MADRID: Luis Suarez knew success wouldn’t come easy at Atletico Madrid.
He didn’t expect it to be this hard, though.
Suarez came to the rescue for Atletico when their La Liga title chances suddenly appeared to be slipping away on Sunday, scoring an 88th-minute winner in a 2-1 victory against Osasuna that moved the team a win away from claiming their first league title since 2014.
“We have to get used to the fact that to win this league you have to suffer,” Suarez said. “Everybody says that’s part of Atletico’s motto [to suffer], but I didn’t think it would be that much.
Atletico enter the final round two points in front of Real Madrid, who stayed in contention by winning 1-0 at Athletic Bilbao. Real have a better head-to-head tiebreaker against their city rivals.
Barcelona dropped out of contention for the title after losing 2-1 to Celta Vigo at home. Santi Mina scored twice, including an 89th minute winner for Celta after Lionel Messi headed in the opener.
Real Sociedad stayed in position to secure a Europa League spot with a comfortable 4-1 win over Valladolid. That left the club in fifth place, one point in front of both sixth-placed Real Betis and seventh-placed Villarreal.
Betis beat Huesca 1-0 at home while Carlos Bacca scored a hat-trick in Villarreal’s 4-0 win 10-man Sevilla, who are fourth.
Last-placed Eibar were relegated after a 4-1 loss to Valencia, while Huesca, Valladolid and Elche will fight to avoid demotion in the final round.
Getafe made sure of avoiding relegation thanks to a 2-1 win against Levante at home.
Atletico’s lengthy spell at the top of the league disappeared in only a few minutes late in the second-to-last round, when all matches were played at the same time.
Real scored against Bilbao in the 68th minute through Nacho Fernandez, then Atletico conceded against Osasuna in the 75th. Instead of being in the position of celebrating their first league title in seven years, Atletico suddenly saw their city rivals take control of the title race ahead of the final round.
Only a victory could have put Atletico back in control of their own fate, and Diego Simeone’s team got it after Renan Lodi scored from inside the area in the 82nd and Suarez netted the winner with a low shot from near the penalty spot a few minutes from the end to spark mass celebrations.
It was the 20th league goal for Suarez, who has been key for Atletico the entire season after being let go by Barca.
“He’s extraordinary,” said Diego Simeone. “He came here wanting to prove people wrong, wanting to show that he was a forward still at the top of his game. Who better than him to decide a match that seemed to be getting away from us?”
No fans were allowed in the Wanda Metropolitano, but they gathered outside and cheered as the team bus arrived.
Atletico had 16 shots in the first half but could not find a way through.
The best of them came from an Angel Correa cross but Suarez took too long and with three Osasuna players in front of him, he could only pick out the post.
Atletico’s players might have thought Real had conceded when a huge cheer came from the fans outside, but it was Barca who had let in an equaliser against Celta Vigo. All the top three were being held at half-time.
Atletico thought they were ahead on the hour as Stefan Savic finished from Kieran Trippier’s cross. Fans outside set off fireworks, but Savic was just offside and the goal was ruled out.
Atletico put the ball in the net again, only for flag to go up again, Yannick Carrasco nipping behind too early before powering in.
The flag stayed down at San Mames a few minutes later though as Nacho gave Real Madrid the lead in the 68th minute, Karim Benzema, who was offside, missed Casemiro’s cross and Nacho prodded in.
Real were going top and seven minutes later, things got worse for Atletico as Ante Budimir was free at the back post to head in a free kick. The fans outside went silent.
Simeone brought on two substitutes and they combined to level. Joao Felix scooped a superb pass through for Lodi to thunder in.
There was hope and then there was joy, Carrasco latching onto a Trippier pass and pulling back perfectly for Suarez, who arrived late, fired in and ran to the corner.
Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2021