As others have pointed out, last night was the perfect time for Atletico. Rival Real Madrid visited the Vicente Calderon hafter their mid-week embarrassment at Borussia Dortmund. Set for the second leg of their Champions League semifinal on Tuesday, José Mourinho’s side would likely make huge changes for the battle between Spain’s second place side and third place hope. If the Atleti were going to end 14 years of frustration, Saturday was going to be it.
And in case you’re having trouble putting 14 years in perspective, here’s Dermot Corrigan:
Almost 14 years. Or 704 weeks. Or 4,929 days. Or 24 games. They have all passed since the Atletico’s last win over city rivals Real Madrid, a 3-1 at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on October 10, 1999, with Claudio Ranieri on the visitors’ bench and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink  and Jose Mari on the scoresheet.
John Toshack was Real Madrid manager, Radamel Falcao had recently made his senior debut for Lanceros Boyaca aged just 13 at home in Colombia, and Diego Simeone was on the way to winning the Serie A title as a midfielder for Lazio.
That Atletico still fell 2-1 on Saturday makes you wonder if Atletico Madrid will ever beat El Real.
They’re bound to beat them at some point, but that’s not how most of our minds work. We tend to think in clear-cut, absolute scenarios that breach logic and rest in emotion. At some point, though, have to take those thoughts, lift them from the mire, and evaluate them for what they are.
Once we do that, we discern that 14 years is already an improbable run – one that’s bound to end on pure chance alone — though that doesn’t soften the blow of last night’s loss. Atletico came into the match three points back of Real, only a win separating them from their shot at passing the Merengues by season’s end. To finish above their rivals would have been huge, as would a derby win have been, and after three minutes, the Rojiblancos had reason to believe it would happen. Falcao had put them up. They were at home. Real Madrid was reeling. This was going to happen.
But Juanfran’s own goal gave that lead back quickly, and in the second half, Angel Di Maria beat Thibaut Courtois for the winner. Just like that, and in spite of all the reasons Colchoneros had to hope, this became just another derby for Atletico.
Thanks to Falcao, many see this Atletico team as being one of their strongest of the last 14 years. If it’s not the best, then only the teams of Diego Forlan and Kun Aguero could compete, though those sides never could reach their potential in league (despite a Europa League win in 2009-10). Whereas for much of the last 14 years Atletico have been a mid-table side (with a brief stint in the second division early last decade), recent teams have proven much more capable.
Apparently those capabilities entail winning Europa Leagues but not Derbies Madrileños, a sobering thought ahead of May 17’s Copa del Rey final. There the two Madrid sides meet with silverware on the line while trying to answer the same question that hung over Saturday night: When can Atletico finally break through?
Because with so many things working in the Atleti’s favor on Saturday, it’s becoming difficult to imagine the number of stars that will have to align for this run to end.