MADRID – Atletico Madrid bounced back from some spotty recent performances to top Serie A powerhouse Juventus 2-0 in round-of-16 action on Wednesday night in the Champions League.
The home team had many more scoring chances during this first-leg match-up at Wanda Metropolitano Stadium.
But the opening goal proved elusive due in part to a pair of controversial decisions by the video assistant referee (VAR) system, which made its much-awaited debut at Europe’s premier club soccer competition at the round-of-16 stage.
Playing in just his second game since returning from an injury absence of more than two months, striker Diego Costa won nearly every battle for the ball on the ground and in the air early on and also appeared to have earned a penalty when he was brought down by defender Mattia De Sciglio at the edge of the area at around the half-hour mark.
VAR overturned the call on the field, however, ruling that the contact occurred just outside the penalty box. Antoine Griezmann had a chance on the ensuing close-range free kick, but Juve goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny was able to clear it away for a corner.
Earlier, Atletico superstar net minder Jan Oblak had made his presence felt with a remarkable save of a Cristiano Ronaldo free kick in the ninth minute.
Shortly after the intermission, Atletico saw a couple of golden chances go by the wayside.
First, Costa badly botched a shot after receiving a sublime through ball from Griezmann in the 50th minute; just a few minutes later, the French superstar appeared to score on a delicately struck chip shot, but Szczesny got just enough of his finger on the ball to send it off the crossbar.
Atletico’s frustrations then continued to mount thanks to a second unfavorable VAR ruling.
Alvaro Morata, who had come on for Costa in the 58th minute, appeared to finally open the scoring 12 minutes later on a header off a pass from Filipe Luis. It was waved off though because Morata was determined to have shoved Giorgio Chiellini before the goal was scored.
The exasperation of Atleti’s fans turned to elation, however, down the final stretch of the contest.
Jose Gimenez finally made the score 1-0 when he pounced on a loose ball in the area in the 78th minute after a Thomas Lemar corner kick.
Five minutes later, defender Diego Godin capped off an outstanding game by gathering a failed clearance by Mario Mandzukic and sending a shot off of Ronaldo and into the back of the net.
Atletico, who arguably earned their best win of the season after a pair of La Liga losses earlier this month to Real Betis and Real Madrid, are seeking their maiden Champions League title.
The second leg of the Spanish-league club’s round-of-16 match-up against Juve will be played at Juventus Stadium in Turin on March 12.