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Iñako Díaz-Guerra | 15/02/2013
I thought I'd seen it all in the Calderón. I also thought that normality had returned, a sense of calm. Then I saw what I've never seen before. Following an already frustrating game with Atlético constantly banging their heads against a brick wall - or a green wall - that was Rubin's defence, Simeone decided to send Asenjo up for a corner with the score at 0-1. It was the dying seconds of added time, and almost as if there were no return leg in Moscow to claw back the deficit. After that it descended into the absurd, the kind of tragicomedy that often leaves the team, and unfortunately its fans, the butt of many jokes.
Let's just say the Asenjo's presence didn't exactly strike fear into the Rubin defence. The danger was cleared without further ado and as Ermenko picked up the ball and looked up he saw the whole expanse of the Calderón pitch open up before him - between him and the goal 80 metres and just one enemy, Juanfran, who in the end became more of a friend as for some reason he failed to force the foul. Eremenko gratefully fed Orbaiz and then it was a direct sprint as two Atleti players were in pursuit. Maybe even Monty Python would've struggled to dream up such a goal. A 0-1 defeat and a 0-2 defeat are worlds apart.
'El Cholo' Simeone took responsibility after the match and said that it was him that decided to take the risk. Noble and true, yes, but also reckless. Risk is to start with Asenjo and Cata, one that lacks rhythm and the other without a time machine. It took Rubin Kazan, a strong opponent, six minutes to take advantage - Karadeniz, Eremenko and Rondón combined before the Venezuelan pulled the trigger and the ball was spilled by Asenjo. Karadeniz pounced on the loose ball to leave Atlético almost looking up a certain creek without a paddle.
Atletico certainly didn't have a paddle. If Falcao and Arda are the stars, Gabi and Diego Costa are the soul, without which pressure just fizzles away. Mario Suárez, Adrián, Cebolla, all had a point to prove. The first half belonged to the side from Russia, though the tide looked to be turning with the dismissal of Sharonov, for two yellow cards, on the stroke of half time. Atleti began to see a distant glimmer of light.
Rubin, a man down and with two months since their last competiteive game, changed tack and closed down their area. Although there was more urgency to Atlético's game, the numerical advantage wasn't enough to paper over the cracks. Arda is the only player able to manoeuvre in tight spaces so their only chance was to play a pressing game in the opposition's half. Despite their great season, at this point they looked to be running out of gas and were just lacking that touch of quality.
The second half revolved around putting the ball in the box and hoping. Ryzhikov, an unusual but resolute keeper, played his part on two fronts: making saves and wasting time in front of some wayward refereeing. And when he wasn't around, it was left to Adrián and Cebolla to waste glorious chances in front of an open goal. Quite possibly a night to forget; until Atleti made it eternal... and not in a good way.
IMAGEN: El campeón se autoinmola