- Félix put the hosts ahead with a diving header seven minutes into the match
- Substitute Anthony Elanga equalised in 80th in one of the few times Atlético defense broke down
- Atletico were in control during most of match and twice hit the crossbar
Atletico Madrid got nearly everything it wanted against Manchester United in the Champions League on Wednesday — except for the win.
Atletico kept old foe Cristiano Ronaldo in check and got a stellar performance from his Portugal teammate João Félix, but a defensive lapse near the end meant Diego Simeone's team had to settle for a 1-1 draw in the first leg of the round of 16.
Félix — once touted as the next Ronaldo — was the most dangerous forward and put the hosts ahead with a diving header seven minutes into the match, but substitute Anthony Elanga equalized in the 80th shortly after coming off the bench in one of the few times the Atlético defense broke down.
“I think it was my first touch,” said Elanga, who became United’s youngest-ever scorer in the knockout stage at 19 years, 302 days. “I’ve dreamt of moments like this, scoring in the Champions League against a top team like Atlético Madrid."
Atlético was in control during most of the match at the Wanda Metropolitano and twice hit the crossbar, including with an 86th-minute shot by Antoine Griezmann.
“They took advantage of a mistake in what was a very good game for us,” Simeone said. “We did almost everything right the entire match. We couldn't win but I'm happy with how we played and it's all wide open for the second game.”
The return leg will be on March 15 in England.
In the other round-of-16 match Wednesday, Benfica and Ajax drew 2-2 in Portugal.
“After the performance in the first half it could only get better,” United coach Ralf Rangnick said. “What we played in the first half — I still can’t believe it. We played without conviction and the necessary aggression against the ball.”
Ronaldo, who several times ended Atlético's title hopes in the Champions League when he was with crosstown rival Real Madrid, struggled throughout the match and was visibly frustrated. Isolated up front, he was booed by the Atlético fans nearly every time he touched the ball at the Metropolitano.
Félix was much more dangerous for Atlético, constantly threatening with his quick turns and strong runs.
The 21-year-old forward opened the scoring with a powerful header off a well-placed cross by Renan Lodi. The ball came off the post before going in to make Félix the first Portuguese player to score a Champions League goal against United since Ronaldo found the net for Juventus against the English side in November 2018.
It was Félix’s seventh Champions League goal in 20 appearances in the competition, and first since 2020.
With the 37-year-old Ronaldo well defended and not being able to connect with his teammates, United seemed beaten until Elanga broke free to find the net from inside the area after a nice through ball from playmaker Bruno Fernandes, the competition’s assists leader with seven.
Elanga had entered the match five minutes earlier and took advantage of the rare space given up by the Atlético defense, scoring United's 500th goal in the competition previously known as the European Cup.
“We are a bit disappointed, we didn’t deserve a draw,” Atlético defender José María Giménez said. “We did everything we had to do to win. We defended well and created scoring chances in attack. They scored on a casual goal and we didn’t deserve that.”
Atlético finished with 13 total attempts but only one on target, while United had two on target from nine in total. Atlético goalkeeper Jan Oblak was credited with the only save of the game.
Griezmann, who started on the bench along with Luis Suárez, had the chance to put Atlético ahead again near the end but his shot hit the crossbar. Atlético also was held by the woodwork just before halftime when a close-range header by Sime Vrsaljko bounced onto the crossbar off the face of United defender Victor Lindelof.
Ronaldo, who had scored in all five group-stage matches he played, was visibly frustrated with his team’s struggles and also complained to the referees while going into the changing rooms at halftime. His best scoring chance came from a 79th-minute free kick that sailed high.
He has only one goal in his last nine games in all competitions in what is one of his leanest spells since becoming a scoring machine in the latter part of his first stint with United from 2003-09.
Ronaldo helped end Atlético’s Champions League title hopes five different times while playing for Real Madrid and Juventus. He scored hat tricks for Madrid in 2017 and Juventus in 2019, and converted decisive penalty kicks in the finals between the city rivals in 2014 and 2016.
He had 25 goals in 35 career meetings against Atlético, the most against any opponent other than Sevilla.
It was the first meeting between the clubs since the second round of the UEFA Cup Winner’s Cup in 1991-92, when Atlético won 4-1 on aggregate.
(Reported by AP)