Holders Atletico Madrid knocked out of Europa League

Kieran Beckles
By Kieran Beckles
Holders Atletico Madrid were knocked out at the group stage after being held by Bayer Leverkusen at the BayArena on Thursday.

atletico madrid

UEFA EUROPA LEAGUE, 16 DECEMBER 2010
Bayer Leverkusen
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Atletico Madrid
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Europa League holders Atletico Madrid were knocked out at the group stage after being held by Bayer Leverkusen at the BayArena on Thursday.

The Spanish side could only manage to secure a point against Group B winners Bayer Leverkusen at a snow covered BayArena. Greek side Aris Thessaloniki finished as runners-up after their 2-0 victory over Rosenburg at the Kleanthis Vikelidis Stadium.

The clash at the BayArena was one of the more exciting spectacles on a night of insignificant Europa League ties. The result in Greece in fact rendered this clash meaningless but Atletico still struggled against the hostile weather conditions in an attempt to secure their second away victory.

Both sides found it difficult to adapt to the snow-covered pitch as simple passes failed to find their targets time and again. First-half chances were few and far between as the conditions dictated play.

Diego Forlán, one of the stars of the 2010 World Cup, struggled to unlock a watertight Leverkusen defence which had conceded just a single goal before Thursday’s match.

The match sprung to life after the break when the home side took the lead. Former Liverpool centre-back and current Bayer Leverkusen captain Sami Hyypiä launched a hopeful ball forward which was eventually met by striker Patrick Helmes, who calmly slotted past David de Gea.

Helmes’s strike appeared to end any hope of Atletico achieving an unlikely passage into the knock-out stages with Aris Thessaloniki already leading by a goal in Greece.

Furious Atletico manager Quique Sánchez Flores swiftly withdrew midfielder Simao and introduced former Arsenal midfielder Fran Merida.

It proved an inspired tactical decision by Atletico boss Flores. Within moments of falling behind Merida levelled the scores and injected some optimism back into the visiting side. Tenacious work by Sergio Agüero was rewarded when a lucky break allowed him to escape the attentions of Hyypiä and square a short pass to Merida for the 20-year-old to poke past Fabian Giefer and restore parity.

Atletico continued to press in the final moments with Mario Suárez firing recklessly over the bar before Agüero was guilty of the same offence seconds later.

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