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Atleti through to Champions League quarter-finals after penalties

torres-backAtletico Madrid progressed to the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals for the second successive season after squeezing past Bayer Leverkusen 3-2 on penalties after the scores were locked at 1-1 on aggregate.

The Spanish La Liga champions won 1-0 on the night thanks to Mario Suarez’s deflected first-half strike in 120 minutes short on clear-cut chances. And after a topsy turvy shootout including five missed penalties, Stefan Kiessling blazed Leverkusen’s final effort over the bar to hand Atletico a place in the last eight.

Atletico coach Diego Simeone sprung a huge surprise prior to kick-off by handing on-loan Villarreal midfielder Cani his full debut at the expense of captain Gabi. Mario Mandzukic was also recalled up front at the expense of Fernando Torres, but it was at the other end where the Croatian proved his worth early on as he cleared a shot from Son Heung-Min off his own line after Atletico struggled to clear a Leverkusen corner.

The Korean had an even better chance moments later as the Germans counter-attacked with menace, but a poor touch allowed Miguel Angel Moya to scurry from his goal and collect the loose ball. That was to be Moya’s last involvement as he limped off with an injury to be replaced by Jan Oblak.

However, fortune favoured the home side 27 minutes in when Suarez’s shot from Cani’s cushioned header was deflected past the helpless Bernd Leno. Mandzukic then had a huge chance to put last season’s beaten finalists ahead in the tie when he latched onto Arda Turan’s through ball, but he was caught for pace by Wendell and the Brazilian full-back made a fine last-ditch challenge.

The visitors ended the first 45 minutes the better and only a fine interception from Miranda prevented them from having a goal to show for it as he cut out Wendell’s dangerous low cross with Leverkusen bodies waiting to add the final touch.

Cani’s Cameo ended at the break as he was replaced by Raul Garcia, but despite a positive start to the second period from Atletico, chances were had to come by for both sides. Karim Bellarabi tested Oblak from distance with an effort from distance that the Slovenian comfortably held, whilst Arda Turan volleyed over Griezmann’s cross at the other end.

Turan came close again ten minutes from time when he was found by another neat pass from Griezmann, but this time his driven effort was beaten away by Leno. Torres was introduced for Mandzukic seven minutes from end of normal time, but it was Garcia who had the best chance to win the game when his fierce strike was turned behind by Leno early in the second period of extra time.

However, despite a fine save from Koke in the shootout, Leno couldn’t stop Atletico from progressing as Hakan Calhanoglu, Omer Toprak and Kiessling all fluffed their lines from the spot.