- Associated Press - Thursday, March 16, 2017

MADRID (AP) - Atletico Madrid made it through to the quarterfinals of the Champions League this year, and now it has a chance to close in on ensuring a spot in next season’s tournament.

Atletico is in fourth place in the Spanish league and faces third-place Sevilla on Sunday. Only the top three finishers get automatic Champions League spots.

“Now the most important objective is Sevilla,” Atletico forward Antoine Griezmann said Wednesday after the team drew 0-0 with Bayer Leverkusen and advanced.

Victory at Vicente Calderon Stadium this weekend will move Atletico within two points of Sevilla with 10 matches to play. It would be a major achievement considering the team was nine points behind Sevilla at the beginning of the month, when its biggest concern was not losing fourth place to Real Sociedad.

The timing of Sunday’s game couldn’t be better for Atletico with Sevilla reeling from disappointing setbacks both in the league and the Champions League.

Sevilla, which lost to English champion Leicester on Tuesday, had already been held to 1-1 draws against Alaves and relegation-threatened Leganes in the league. Sevilla is three points behind Barcelona and five points behind leader Real Madrid, which has a game in hand.

“We have to accept that we are going through a bad moment,” Sevilla defender Adil Rami said. “We have to lament and then try to come back in good form. We have to return to the Champions League.”

Advancing in the Champions League had been Sevilla’s main goal this season after winning three straight titles in the Europa League.

Atletico, which made it to two Champions League finals in the last three seasons and won the Spanish league in 2014, is trying to re-establish itself as the third force in Spanish soccer after a difficult start this season. It led the league for a couple of weeks, but wasn’t able to remain consistent and quickly lost ground.

Atletico is coming off victories over Valencia and Granada, but it hasn’t beaten Sevilla at home since 2014. The teams have drawn three of the last six games between them, and Sevilla won 1-0 when they met in the league earlier this season.

“We are enjoying our moment among the top teams and we know that from now on every match will be very difficult,” Atletico forward Angel Correa said. “We have to start focusing on Sunday’s game because it’s going to be like a final for us.”

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

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