MADRID: Antoine Griezmann struck twice as Atletico Madrid sealed their place in the last 16 of the Champions League with a 2-0 win over Galatasaray at the Vicente Calderon on Wednesday.
Just as in the first meeting between the sides in a 2-0 Atletico win back in September, Griezmann was the difference as the Frenchman struck either side of half-time to take Diego Simeone’s men into the last 16 for the third consecutive season.
The result ensured that Benfica, who drew 2-2 at Kazakh champions Astana earlier in the day, also go through to the draw for the first knockout round.
Atletico and Benfica are tied on 10 points at the top of Group C with top spot up for grabs when they meet in Lisbon in two weeks’ time.
“It is very important for the fans, for the club to be in the last 16 again and now we have to be looking for the first place,” Simeone told beIN Sports.
“In the first half I think we had a lot of dominance of the ball and created few chances. In the second we had both and when you have more chances, sooner or later the goals will arrive.”
It is the first time Atletico have made the knockout stages for three consecutive seasons in their history.
And captain Gabi hailed the side’s consistency in Europe over recent seasons.
“We work very hard to achieve what we are doing,” he said.
“It seems easy. As if all we are doing is normal, but that is thanks to the stability and work of the team.”
Former Brazil goalkeeper Claudio Taffarel was taking temporary charge of Galatasaray after Hamza Hamzaoglu was sacked just six days ago.
And they still need at least a point when the newly appointed Mustafa Denizli takes charge in their final game at home to Astana to guarantee a place in the Europa League early next year.
Atletico’s stuttering start to the season has been saved by a run of 10 clean sheets in their opening 16 games in all competitions.
However, they were uncharacteristically caught out on 11 minutes when Wesley Sneijder burst into the box, but pulled his fierce shot inches wide of the far post.
Instead of being ahead, a minute later Galatasaray were behind when Gabi’s cross from the right picked out the unmarked Griezmann to head home.
Atletico went onto dominate the first half in possession, but were rarely able to unlock the Galatasaray defence and Lukas Podolski came closest to doubling the Spaniards’ lead when he nearly turned the ball into his own net from a dangerously delivered corner.
The hosts started the second period with far more pace to their attacking play and only a brilliant save from Fernando Muslera prevented Koke adding a second from Jesus Gamez’s cross at the end of a fine team move.
Diego Godin then somehow headed over Koke’s driven cross at a range from which the Uruguayan centre-half is usually deadly.
However, any nagging Atletico doubts were wiped away 25 minutes from time when Griezmann tapped in after more good work from Gabi.
Only Muslera’s heroics prevented Galatasaray returning home on the end of a more severe beating as he showed good reactions to deny Luciano Vietto his first Champions League goal and Fernando Torres his 100th for Atletico.