Atletico swamped at home by Porto
Atletico Madrid scraped their way into the UEFA Europa League despite suffering a heavy 3-0 home defeat to already-qualified Porto at a half-empty Vicente Calderon on Tuesday.
Fortunately for Quique Sanchez Flores' side, APOEL could only draw at Stamford Bridge, which meant Atletico's result was immaterial. That was pretty much the only good news of the evening for the Rojiblancos, though, as they slumped to a humbling defeat after conceding twice inside the opening 14 minutes and then a third midway through the second half, with Bruno Alves, Falcao and Hulk on target.
Porto dumped Atletico out of the UEFA Champions League at the last 16 stage last season and they looked determined to knock their Iberian rivals out of Europe again after making a barnstorming start. The Portuguese champions needed only 90 seconds to take the lead when captain Bruno Alves climbed high to head Cristian Rodriguez's corner back across Atletico goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo and into the net.
Asenjo then needed to be alert to deny Diego Valeri in the fifth minute as Porto came close to doubling their lead, but the Atletico goalkeeper was beaten for a second time not long after. Fucile tried his luck from distance and when Asenjo failed to collect the ball cleanly, Falcao nipped in to stab home his third goal of the group stages.
Atletico had slumped to a 2-0 defeat at Porto in their first meeting, with Falcao and Rolando netting late goals, and it looked set to be another miserable night for the Spaniards after that dismal start. However, the hosts rallied and showed decent fighting spirit as they tried to get a goal back.
Maxi Rodriguez brought a save out of Helton, while Sergio Aguero almost converted a low cross from Diego Forlan, who blazed wide when in space on the edge of the area. Atletico always looked vulnerable at the back, though, and the unmarked Falcao almost made it 3-0 in the 27th minute when he headed a cross inches wide.
It was a similar story after the break, with Atletico pushing hard to get a foothold back into the game and Porto happy to play on the counter-attack. And one such breakaway almost brought the away side their third goal, with Falcao stinging the palms of Asenjo with a blistering shot in the 65th minute.
Atletico then raced down the other end and Forlan was denied by Helton at his near post. Any fading hopes the hosts might get something out of the game disappeared completely in the 76th minute, though, when Porto notched their third of the night through Hulk.
The powerfully-built Brazil international created space for himself inside the area before unleashing an unstoppable shot that flew in off the underside of the bar. That sparked a mass exodus from the stands by a large number of home fans, and those who remained almost saw their side ship a fourth goal, with Asenjo bravely diving at the feet of Rodriguez.
APOEL's late equaliser at Chelsea did not improve the mood at the Vicente Calderon either, but with the Cypriot side unable to get a winner, it was Atletico who sneaked into the UEFA Europa League.