MADRID – Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone hailed “aggressive” striker Diego Costa after the Spain international fired his side to a 1-0 win over Arsenal on Thursday, taking them into the Europa League final with a 2-1 aggregate victory.
Atletico splashed out 57 million euros (£50.24 million) to bring Costa back from Chelsea last year and he repaid some of that fee by breaking the deadlock at the end of the first half at the Wanda Metropolitano.
Bursting into the box to meet a pass from Antoine Griezmann, the Brazilian-born forward shrugged off the challenge of his marker before lifting the ball over Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina.
“Costa came back here for nights like this – to be important, to lead from the front,” Simeone told a news conference.
“This side needs an aggressive striker, a striker with anger, and that’s exactly what he is.”
Simeone’s side will meet Olympique de Marseille in the final in Lyon on May 16.
Atletico have reached four European finals since Simeone took over in 2012 but this was the first time they had won a semi-final at their new 68,000-capacity stadium, which they moved into last year after 51 seasons at the Vicente Calderon.
Speaking alongside his long-time assistant coach German ‘Mono’ Burgos, who took his place in the dugout as Simeone was serving a touchline ban, Simeone said the second leg victory would make their new stadium feel like a true home.
“History is made in these kinds of games. Stadiums need to be fortresses and they only become them after big games and big wins like tonight,” Simeone said.
“Tonight I felt how the atmosphere helped the team. The fans were with us every step of the way. They knew the team needed them and it’s one of the first pages we’ve written in the history of the Metropolitano.”
Simeone led Atletico to the 2012 Europa League title by beating Athletic Bilbao in the final but his side lost the 2014 and 2016 Champions League finals to city rivals Real Madrid.
The Argentine praised his side for how they responded to having defender Sime Vrsaljko sent off early on in the first leg, battling back from a goal down to draw 1-1 with the help of some outstandings saves from Slovenian goalkeeper Jan Oblak.
“We are delighted to be in the final, we’ve wanted to be back in a final ever since the last one,” Simeone added.
“The side responded so well last week, they suffered, Oblak had a great game but that’s what you need on these big occasions. You need big players to stand up and be counted and the team were up there with him at that level.”- Reuters