LIVERPOOL – Atletico Madrid ended Liverpool’s title defense in the Champions League with a 3-2 win at Anfield on Wednesday thanks to two goals by Marcos Llorente in extra time and another by fellow substitute Alvaro Morata.
Atletico advanced 4-2 on aggregate in the round of 16.
Roberto Firmino had just put Liverpool 2-0 ahead on the night - and 2-1 up on aggregate - with a 94th-minute goal when its backup goalkeeper, Adrian, made a poor clearance three minutes later that led to Llorente rolling in a finish.
That meant Atletico was leading on the away-goals rule but Llorente gave the Spanish team more breathing space with his second goal on the counterattack just before the end of the first extra-time period.
Liverpool couldn’t engineer another memorable Anfield turnaround and failed in its bid to reach a third straight final, having beaten Tottenham for its sixth European Cup title last year after losing to Real Madrid the previous season.
Jurgen Klopp’s team will have to be content this season with winning the English league championship for the first time in 30 years. That could happen as early as next week, with the Reds holding a 25-point lead and needing just two more wins to clinch the title.
As for Atletico, another run in the Champions League is making up for a disappointing season in La Liga, where the team is in sixth place.
Llorente is in his first season at Atletico after a controversial move from fierce local rival Real Madrid in the offseason last year. His father, Paco, and great uncle, Francisco Gento, are greats at Real. Morata is also a former Real player.
In the other Champions League match on Wednesday, Paris Saint-Germain beat Borussia Dortmund 2-0 to seal a 3-2 victory on aggregate.
The game in Paris was played in an empty stadium because of the virus outbreak that has played havoc with the world’s sporting calendar. But that was not the situation at Anfield, where Atletico fans were allowed to travel despite roughly half of Spain's coronavirus cases - which have surpassed 2,000 - and two-thirds of the country’s virus deaths occurring in Madrid.
“Put your hands away you (expletive) idiots,” Klopp snapped at some fans wanting a high-five as he walked out of the tunnel to the dugouts before kickoff.
Aside from a couple of men wearing face masks as they walked on the concourse before the match, it felt like business as usual outside Liverpool’s iconic stadium.
Inside, too, as Atletico’s famed defense put in another obdurate display until Georginio Wijnaldum’s goal just before halftime.
Center backs Stefan Savic and Felipe cleared cross after cross as Liverpool’s fullbacks, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson, peppered the area with their deliveries in the wind and driving rain.
Save for a couple of forays forward - one came in the opening seconds when Diego Costa, making his first start since November after back surgery, was played through only to shoot wide from just inside the area - Atletico’s players were on the back foot. And they couldn’t quite last until halftime.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain did his best impersonation of Alexander-Arnold by whipping in a brilliant cross from the right byline and Wijnaldum was unmarked as he headed downward and into the far corner.
The second half was spent almost entirely in Atletico’s half and it felt like a matter of when Liverpool would get its second goal as it attacked the Kop end, which was adorned with banners containing phrases like “Jurgener Believers” and “Liverpool, the cream of Europe.”
Firmino prodded a shot at goalkeeper Jan Oblak and Robertson headed against the crossbar from six yards (meters) out. With six minutes left in normal time, Mane sized up an overhead kick and sent an acrobatic effort over the bar, then Salah blazed over after a weaving run.
Extra time was needed, but only after a headed goal from Saul Niguez - Atletico’s scorer in the first leg - with the last touch of normal time was ruled out for offside, with coach Diego Simeone on the pitch already celebrating.
Another memorable comeback looked on when Firmino scored his first goal at Anfield in any competition this season but Adrian’s error sparked a brilliant recovery of their own from Atletico’s players.
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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80