Thu, Mar 13, 2014 - Page 20 News List

Diego Costa leads Atletico to quarter-finals

AP, MADRID

Diego Costa’s breakout season continued to be the catalyst to Atletico Madrid’s success as they beat AC Milan 4-1 on Tuesday to reach the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time since 1997.

Costa added two more goals to his season tally, jumping high to stab home at the far post following a Milan turnover just three minutes into a raucous contest at the capacity Vicente Calderon Stadium.

Kaka gave Milan some hope by canceling out the opener in the 27th only to rue a glaring miss moments before Arda Turan volleyed over Milan goalkeeper Christian Abbiati to put Atletico back in front.

With Milan striker Mario Balotelli ineffective, Atletico choked their opponent with constant pressure after the restart and slowly began to pull away with Raul Garcia heading home, before Costa completed the 5-1 aggregate win with his 29th goal of the season.

Milan’s exit left Europe’s top-tier tournament without an Italian team in the last eight.

Atletico’s near 50,000 fans provided the Spanish club with extra pep throughout, but especially at the start, when the hosts dominated a Milan team that seemed a step behind.

“I’m happy because this is a group of men who interpret football in an extraordinary way,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. “They have incredible passion for our play. We played the game we needed to, especially at the start.”

Michael Essien was particularly exposed by Atletico’s speed, and his turnover led Koke to set up Costa for the acrobatic opener.

Milan began to dominate possession and bounced back into the contest. Despite a weak effort from Balotelli, Milan made Atletico pay for its lethargic play as Kaka reached Andrea Poli’s cross at the far post to head off defender Juanfran Torres and beyond goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

Kaka should have made it 2-1 after another defensive lapse by Atletico, but the Brazilian headed over while alone in the box.

That miss proved costly as Turan chested the ball down in the 40th for a quick volley that took a deflection and dipped over Abbiati.

“The second goal killed us, the players lost a lot from that,” said Milan coach Clarence Seedorf, whose team’s poor domestic season means they are unlikely to return to the competition next season. “Mentally we couldn’t recover after that.”

Balotelli’s frustration got the better of him as he was booked for protesting before half-time, the Italy striker looking sullen and adrift of his teammates for most of the match.

All of Atletico’s players seemed to be contributing as the Spanish upstarts also thrived off the boot of Diego Costa.

“If I am where I am, it’s because the team helped get me here. I could never have achieved this on my own,” Costa said after taking his Champions League tally to seven goals. “I just try to help the team.”

Garcia rose high to nod home a free kick in the 70th, before Costa capped the rout with the Spain striker dragging the loose ball between Milan defenders before setting up to cut a low shot beyond Abbiati.

“To score four goals against Milan is never easy,” Simeone said. “No doubt the quarters will be difficult so now we have to rest and regroup without losing our intensity.”

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