a good team Madrid are. [The penalty?] It was disappointing. It was a key moment in the game. You can't guess those things. It was a free-kick. We would have had the chance to defend a free-kick not a penalty. [I've just said to Wes Morgan] when we get back to the hotel I've told him to get his kit on and get in the gym [because they need him to be fit now Huth has been suspended]."
Here's those ever popular player ratings
Leicester return to the King Power merely 1-0 down. Atletico deserved to win narrowly but Leicester improved dramatically in the second half and defended with real pluck and skill. The tie's still alive though no one likes a battle quite like Atletico and they were always in control tonight.
Time on ball (at full time)
Average touch positions (full time)
Take a bow Yohan Benalouane who, for the fifth time this half, calmly boots the ball upfield when Juanfran and Koke work a cross.
Correa carves out a golden chance by running in from the left past Simpson. He picks up his head and squares it through the six-yard box but both Griezmann and Kopke make near-post runs and leave the golden opportunity to tap it in at the back stick to go begging.
Fuchs makes a sensible interception to stop Gabi's up and under from reaching Koke.
Mahrez concedes a free-kick on the left then blocks Koke's cross from the dead ball, though not 10 yards. The referee does not penalise him, waves play on and Koke fouls the Player of the Year in exasperation.
Benalouane again to the rescue when a miskick from Fuchs allows Griezmann round the back. He looks up and threads a cross to the near post and Benalouane nips in to hook it behind before it could reach Correa. Again Leicester defend the corner impressively.
'Mono' Burgos is very unhappy with a Leicester member of staff standing in the Atletico coaching area handing out energy sachets to the players. Burgos snitches on him and over comes the ref to banish him to the stands.
King works some space on the right and drives towards the byline. He floats over a deep cross that Albrighton initially wins then loses to Thomas who bombs forward and Leicester opt for discretion and concede a free-kick rather than risk being over-run.
Leicester have defended very well since the break and Albrighton's diligence in tracking back is rewarded with a free-kick when bundled over by Chick Correa.
And they have to thank Benalouane again for a judicious tackle that costs them a throw-in but not a goal when Correa was played in. On comes Slimani for Vardy.
Time on ball (60 - 75 min)
Long spell of midfield possession from Atletico in two phases until Gabi's long ball up for Juanfran is headed clear by Ndidi but back the hosts come, this time up the left.
Slimani is ready to come on for Leicester.
Atletico substitution: Thomas replaces Torres.
Fine move from Atletico with Correa travelling up the left, cuts inside and rolls it to Torres by the D. He opens his body and knocks it out to Griezmann in full flight and expects it back but the No7 curls it through the six-yard box, juts beyond Correa instead.
The change Shakespeare made to move Ndidi deeper has worked so far. They concede another corner by virtue of his tackle but they defend this and a subsequent one well when Huth wins the aerial challenges.
Atletico substitution: Correa replaces Carrasco.
Just saw the footage of some Leicester fans behaving despicably in Madrid. The few idiots ruin it for the decent majority. Sickening.
— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) April 12, 2017
Atletico free-kick on the left after Mahrez taps Carrasco on the ankle. About 15 yards out, wide left. Griezmann hits an outswinger with his left but Ndidi wins the challenge at the edge of the box and Leicester break. The problem is they break in ones and twos. Atletici break back to defend in sevens and eights and Vardy ends up isolated by the byline deep on the left and FilipeLuis holds him off until he concedes a goalkick, though he is sure it was a corner.
Atletico free-kick on the left after Mahrez taps Carrasco on the ankle. About 15 yards out, wide left. Griezmann hits an outswinger with his left but Ndidi wins the challenge at the edge of the box and Leicester break. The problem is they break in ones and twos. Atleti break back to defend in sevens and eights and Vardy ends up isolated by the byline deep on the left and FilipeLuis holds him off until he concedes a goalkick, though he is sure it was a corner.
Torres makes a tremendous run from the inside left to the centre, jinking and cutting a path to goal with his footwork by tying Huth and Benalouane in knots. He shifts the ball to the right of the D at pace and draws back his right leg ... and his standing leg gives way beneath him so he shanks his shot as he falls out towards the corner flag. The run was pure 2009 Torres, the shot pure 2013.
Time on ball (45 - 60 min)
Leicester shout for a penalty when Mahrez throws himself over Gabi's right leg. Their fans whistle but there was naff all contact and the momentum was all Mahrez's. Right decision.
Huth is out of the return leg after dragging Griezmann's shoulder back when he was poised to hurtle away. Yellow card for him, but no tears and he heads the chipped free-kick away.
Atletico break at pace after a second Mahrez thrust up the middle is thwarted. Godin leads the cavalry charge and takes up a fine position to the left of the box for a return pass but Koke gets the angle right but the weight wrong.
Fuchs scuds it in, Gabi heads it out and Simpson scuffs a shot that is blocked and falls to Huth's feet about 12 yards out. His boots fill with concrete and he can't get them going in time to latch on to it, Atletico scramble it out of the box to Mahrez who shovels a hasty shot over the bar.
Koke takes a corner from the left after Torres pinned Leicester into the outside-left channel. But his outswinger goes sailing over the box and Leicester barrel forward in pursuit, winning a throw 25 yards from the Atletico goal.
Good defending again from Drinkwater who has to stand up and be strong because Simpson dived in and let Carrasco slip past him down the left. Drinkwater was not so rash and held off Carrasco until the ball trickled out for a goalkick.
Terrific sliding tackle from Benalouane prevents Torres from shooting as he chased a lovely through ball and was just cocking his leg with lethal intent.
Torres plays a one-two with Griezmann as 'the one' but is fouled before he can knock it round the corner optimally. The ref brings it back for Benalouane's foul and Atletico chip the free-kick to the left of the box. Godin heads it back across but Leicester whack it out for a throw and then Drinkwater crashes a clearance upfield.
Atletico corner on the right but withstood capably by Leicester. Fuchs isn't playing very well tonight.
Leicester fans and players are of the belief that the referee is a 'homer' and there have been a couple of incidents where fouls have been given to Atletico and not to Leicester which have brought his judgment into question.
Nididi seems to have dropped behind the midfield four now so City are playing 4-1-4-1 as opposed to 4-4-1-1.
Okazaki does not return and Andy King comes on.
The penalty in three acts
Leicester go in 1-0 down. Atletico deserve their lead. Now for the outrage about the penalty decision.
Average touch positions (half time)
Time on ball (first half)
Vardy is vexed because he's penalised for shoving Savic over as they chased a route one ball up the left touchline.
Carrasco and Albrighton raise their feet to contest a bouncing ball and Albrighton kicks the underside of Carrasco's boot. Free-kick that is wasted with an airy long punt.
Robbie Savage, who is telling us Sevilla were far more creative than Atletico, is comparing apples with pears as usual seemingly without much understanding of how Atletico play, how they dominate and how secure they look.
Okazaki, who had his toe trodden on a few minutes ago, was limping for a while but seems OK. He takes up a clever position on the left and tries to use his strength to turn Saul who is too forceful for him and eases him off the ball. His clearance falls short and Albrighton, with Mahrez and Okazaki better placed, scuds a low shot wide, screwing it five yards wide.
Koke lets fly from 25 yards. It's as if Atletico had planned for City's deep defensive line and have practised pinging some shots in.
Atlético well on top so far
The home side are starting to cause problems in and around the Leicester penalty area.
Fuchs who looks shaky tonight, misjudges the bounce and lets Saul hare past him and into the box. Ndidi, with a crunching tackle, saves the day.
Leicester are on the back foot and soaking up pressure not entirely convincingly. Savage continues to lambaste the referee for the penalty decision. It was outside but no' but just mind. And it was a damn fool foul.
Excellent tackle by Saul on Vardy stops a Leicester counter. Atletico break and chip it in from the left. Griezmann goes for the flying 'hello sailor' single-foot scorpion kick and doesn't connect.
Time on ball (15 - 30 min)
He takes with his left foot and nonchalantly passes it into the left of the goal. Schmeichel went the wrong way. The penalty came from a Leicester throw on the left 15 yards from the Atletico goal. Fuchs took it long but Simpson stepped too far up and when they couldn't control it left 2/3 of the field empty for Griezmann to ruin into. Albrighton made great ground to put in a challenge and tripped him deliberately ... just outside the box. But no foul and he may well have scored.
Atlético take the lead, and it's Antoine Griezmann with the goal: 1-0.
Penalty to Atletico
Griezmann breaks a full pelt from his own box and is tripped by Albrighton, just outside the box by about two inches.
Albrighton whips in a dangerous cross from the left that, sadly, splits Vardy and Okazaki. It bends in front of Vardy and curls behind Okazaki.
Leicester finally have a shot of their own
Leicester finally register their first shot, but Atlético have already fired in eight so far.
Watching your team play in the quarter finals of the @ChampionsLeague really should be enjoyable. It's actually agonising.
— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) April 12, 2017
It's not been so nail-bitingly tense defensively for City this past three minutes. But you do get the sense that Atletico are straining for that perfect final pass. Leicester knock one long up the outside right and Vardy goes up against Savic for it and sends him flying. Simeone on the touchline does the yellow card mime but the referee is no fan of Give Us A Clue and ignores him.
Better from Leicester who make progress down the right and Simpson chips the ball diagonally into the box towards the penalty spot from 25 yards and Saul clears spectacularly with a bicycle kick.
Benalouane makes a vital intervention when Filipe Luis and Torres combine deep on the left and the Chelsea Champions League winner cuts back a ball for Koke's cute run. Benalouane read the pass and flicked it away from Koke.
Albrighton has to concede a free-kick in the centre-circle to give his side a breather. Atletico curl a long ball up to the left corner of the Leicester box where Gabi heads it softly towards Schmeichel who gathers it without fuss or flourish.
Juanfran on the right is marauding forward and picks out Filipe Luis on the left. Last ditch defending scrambles the ball upfield but a mistake from Fuchs makes a present of the ball to Saul who slices a shot over the bar.
Time on ball (0 - 15 min)
Atlético are dominating the ball so far
Atlético are letting the ball do the work - they've had 160 touches compared to just 70 for Leicester.
Far too much space for Griezmann again who slips past Drinkwater and sprays the ball diagonally from the centre up the inside right channel for Torres. He takes a touch then tries to spear a shot through a thicket of white socks but it takes a deflection and bobbles tamely through to Schmeichel.
Leicester can't track Griezmann though Ndidi is trying. When he slips Griezmann turns him 30 yards out and bullocks towards goal. He draws back his right leg and scoops a shot over the bar.
Raking cross from the left to the far post. Huth isn't tight enough at the back post on Carrasco but he spoons his weak volley wide. It came off his outstep and dribbled wide. There's far too much space for Koke and the centre-backs are miles apart.
Another shot from Koke after Benalouane concedes a free-kick. Again he manages to wriggle free but this is a poked shot from the right. Leicester scramble it away for a corner when Torres turns and tries to fire in the rebound. City push to the edge of the box and defend the corner well.
— Rio Ferdinand (@rioferdy5) April 12, 2017
Atletico break and Koke shakes off Drinkwater and spanks a 25-yard riser against the outside of Schmeichel's right post.
Leicester smother it, shift it up to Okazaki who draws the defender and spins a long pass out to the left where Vardy, on Savic's shoulder, holds him off and turns him to power into the box. There's no one with him and though Mahrez races forward he can't get there in time to shoot. He does retrieve it out by the touchline but Atletico smother the risky cross when instead he had Drinkwater free at the edge of the box.
Ndidi bundles Carrasco over but legally when found by Juanfran by the 18-yard line. Atletico recover possession and cross in from the right but the ball trundles through the box with no one getting a toe to it.
Leicester kick off and knock it long up the left straightaway. Juanfran and Savic mop it up and move forward up the right. The Calderon is in good voice.
Out come the teams
Gabi and Schmeichel exchange pennants. Shoulders are tapped and we're about to begin.
It's Fletcher and Savage, AKA 'Er and Age' or something like that. The greatest double act since Lenny Bennett and Jerry Stevens.
Huth, Slimani, Vardy and Ndidi are all one away from a one-match suspension for Leicester. Jose Maria Gimenez, the Atleti substitute, is the only home player with Clive Thomas breathing down his neck.
Here he is ...
The Swan of Walsall:
"We're relaxed but eager for the game. Can't wait for it to start. I've said be positive but be yourselves. We know what we're about, our identity, what our strengths are but we also have to be aware of what their strengths are. It's a whirlwind [this past two years] and we're just eager for the game to start."
Those teams in the trad style
Atletico Oblak; Juanfran, Godin, Savic, Filipe Luis; Carrasco, Koke, Gabi, Saul; Griezmann, Torres.
Substitutes Moreira, Lucas, Gimenez, Thomas, Cerci, Gaitan, Correa
Leicester City Schemeichel; Simpson, Benalouane, Huth, Fuchs; Mahrez, Drinkwater, Ndidi, Albrighton; Okazaki, Vardy.
Substitutes Zieler, Chilwell, King, Amartey, Slimani, Gray, Ulloa
Referee J Eriksson (Sweden)
Has played in the Uefa Cup back in 2008-09 for St Etienne and started the last four matches for Leicester after waiting 18 months for a Premier League start, the first three of which were won. Unfortunately those of a malicious disposition have also credited him with three assists in Everton's victory on Sunday and some Leicester fans, or so they say on Twitter, AKA Whopper's Trumpet, that they are preparing to view through the gaps between the fingers covering their eyes.
If Yohan Benalouane can start in a Champions League Quarter Final then I can walk on water. https://t.co/Ja1fXsKKER
— Matty (@_MattyEFC) April 12, 2017
Here's Leicester's team
And, as expected, there's a Champions League debut for Yohan Benalouane:
— Leicester City (@LCFC) April 12, 2017
Subs: Zieler, Chilwell, King, Amartey, Slimani, Gray, Ulloa. #AtmLei
— Leicester City (@LCFC) April 12, 2017
Atletico have named their team
And it's as expected, the usual suspects lining up in a 4-4-2.
— Atlético de Madrid (@Atleti) April 12, 2017
Tonight the champions of England come up against Diego Godin, the immovable force, and Leicester's match against Atletico Madrid in the Cup Winners' Cup in 1961-62 was instructive in many ways for City's wing-half and future Arsenal Double-winning captain, Frank McLintock.
It was where, he says, he learnt what "marking the inside of your shirt" means. "Although we had heard horror stories," he told me, "about the lengths some continental defenders would go to - twisting your testicles or jabbing a finger up your backside - I only ever witnessed pinching, hair-pulling, biting and the ubiquitous bumping."
He found the bumping and nudging, designed to be irritating, infuriating because you can never receive a pass or leave the ground to head the ball without being knocked off balance. It originated, he thinks, in Argentina long before the savage "anti-football" of Estudiantes became notorious. In the late 1950s that was where the best strikers were and a way to stop them had gradually evolved. The defenders he faced were urbane and charming off the field, but on it, he says, they were "absolute b-------- to play against".
No team in Europe is so difficult to confront, as this profile of Diego Simeone, a man and his method, illustrates.
They adopt the smothering-with-a-silk-pillow approach defensively, with Gabi, the most influential uncapped player in Europe, in the centre of midfield, snuffing out advances with the air of a man who could extinguish Etna by licking his thumb and forefinger. But they also have the wonderful Antoine Griezmann, Koke, Yannick Carrasco and Saul Niguez who are disciplined in their defensive duties but have the skill and nerve to thunder forward with lethally devastating panache.
Leicester have regained the spirit and quick-wittedness that earned them the title and by virtue of Wilf Ndidi have restored the balance. But they thrive on space and Atletico refuse to surrender any, they use width to get behind the defence while Atletico play compact and narrow and the centre of Leicester's defence is worryingly slow. But hope springs eternal, eh? “Make no mistake, we’re here to compete,” Craig Shakespeare naturally said last night. “We’re not just here to make the numbers up.” They beat Sevilla after all even if Sevilla are nowhere near as tight. Atletico are desperate to win after losing two finals - in extra-time and on penalties respectively to Real Madrid, of all teams, in the past three years.
“Every time we play that competition and hear the anthem, the music brings pain," says Simeone. That’s our motivation.” If the match goes to plan he will be both suffering and inflicting a world of pain tonight.
Too negative? It's being so cheerful as keeps me going.