Club Atlético de Madrid have an eye on the UEFA Youth League final after edging into the last eight following a real test from an Arsenal FC side with lessons to learn.
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Club Atlético de Madrid coach Armando De La Morena paid tribute to his side's performance and character after they resisted a late Arsenal FC surge to advance to the UEFA Youth League quarter-finals.
Having scored from their first attack of the game, through Amath Diedhiou, the Spanish hosts were slowly pegged back and after being reduced to ten men they were rocking in the closing stages. "The lads did an enormous job; they played a very solid game and put in a lot of effort," De La Morena told UEFA.com.
"It is a unique experience for them, a move towards the next step and senior level. We knew we were up against a big team with great players. We were lucky to score at the beginning, then we had two or three chances to make it 2-0 but we didn't take them. We suffered towards the end because they are a good side."
Atlético lost in the round of 16 last season and their bid to go one better could not have had a better start. In their first foray forward, a strong run down the left from Tete Morente set up Diedhiou, who rifled in from the edge of the box. Skipper Andrés Mohedano missed a gilt-edged opportunity to double the lead, and slowly but surely the visitors rallied in this one-off tie in Majadahonda.
"We started a bit nervously," admitted Arsenal manager Steve Gatting. "I think the goal probably came because of our nerves and that suited [Atlético] Madrid. Then, to be fair to them, they sat back and defended well."
Kaylen Hinds and Ainsley Maitland-Niles went close as Arsenal ramped up the pressure after half-time, with Theo's 84th-minute dismissal giving the Rojiblancos another headache. In the end, though, Gatting said his charges came up just short. "We were playing the last 16 of the Champions League; margins are small, the half-chances we didn't take, the final balls at times weren't good enough.
"Of course we're disappointed that we lost, and we're disappointed because we played well. We look back and we were probably the better team over the 90 minutes, but we lost and that's the reality of European football. Hopefully that's something the boys will learn from."
For Atleti it is onwards and upwards, with the winner of the Chelsea FC v FC Zenit match next up in the quarter-finals. De La Morena is not settling for that, however. "Our objective is to reach the final in Nyon and to win it. We are Atlético Madrid and we will do our best to make it – for the club, for the fans and for all that we represent."