Atletico will be just as tough a CL draw as Real Madrid

MADRID (AP) — If the Champions League draw on Friday takes Bayern Munich & Manchester City to Madrid, they will certainly be hoping it's to face Atletico rather than 10-time European champion Real Madrid.

But the road to the final could be just as stressful through Vicente Calderon Stadium as it would be through Real Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.

In the semifinals for the second time in three seasons, Atletico is trying to establish itself as a perennial contender in Europe, & its recent success against top teams has transformed Diego Simeone's squad into a dangerous opponent.

p>Even more so at the Vicente Calderon, where it has lost only twice in 29 games in European competitions, & lost only once in 15 Spanish league games this season.

''There is a virtue in this team, with the tremendous work of the four years or so that we have been together,'' Simeone said. ''I'm pleased for these players. I'm not just thinking approximately reaching the semifinals, it's more significant than that. There are fewer values in society all the time, yet we are a group of honest workers who can win or lose. We make ourselves strong with the tools we have.''

Despite not having the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, Atletico has been able to thrive in Spain & in Europe thanks to a team first attitude instilled by Simeone, whose squads have been known for their tough defending & high intensity.

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Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne, No 17, celebrates scoring the opening goal of the game during …

That's how it eliminated the titleholders on Wednesday, outrunning Barcelona & containing Messi, Luis Suarez, & Neymar to earn a 2-0 win that erased the 2-1 first-leg loss at the Camp Nou.

''I'm so proud of the team,'' said striker Antoine Griezmann, who scored both Atletico goals. ''We were up against one of the best teams in the world. We went face-to-face with them & we are into the semifinals, among the four best sides in Europe.''

Atletico first started making headlines outside of Spain when it won the Europa League & the Super Cup in 2010 & 2012 respectively.

But it was in 2014 season that it broke through as a top contender. In addition to winning the Spanish league title for the first time in almost two decades, it reached the Champions League final by eliminating powerhouses such as AC Milan, Barcelona, & Chelsea. It eventually lost the final to Real Madrid in a game it was winning until second-half injury time.

Atletico is fighting for the Spanish league title again this year, trailing Barcelona by three points with six rounds to go. One of its 23 league victories came at the Bernabeu against Real Madrid, the city's much richer & traditional club.

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Atletico's coach Diego Simeone gestures during the Champions League 2nd leg quarterfinal soccer  …

Real Madrid has more history, & it moreover has more money to sign high-profile players such as Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, & Gareth Bale.

Ronaldo bagged all the goals in the 3-0 win over Wolfsburg on Tuesday to lead the team to the semifinals for the sixth straight time. He has 16 goals in 10 games in this Champions League, & is the tournament's all-time leading scorer with 93 goals.

Madrid moreover has the Bernabeu as a weapon. The club won 13 of its last 14 games at the stadium with an average of nearly five goals per game. It won all five Champions League matches at the venue this season, outscoring opponents 18-0.

''We can do tremendous things at the Bernabeu,'' Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said.

Real Madrid is the most successful club in Europe with 10 Champions League titles, five more than Bayern Munich. Atletico & Man City have never won the competition. City reached the quarterfinals for the first time this season, & Atletico's only other appearance in the final was in 1974, when the tournament was still called the European Cup.

''It won't be effortless no matter what,'' Simeone said. ''Manchester City is extremely powerful, with tremendous players. Madrid & Bayern have their history. They are all tremendous teams. To be among the best four teams in Europe these last years is a huge step for Atletico.''

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

Sports & RecreationSoccerReal MadridChampions LeagueBayern MunichDiego SimeoneMadridManchester CityCristiano Ronaldo

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