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Pablo Bargueño | 06/12/2012
Groggy after the derby, or stunned by the Czech cold, this wasn't a good European night for Atlético, who were looking to seal their spot as group leaders but left Plzen with their legs frost-bitten and second place in their bags. Poor stuff from Simeone's lot. Today the rotations didn't function, and Viktoria did just enough to win: they threw a smidgen of wood onto the fire and made the flames count before they died away. The one person who really was fired up, again, was Diego Costa, who ended up being sent off for a head butt on an opposing player.
It seemed like being first in the group, and the extra prize money of 400,000 euros that went along with it, were small bait for Atlético in the first half. The team from the Spanish capital needed heat, and Emre and Raúl García to make this B team decent in the frozen Mesta de Plzen Stadium. It didn't happen in the first 45.
With the mercury registering temperatures below zero Viktoria showed themselves to be more up for the clash and didn't take long to threaten Asenjo's area. Reznik had the first chance after four minutes, from a move up the right, which turned out to be the host's most direct form of attack in the first few moves of the game. Whilst it may not have been a mother lode of opportunities, it did give them movement and energy to create more chances, such as a good cross from Rajtoral which Bakos met timidly in the 10th minute.
Given that the Atlético midfield was made up of ice statues it was left to the others to display some football. Much was expected of the Academy player Manquillo, but having started well he got worse as the game progressed. He had a good run early doors, from which no-one expected him to put in such a good cross, which of course went a-begging. In the meantime Viktoria were now unable to hold onto the ball, but didn't look particularly troubled, given the lack of boldness from the visitors.
In the 26th minute Duris, who had gone mostly unnoticed forced a corner. And Viktoria took full advantage. Prochazka was unmarked for the home team, and he was allowed to pick his spot.
Adrián and Diego Costa were clearly stung by the goal, and didn't think the cold was sufficient excuse for the lack of effort and began to work their socks off. Between the two of them they made two clear chances, both using the same idea: Adrián, with movement and space setting up the fluid running of the Brazilian, with a ball behind the back line. Diego Costa failed to convert both chances however.
Viktoria, still more involved in the game, left their attacking to the veteran Horvath, a footballer in the old style. 37 years old, with quality but zero physical presence. Before the break Kolar managed a shot inside the box after a pass from Rajtoral, who switched sides in the second half, but never dropped his pace.
In the second half Viktoria weren't absolutely comfortable, but they were mostly untroubled, especially taking into account the club they were up against. Simeone, not a man known for his lack of emotion, was not best pleased with the lack of intensity from his players, and he decided to sacrifice Juanfran and bring on Koke in the 58th minute, with the idea of bringing a spark to the visitor's play.
At first the change had an effect, especially with a spectacular shot from the young player, which just went over. But it was Adrián, for his movement and general ability one of the best players on the park, who gave Diego Costa his third golden chance at goal. This time the Brazilian received the ball in space, on the run, at the top of the box, but Kozacik saved to avoid it going to 1-1.
In the last part of the game Atleti faded away, and Viktoria could have scored their second, especially from down the left, where they launched several attacks that culminated in crosses that troubled Asenjo. But there was still time for a moment of madness from Diego Costa. After his rushes of blood to the head in the Bernabeu, the Brazilian once again lost the plot. In the 90th minute, after a cross from Saúl, the referee blew for a clear foul by Costa on the keeper Kozacik. Whilst a Viktoria player was debating the incident with Saúl, Diego Costa came steaming in, and bowled him over with his head. Red card.
It will never be known why Atlético failed to turn up tonight. Still smarting from Saturday's derby? The hammer blow of the cold of a Czech night? A lack of motivation? Maybe first place and a few extra euros just aren't enough to interest the players. You decide. The fact is Atlético finish second and will play a group winner or one of the teams that drop out of the Champions League.