Atletico Madrid claimed their 10th La Liga crown on Saturday and first in 18 years after coming from behind to draw 1-1 away against title rivals Barcelona.
Alexis Sanchez’s stunning strike fired Barca into the lead on 33 minutes, but Diego Godin’s header four minutes into the second half was enough to give Atletico the point they needed to become the first side other than Barca and Real Madrid to win the league in 10 years.
A point for both sides means that the Catalan side finish the season ahead of third-placed Real thanks to a better head-to-head record, but still three adrift of los Colchoneros.
“There is an enormous feeling of happiness that you cannot explain,” Atletico boss Diego Simeone said. “I want to thank the players and the people that always believed in us. There is no replacement for hard work. The team has understood that, done the work and today is one of the most important days in the history of Atletico Madrid.”
Goal hero Godin said Simeone had fueled his players’ belief that they could win even when they were trailing at half-time.
“The boss told us at half time that we were going to score a goal. In the end, football has been fair to us,” he told Canal Plus.
The draw was a disappointing end to an even more disappointing season that has seen Barca fail to win a major trophy for the first time in six years, prompting coach Gerardo Martino to resign on Saturday after just one season in charge.
Prior to squandering the chance to draw level with Atletico on 89 points by beating them on Saturday — which would have given the Catalans the title due to their superior head-to-head record — Barca failed to reach the last four of the Champions League for the first time in seven years after being knocked out by los Colchoneros in the quarter-finals.
“I would like to thank the club for putting their confidence in me and I am sorry that I was unable to deliver,” Martino told a news conference. “The team fought to the end with lots of dignity. I would like to congratulate Atletico they have done very well all through the season.”
Former Barca player Luis Enrique is the favorite to replace Martino, having resigned as Celta de Vigo’s coach on Friday.
“Congratulations to Atletico. They are deserving champions,” Barca midfielder Andres Iniesta said. “We had our chances until the final game, but they have been better and there is nothing more to say. We are hurt to lose the league in the final game. We depended on ourselves to win and we haven’t done, so there is great disappointment because if we had managed to do it the feeling would be very different.”
The visitors started brightly at the Camp Nou, but were dealt a huge blow after 15 minutes when top scorer Diego Costa pulled up with a recurring hamstring injury that makes him a huge doubt for Atletico’s Champions League final against Real Madrid next Sunday.
Arda Turan was then forced off with a hip injury and Adrian Lopez and Raul Garcia entered the fray.
Barca grew into the game as the half developed and could have gone ahead, but Pedro Rodriguez wastefully headed over Dani Alves’ precise cross from the right.
When the Catalan club did go in front just after the half hour it was in spectacular fashion as Lionel Messi cushioned the ball into Sanchez’s path and, despite the narrow angle, the Chilean managed to thrash the ball past Thibaut Courtois.