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Late header from Diego Costa gives Atlético Madrid Champions League edge over Milan

Feb 19, 2014, 4:51 PM EDT

diego_costa AP

A 83rd minute goal from Diego Costa allowed Atlético Madrid to take the lead with their first good chance of the night, the Rojiblancos’ 1-0 win at the San Siro giving them a valuable away goal in their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie with Milan. Converting off a late corner kick, Atlético were able to overcome a three good first half chances from Milan, to claiming a one-goal edge ahead of leg two at the Vicente Calderón.

That match, which will take place in two weeks, will see Milan start from behind despite one of their stronger performances of the season, an effort that could have seen the Rossoneri claim first half leads through Kaká or Andrea Poli. Instead, the favorites will return home in control of the match up, Clarence Seedorf’s side left with little reward despite their surprisingly strong performance.

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Atlético dominated the ball in the match’s opening moments before put on their heals by Milan, who nearly drew first blood when a shot from Kaká from the far right of the penalty area had to be pushed onto the crossbar by Thibault Courtois. The Atlético keeper was called on again minutes later when a header from Andrea Poli drew a sprawling save to keep the shot from finding the lower left corner. When Kaká went inches over the bar later in the half, Milan had their third strong if fruitless chance of the period, all coming before their visitors had seriously tested Christian Abbiati’s goal.

Though the teams reached halftime having put an equal number of shots on target (two each), Milan had outplayed the Colchoneros. Despite being favored coming into the matchup, the best Diego Simeone’s team could do was a near-chance for Diego Costa on a ball sent across the six-yard box. Milan right back Ignazio Abate, having come on for and injured Mattia Di Sciglio mid-way through the half, poked the ball away from the Atlético striker, allowing Abbiati to carry his clean sheet into half time.

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Half time adjustments saw Atlético limit Milan’s chances in the second, albeit at the expense of Atleti’s ability to generate opportunities of their own. The result was an initial 25 minutes were neither team presented a significant threat, with Adel Taarabt‘s blocked volley from the right of the area in the 71st minute producing the first suspense of the period.

In the 83rd minute, Atlético finally broke through, with Costa giving this team a valuable away goal. Off a near-post corner from Gabi, Abate headed his attempted clearance high and toward the far post. There Costa settled under it before uncoiling onto the dropping ball, getting enough power on this shot to beat a driving Abbiati at the near post. After a half of almost no action, Costa had headed Atlético in front.

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It was the visitors’ only good chance of the match, but thanks to second half adjustments that kept Milan from replicating their early success, Atlético had kept themselves within reach of a winner. Just before the end of regulation time, the Spain international-to-be converted.

On quality of play alone, Milan had just as much right to that break through as their guests, but soccer matches aren’t decided on quality of play. Thanks to Costa’s late finish, Atlético won the only measure that mattered, allowing them to take their one-goal edge back to the Vicente Calderón.

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