The morning papers in Madrid made grim reading for Atletico Madrid fans, not that too many will have been reading them after their biggest game of the season turned into their worst nightmare.

The numbers were damning – they had not mustered a single shot on goal save Kevin Gameiro’s one-on-one with Keylor Navas in the first half. And this was against a team that had conceded at least one goal in each of their last 17 games.

‘Atleti were just not Atleti’ ran one headline. The fear now is that this is not just the end of the club’s European campaign for this season but the end of their fairytale journey under Diego Simeone.

Cristiano Ronaldo sits on the advertising hoardings to soak up the Bernabeu's adulation

Cristiano Ronaldo sits on the advertising hoardings to soak up the Bernabeu’s adulation

Spanish paper Marca led with the headline 'Sitting Bull' to hail Cristiano Ronaldo's destruction of Atletico Madrid and his celebration
AS proclaimed simply 'Cristiano is the Master'

Spanish paper Marca led with the headline ‘Sitting Bull’ to hail Cristiano Ronaldo’s destruction of Atletico Madrid and his celebration, while AS proclaimed simply ‘Cristiano is the Master’

It was as if the clock had struck 12 midnight and the carriage had turned back into a pumpkin; striker Gameiro turning back into the striker unable to get in France’s Euro 2016 squad last summer; midfielder Gabi turning back into the midfielder who has never quite managed to break into the Spain team; and Stefan Savic struggling with Cristiano Ronaldo and turning back into the player who had not made his mark in the Premier League at Manchester City before he ended up at Atletico.

It’s easy to forget that, with a few exceptions, Diego Simeone’s band of brothers have won one league and reached two European Cup finals in the last four years with inferior players. Like a bucket of ice-cold water over the club’s supporters, they looked inferior on Tuesday night from the first kick to the last.

The Barcelona-based papers focused away from the match but Sport acknowledged that 'Cristiano KOs Atletico'
Mundo Deportivo said 'Cristiano prolongs the nightmare'

The Barcelona-based papers focused away from the match but Sport acknowledged that ‘Cristiano KOs Atletico’ and Mundo Deportivo said ‘Cristiano prolongs the nightmare’

The Atletico fans wavered between rage and despair on Wednesday morning, one particular impassioned but confused taxi driver told me in one breath that it was time for Simeone to move on and that he should have gone after failing in last season’s Champions League final… only to then say in the next breath: ‘the club will die when he leaves’.

They have grown used to matching Real Madrid in recent seasons. Even the three defeats in the Champions League against them have been close affairs with only a Javier Hernandez late goal separating the two sides in the quarter-finals two years ago and extra-time and penalties needed in the 2014 and 2016 finals. But this time it was whitewash.

Too many Atletico players have run out of legs at just the wrong time, just as so many Real Madrid players have come into form at just the right time. Luka Modric looked dead on his feet mid-season but he ran midfield on Tuesday night playing 78 accurate passes with a 94 per cent success rate.

Some are questioning whether this is the end of Diego Simeone's brilliant run at Atletico

Some are questioning whether this is the end of Diego Simeone’s brilliant run at Atletico

Ronaldo has finally accepted that he needs to rest during the season and has scored eight goals in three games as reward for that willingness to listen to his coach earlier in the season. And what the first XI started, the bench helped finish. Strength in depth was always going to be a key factor in Real Madrid’s favour and while Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez came off the bench to assist the second and third goals, Fernando Torres and company made no impact when they replaced the hugely disappointing Gameiro and Saul Niguez. It was hard to watch, and so positive was Simeone after the game that it felt like he was protesting too much – he knows the game is gone but what else could he say.

The players did their best to echo his sentiments.

Defender Savic said: ‘We are going to believe until the last kick because that is our mentality.’ Koke added: ‘We will never give in. It is worse to lose two finals than to go down fighting in a semi-final.’

The Atletico Madrid midfielder also did well to find the perfect precedent. He said: ‘You never know in football. We beat Real Madrid 4-0 in the Calderon before… and Ronaldo was playing.’

The highly-rated Saul Niguez (centre left) was just one of many Atletico players to disappoint

The highly-rated Saul Niguez (centre left) was just one of many Atletico players to disappoint

He’s right of course. That particular defeat came in Carlo Ancelotti’s second and final season in the job and was made worse by the beaten Real Madrid players going out and enjoying Ronaldo’s lavish 30th birthday party afterwards – something which caused no end of controversy.

Back then it seemed Ronaldo was moving closer to the exit with Real Madrid conscious of the fact that if they did not sell him on, they would get nothing for him. There is no way they will sell him now. He finished last season doing the double of Champions League and Euros and looks like finishing this one with the double of Liga and European Cup. He’ll get the Ballon d’Or too.

Supporters were singing for that to happen as they streamed out of the Bernabeu. Atletico have 90 minutes to try to ruin his dream end of season story. On this showing, for all the effort in the world, they just don’t look capable.

Source: Africaseer.

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