UCL: Atletico Madrid knock Man United out; Benfica stun Ajax

Atletico Madrid
Atletico Madrid players celebrate after the match. Photo: Reuters/Phil Noble

Atletico Madrid knocked Manchester United out of the Champions League and moved into the quartefinals after a 41st minute header from Brazilian Renan Lodi gave them a 1-0 (2-1 aggregate) win at Old Trafford on Tuesday.

It was a typical display of the kind of gritty defending and swift counter-attacking for which Diego Simeone's Atletico side has been known while United, for all their pressure, were unable to create enough quality opportunities to get themselves the goal they needed.

United are left to focus on a Premier League campaign where they face a real battle to make the top four and earn a place in next year's Champions League.

The Spanish champions may not be favourites to reach the final in Paris on May 28 but none of the teams in the last eight will be hoping to be drawn against them.

Benfica's Darwin Nunez, second left, celebrates scoring the winner against Ajax. Photo: Reuters/Piroschka Van De Wouw

Striker Darwin Nunez headed home a 77th-minute winner as Benfica grabbed a shock 1-0 victory away at Ajax Amsterdam to secure a surprise quarterfinal place.

The Uruguayan striker rose above the Ajax defence to score from a free-kick in a rare attack for the Portuguese club, who put up a stout defensive performance at the Johan Cruyff Arena to advance 3-2 on aggregate.

Benfica's veteran centre back pair of Jan Vertonghen and Nicolas Otamendi were a defensive wall that Ajax were unable to break down, despite dominating possession and constantly attacking the visitors' goal.

The Dutch club had won all their group games and, after a 2-2 draw in the first leg of the last-16 tie in Lisbon last month, were expected to ease through to the last eight with home advantage in the second leg.  

But their hopes of an extended run in the Champions League were brought to a sudden end by Benfica, who have had a poor domestic season.

Fine save

After Saturday's win over Tottenham Hotspur, inspired by a Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick, there was a positive mood around Old Trafford and the night began brightly for United with Anthony Elanga forcing a fine reflex save out of Jan Oblak with a near post flick from a Bruno Fernandes cross.

United's Spanish keeper David de Gea then produced an outstanding diving save to push wide a long range effort from Rodrigo De Paul.

Joao Felix then had the ball in the net, tapping in a cross from Marcos Llorente but the effort was ruled out for offside.

There was no reprieve though for United, though, when after a trademark Atletico counter-attack, a clever flick from Joao Felix found Antoine Griezmann whose cross was nodded in at the back post by Lodi.

United argued that the move had followed a foul on Elanga deep in Atletico's half but referee Slavko Vincic waved away their protests.

Fernandes ended the half with a fierce shot that again tested Oblak to the full and raised hopes among the home support ahead of the second half.

United, as expected, poured forward after the break in search of an equaliser but there was little design or craft to their attacks.

Interim manager Ralf Rangnick threw on forwards as he sought the breakthrough bringing on Marcus Rashford and Edinson Cavani to play up front with Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho.

But his decision to take off Fernandes in the 67th minute left the team short of creativity and their attacks were increasingly just one dimensional charges at the Atletico back line.

Captain Harry Maguire was taken off, to cheers from the home support, as Rangnick threw on Spanish winger Juan Mata but the nearest United came to an equaliser was a fine header from Raphael Varane that had Oblak at full stretch.

It was scrappy and at times cynical from Atletico in the latter stages but their disciplined defence held firm for the victory that sends them into the last eight.

"We want to go far in the competition and it's incredible to still be in it. It's important for us to still be in the Champions League in what's an up-and-down season," said midfielder Koke.

"For me, Jan Oblak is the best goalkeeper in the world. He's shown it once again tonight."

Rangnick was upset with the refereeing of the game but had few complaints about his team's performance.

"I think we played a very good first half - exactly the way we wanted to play with a high energy level but we couldn't convert that into one or two goals," he said.

"Conceding that counter-attacking goal just before halftime didn't make life any easier. It was hard in the second half and always interrupted. There was always somebody lying on the floor.

"I would also say some curious refereeing decisions. I wouldn't say they were decisive but at least he fell too often for those time-wasting antics."

The comments posted here/below/in the given space are not on behalf of Onmanorama. The person posting the comment will be in sole ownership of its responsibility. According to the central government's IT rules, obscene or offensive statement made against a person, religion, community or nation is a punishable offense, and legal action would be taken against people who indulge in such activities.