Europe

Atletico ousts Liverpool to reach final

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Atletico Madrid reached its first European final in 24 years by eliminating Liverpool in the Europa League semifinals on away goals with a 2-2 aggregate score on Thursday.

Atletico lost 2-1 at Anfield, but went through thanks to Diego Forlan's goal in the 12th minute of extra time after the former Manchester United striker clinched a 1-0 victory at home last week.

Liverpool looked set to overturn that deficit when Alberto Aquilani scored in the 44th and Yossi Benayoun netted at the start of extra time, but Forlan's goal condemned the five-time European champions to a fourth consecutive trophyless season.

UEFA Europa League

 
Thu., Apr. 22
Atletico 1-0 Liverpool | Recap
Hamburg 0-0 Fulham | Recap
Thu., Apr. 29
Liverpool 2-1 (aet) Atletico | Recap
Fulham 2-1 Hamburg | Recap
Wed., May 12 - FINAL
Atletico 2-1 (aet) Fulham | Recap
 

"It was a really difficult game - we knew they would come after us," Forlan said. "I feared the worst when Benayoun scored, but we knew we only needed one goal and we kept going."

Atletico can win the double by beating Fulham in the May 12 Europa League final and Sevilla in the Copa del Rey final a week later.

"We were at a pretty low moment earlier in the year and no one would have expected us to get this far," Atletico coach Quique Sanchez Flores said through a translator. "It's an honor and a great source of pride to be sole representative of Spain now in the European finals.

"Any English teams are tough opposition - they are always competitive and I am sure Fulham are no exception to that."

But while this was Atletico's first appearance in a European last four since losing to Parma in the 1999 UEFA Cup, which the Europa League has replaced, Liverpool has appeared three times in the more illustrious Champions League semifinals in the previous five seasons alone - winning it in 2005.

Liverpool had started the match looking like the Champions League power of recent seasons, not the team that has endured a dramatic slump in form this season, exiting Europe's elite competition at the group stage and slipping to seventh in the Premier League, in which it was runner-up last year.

"It's a season when everything has gone against us, but the players worked so hard you have to be proud of them," Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez said.

Just 10 seconds had elapsed when Benayoun burst forward and was denied from an acute angle only by David de Gea's save.

Atletico's first chance took 20 minutes to arrive, with Raul Garcia unleashing a half-volley from 30 meters (yards) that Pepe Reina pushed around the post.

Daniel Agger found the net in the 31st when he headed in Steven Gerrard's corner, but it was ruled out for offside.

There was no disputing Liverpool's opener just before the break. Having raced onto Javier Mascherano's throw in, Benayoun whipped in a cross that skimmed past Dirk Kuyt, but Aquilani made the connection, curling into the bottom right.

Liverpool's superiority faded after the break, with Glen Johnson's dipping 25-meter (yard) strike the closest to preventing this match drifting into extra time.

Liverpool was sorely missing former Atletico striker Fernando Torres, who also missed the first leg after injury ended his season, while Atletico welcomed back forward Sergio Aguero from suspension.

But five minutes into extra time, Liverpool looked to be heading to Hamburg when Benayoun struck into the bottom corner after Lucas Leiva chipped the ball into the penalty area.

The Spanish club's threat never faded, though, with substitute Jurado curling a shot around the post before the decisive goal came.

Jose Reyes beat Glen Johnson down the right flank and lifted the ball into the penalty area and, while Jamie Carragher was appealing for offside, the unmarked Forlan volleyed in from close range.

Staggeringly, Atletico has reached the final by winning only two European matches since the start of the group stage - drawing eight and losing four.

Atletico had drawn both legs in both the last 16 and quarterfinals, progressing on both occasions as it did on Thursday by away goals.

Now it will try to win its first continental title since triumphing in the 1962 European Cup Winners' Cup final. It lost the 1986 final of the now-defunct competition.

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