Diego Simeone hailed the heart of Atletico Madrid after they stunned Barcelona 3-2 to reach the Spanish Super Cup final in Saudi Arabia.
Goals from Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann had cancelled out Koke’s opener and put Ernesto Valverde’s side on course for victory entering the final 10 minutes at the King Abdullah Stadium.
Yet Alvaro Morata held his nerve from the penalty spot and Angel Correa turned the semi-final tie around with an 86th-minute winner to set up a derby showdown with Real Madrid on Sunday.
All five strikes occurred in the second half and the win for Atletico was their first over Barca since April 13, 2016.
“We played a tough game, we started well in the first 10 minutes and then they were superior,” said Simeone, in quotes reported by Mundo Deportivo.
“We always have the plan of trying to play our game, but the opponent is very good. Messi had one more step. When he had the ball it seemed that something was going to happen.
“We talked at half-time and we started with that goal that gave us strength, but they quickly got level with us.
“The two goals came and two disallowed (for Barca), and with it a disturbing offensive game rhythm. Changing (Marcos) Llorente and the position of Correa up front gave us more options.
“And in the 76th minute another team was seen, with strong legs, which showed that we could win.”
The introduction of Koke at the break was inspired, with the Atletico captain scoring almost immediately after he entered the pitch.
VAR was prominent throughout, with Messi having one goal ruled out for handball and Gerard Pique denied after Arturo Vidal was deemed offside.
Another goal disallowed by the VAR! By a hair! 🤦♂️ pic.twitter.com/GX3hQJd4W6
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) January 9, 2020
Atletico also felt they should have had a penalty and despite the technology looking at a potential handball from Pique, nothing was given.
Barca forward Griezmann was quoted by AS as saying: “We have VAR to help football. Sometimes it helps you and sometimes it goes against you, but it is what it is.”
The former Atletico star added: “In the same way I can’t explain our mistakes, and in the end they had more energy and it cost us. We have to watch the game back, work and improve.
“I failed to make the pass to (Samuel) Umtiti. Little things like that can result in you losing a match, a league, a Champions League. We will work and that’s it.”
Simeone is now preparing his team to take on Real, with Zinedine Zidane’s team having had 24 hours more rest than Atletico after their 3-1 success over Valencia on Wednesday.
But the Argentinian commented: “We are going to play a final against a team that made a fantastic match, even with the absence of (Gareth) Bale and (Karim) Benzema.
“They responded in a very good way, with a very nice game. Madrid has mobility, speed and precision. They play to win. Sunday will be a tough game.”