MADRID – Spain forward Diego Costa was the big surprise in the Atletico Madrid starting line-up against Juventus in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League round of 16 and his contribution was a vital morale boost which helped the Spanish team to win 2-0 against the seven-time Serie A defending champion.
Though Costa did not score Wednesday night, he did play against all odds, inspiring his team to an epic victory.
The Brazilian-born and Spanish national made the starting lineup, having played for nearly 30 minutes against Rayo Vallecano in his first appearance after two months on the sidelines due to a left foot injury.
Even coach Diego Simeone had declared during a press conference ahead of the match that Costa was not in a condition to play the entire game, not revealing whether Costa would start or not.
But start Costa did and dominate Costa did.
He left the job of pressing Juventus’ central defenders to Griezmann and throughout the game followed Simeone’s game plan; escaping from the Juve defenders and fighting to make space in front of the goal.
Costa had fight and grit through the match, being a headache for the defenders, protesting the referee’s calls, and provoking reactions from the Juve side.
All of this play ultimately resulted in Costa getting a yellow card, which is set to prevent him from taking part in the second leg against the Turin club scheduled for March 12.
The referee, Felix Zwayer of Germany, booked Costa at the beginning of the first half when he broke the wall of defenders too close as Juventus and Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo was readying to shoot a free kick.
By the midpoint of the match, Costa obviously was not at 100 percent – especially when he got the ball from Griezmann and out-sped Italy defender Leonardo Bonucci but overshot the ball.
In another offensive blunder, in the second half, the tired Costa was not able to successfully field and put home a rebounded Griezmann shot.
But his key role was beyond the numbers as he helped the team get back to its “essence,” to its fundamentals: fighting to dominate individual matchups.
“For us, he is a key player, especially for his courage and for all what he provides to the team. We need him this way for all that strength he gives us,” Atletico’s Jorge Resurreccion Merodio, or “Koke” said.