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'You don't explain this, you live it': Spanish press on Atlético's victory | Football

“Suffering: that’s the slogan of Atlético Madrid,” João Félix said when at last it was all over, everyone still trying to work out what the hell had happened. “We’re very tired,” he added and it showed: you could see it on their faces, disbelief and exhaustion, even shock, beyond the smiles at the end of a night they still couldn’t explain. Diego Simeone looked shattered but, like his players, he was still standing. “This was a game that will go down in history, against an extraordinary opponent in a beautiful stadium,” Atlético’s manager said, “we held on, and held on, and held on …”

And then, somehow, Marcos Llorente appeared. The first time Simeone had set off, he had been stopped in his tracks, Saúl Ñíguez’s header ruled offside, the manager’s celebratory run up the line halted. It was the last minute of normal time and he must have thought it was the last chance. But another came, then another, then another. Three times, they scored. Liverpool had only got two, from 35 shots. “Atlético believe in miracles,” said the headline in El País, the club’s president insisting: “It has been a long time since we had a night like this.” Marca called it “Heroic” above a picture of Llorente celebrating.

Llorente is from a family of footballers with a long history at Atlético’s rivals, Real Madrid. His father played for them, as did his great uncle, Paco Gento: no one has won more European Cups. His grandfather inherited Alfredo Di Stéfano’s No 9 shirt and won the competition in 1966. This season, his first at Atlético since signing from Real, has not been easy. He had not started a Champions League game and he did not start this.

He did, though, come on for Diego Costa, who left the pitch shaking his head and angrily booting a bag and left the stadium pretending to cough as he passed packs of journalists. If Costa thought it was funny, no one else did, drawing only reprobation in Spain. Much like his performance on the pitch, in fact. That “joke”, and most here did put that in speech marks, was virtually Costa’s only contribution. Llorente’s was greater than anyone could have ever imagined. He scored two, then provided the pass for Álvaro Morata to get the third.

“At the end, you start to analyse all you have been through, all you have suffered, and it’s worth it,” Llorente said. “The key was knowing how to suffer, how to hang on during all those waves of attacks.” El País called it an “exercise in extreme survival”. This wasn’t the impeccable defending of other nights; instead it was something more primitive, less tangible, reminiscent more of Munich in 2016, when they escaped Bayern alive. The former Liverpool striker Michael Robinson called it “an act of faith”.

In AS, Patricia Cazón likened it to a Sam Mendes film, Liverpool bombarding Atlético: “Just go out there and fill the place with grenades.” Liverpool had impressed everyone in Spain, Javier Matallanas attacking the suffix “what a team” to their name, while one columnist wrote: “If you are going to fall, fall like Klopp’s Liverpool did; they could not have done more, nor paid greater homage to football.” AS’s tactical analysis might as well have been the picture of someone shrugging their shoulders and walking off whistling. “This is the hardest victory to explain,” it concluded.

“The heart has reasons the head doesn’t understand,” wrote Alberto Barbero in Marca. On the television, on the radio, in the media, one word kept being repeated: miracle. In part, the explanation was Jan Oblak, who made nine saves – as he had in Munich. “The best in the world,” Simeone likened him to Messi: a man who is decisive and wins you games. Yet Atlético’s manager was naturally keen to name all his players, reeling them off as if he was calling the register. He praised each and everyone one of them, including Kieran Trippier who, he said, had “kept going until he said: ‘I’m going [off], because I can’t go on any more.’”

That typified his team and together, they had come through the storm. “Anfield, Europe, this is Atlético,” Cazón wrote. “Living on the edge is an art and no one does it better than Simeone’s Atlético,” said Carlos Fernández in Marca. It might be the last game of football played for a while, but what a way to go. “You don’t explain this, you live it,” insisted Iñako Díaz-Guerra in El Mundo, calling it an “absurd night” that proves football is “wonderful and inexplicable” – a “heroic act somewhere between epic and comic”, where a questionable substitution became an act of genius, the kind of occasion that parents will tell their kids about one day and kids will say: “Dad’s lost it.”

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“They were dead, I swear it,” Díaz-Guerra wrote. “They were pulling the white sheet over Atlético’s face, the body lying there in bed. Simeone had lost his head or his faith or both. He took off Costa and put on Llorente. Llorente! A midfielder. Costa’s anger when he went was shared by all the fans. And then what had to happen, happened. Liverpool racked up chances and crossbars until Oblak couldn’t do any more and they scored the second and then – oh, of course – Llorente scored twice, Morata scored once and it was time for bed. Well, what did you expect? This is Atlético, my friends.”

“Liverpool are the best opponent we have faced since I have been here,” Simeone said. “And this will be remembered for ever.”

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