Catalan powerhouses Barcelona were surprisingly eliminated from the Champions League last night by Spanish rivals Atletico Madrid, while Bayern Munich also booked a semi-finals berth.
The Camp Nou side have been in scintillating form over the last 18 months and were hot favorites to retain the European crown they won last season.
Luis Enrique’s men claimed a momentous treble in 2014-15 but their hopes of replicating the feat came unstuck at the Vicente Calderon on Wednesday night.
An Antoine Griezmann double gave Atletico a 2-0 victory on the night and 3-2 aggregate win over Barca, sending the capital city faithful into rapture.
— Atleti English (@atletienglish) April 14, 2016
The visitors held a slender 2-1 lead from the first leg and were put on the back foot when the hosts opened the scoring through the France international forward.
As Barca looked for an equalizer that would surely send them through, Griezmann added a second from the penalty spot in the 88th minute to double the advantage.
Diego Simeone’s men valiantly held out against the collective ability of the visiting forward line, containing Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez, and will now hope to go all the way and become European champions.
The #UCL semi-final lineup is complete…
Congrats, Atlético and Bayern! pic.twitter.com/WS2FyCy0Lo
— Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) April 13, 2016
However, controversy struck in the dying moments when a late handball from Atletico midfield stalwart Gabi was ruled to be just outside the penalty box, with Barcelona remonstrating that they should have been awarded a spot kick.
Messi fired the resultant 91st minute free-kick off target and Simeone’s men held on to book their place in the last four.
Meanwhile in Portugal, Bayern Munich drew 2-2 with an able Benfica side to progress through to the latter stages, winning 3-2 on aggregate.
The Bundesliga giants had won the first leg in Bavaria 1-0 and the tie was evened up in the early stages at the Estadio da Luz when Raul Jimenez struck.
— FC Bayern English (@FCBayernEN) April 14, 2016
However, goals from Arturo Vidal and Thomas Muller put the Allianz Arena side back in the ascendancy and despite a Talisca equalizer the Germans had enough in their locker to hold out.
With Pep Guardiola leaving Bayern at the end of the season, the distinguished coach will hope to add European glory to his spate of Bundesliga titles from the last three years.
Barcelona’s elimination rules out another Clasico encounter in the semi-finals, while all four of the remaining sides will be given renewed optimism of competition glory now that the ominous Catalans are no longer a threat.
Guardiola faces the possibility of being paired with the club he will manage next season, Manchester City, in the final stages, while Real Madrid will hope to salvage their season by winning an unprecedented 11th European crown.
The draw for the semi-finals will take place on Friday, with City, Madrid, Atletico and Bayern all eagerly awaiting their next challenge.
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