MADRID (AP) - A match more than two years ago is keeping Atletico Madrid hopeful of a comeback against Real Madrid in the Champions League semifinals.
Atletico needs to overturn a 3-0 loss from the first leg on Wednesday, but it wasn’t too long ago that fans at the Vicente Calderon Stadium witnessed the type of feat that can put Atletico in the final.
It was on a Saturday afternoon in February 2015 that Atletico had one of its greatest victories over Madrid, a 4-0 rout in the Spanish league.
“Hopefully that will be repeated,” Atletico captain Gabi Fernandez said on Tuesday. “We will play against a very dangerous rival, but we are convinced that we can do it.”
That league game marked Atletico’s only win over Madrid by a difference of three goals in the last four decades, but it’s what has been giving many fans and players some hope ahead of the team’s difficult task at the Calderon.
“We already beat them by four goals in the Calderon, with Cristiano (Ronaldo) playing and all,” Atletico midfielder Jorge “Koke” Resurreccion said after the first leg. “You never know what’s going to happen in soccer, just ask Paris Saint-Germain. We are going to keep fighting.”
The Spanish teams remain very similar to what they looked like in that encounter in 2015.
At the time, Atletico was already touted as the third force in Spanish soccer under coach Diego Simeone, and three of the goals scored on that cold day in the Spanish capital came from players still on the team - Tiago Cardoso, Saul Niguez and Antoine Griezmann. The other goal was scored by Mario Mandzukic, who now plays for Juventus.
A repeat of that performance would be just what Atletico needs this time. It was in control from the start and scored early goals to take a 2-0 lead by the 17th minute, then added the third not long after halftime and closed the scoring a few minutes from the end.
A 3-0 win by Atletico on Wednesday would send the game into extra time and, possibly, a penalty shootout.
Madrid had nine starters in 2015 who are still on the current team, including Toni Kroos, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Ronaldo, who scored a hat trick in the first leg last week to give his team a commanding advantage going into Wednesday’s game.
“It’s going to be very difficult, but this is soccer,” Simeone said. “Unexpected things can happen and we will fight until the last drop of hope. We will try to do something impossible, but we are Atletico Madrid and we just might be able to do it.”
Atletico is trying to avoid losing to Madrid for the fourth straight season in the Champions League. It had heart-breaking losses in the finals in 2014 and 2016, and also was eliminated in the 2015 quarterfinals.
“It’s very difficult to overturn this result but we will keep believing until the end because that’s our mentality and we will be playing with our fans behind us,” Atletico defender Stefan Savic said.
Regardless of the outcome, it should be an emotional game for the home crowd at the Calderon. Atletico will be playing its last European game at the stadium before moving into a new venue next season. Atletico has won 29 of its last 35 European games at home, with only two losses. It hasn’t lost in 10 straight home games in European competitions.
“The fans have always been with us in the most difficult moments and it’s not going to be any different this time,” Niguez said. “We have to give everything we have for them.”
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