Atletico Madrid’s resurgence continued on Wednesday just a year after they were forced to sell leading scorer Radamel Falcao to reduce their huge debts as they eliminated Barcelona to reach the Champions League semi-finals for the first time in 40 years.
A goal by Koke – who has been with the club since he was eight-years-old – saw them beat Barcelona 1-0 on the night and progress 2-1 on aggregate and perhaps also register a changing of the guard at the top of Spanish and European football.
Bayern Munich – bidding to become the first team to successfully defend their title – also reached the last four beating Manchester United 3-1, to go through 4-2 on aggregate.
They join United’s Premier League rivals Chelsea – who beat Paris Saint Germain on Tuesday – and Atletico’s city rivals Real, victors over last season’s beaten finalists Borussia Dortmund, in Friday’s draw.
Atletico – who last beat Barcelona four years ago – came roaring out of the blocks and got the only goal of the game through Koke, his first in this season’s tournament, in the fifth minute.
Atletico, who are also top of La Liga in a three-way battle with Barca and Real, could have been 3-0 up after 15 minutes as former Barcelona striker David Villa hit the woodwork on two occasions.
Barcelona were largely contained by Atletico and star player Lionel Messi had an especially torrid night as he failed to score against Atletico for the sixth successive game.
For Atletico coach Diego Simeone – who last year was forced to sell Falcao for 60 million euros ($A89 million) when their debt was officially estimated at 170 million euros ($A252 million) but some experts said it was up to 300 million euros ($A445 million) – it was another significant victory.
“We maintain the same humility. We understand that the other teams (in the semi-finals) have been there far more than Atletico Madrid,” said Simeone.
It is the second time that Atletico and Real have reached the semi-finals of European club football’s most prestigious tournament in the same season – 1959 being the previous occasion, and is only the fourth time clubs from the same city have reached the last four.
AC Milan and Inter Milan in 2003 and London duo Arsenal and Chelsea in 2009 being the others.
For 22-year-old Koke, who made his senior debut at 17, it was an emotional night.
“This team has no limits and we must keep on making the fans dream,” Koke said.
While Bayern dominated possession in Munich it was United who took the lead through a spectacular long range effort from an unlikely source French fullback Patrice Evra.
However, their joy was not to last long as Bayern went down the other end and Mario Mandzukic headed an equaliser.
Further goals from Thomas Mueller and Arjen Robben ensured their place in the last four.
“It was important that we got the equaliser quickly, now we have just one more opponent before the Lisbon final,” Robben said.
For United manager David Moyes it will do little to allay speculation over his future which will see the team end without silverware and even struggling to qualify for next season’s Europa League.
“We contained them for long periods of time, but it wasn’t to be,” Moyes said.