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Matheus Cunha and Rodrigo de Paul scored with close-range strikes to earn Atletico Madrid a 2-0 win at Elche on Wednesday, securing Diego Simeone’s side a top-four LaLiga finish and Champions League qualification for the 10th straight season.
With two games left and Real Madrid already crowned champions, Atletico climbed to third place on 67 points, six ahead of Real Betis in fifth and with a better head-to-head record.
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They also leapfrogged Sevilla, who dropped to fourth on 66 points after they were held to a goalless draw at home by relegation-threatened Mallorca earlier on Wednesday.
“Being in the Champions League for another year is very important for the club,” Simeone told Movistar afterward.
“I remember the first time I talked to Miguel [Angel Gil] and Enrique [Cerezo], they said how important it was for the club to get into the Champions League for the next four or five years, because it would allow us to grow as a club, and we achieved it. It’s the hard work of a lot of people that you don’t see, employees, if we’re in the Champions League we can keep evolving, it allows us to prepare for a new season with a good vibe.”
Cunha opened the scoring in the 29th minute with a first-time strike following a fine individual effort by substitute Renan Lodi on the left wing.
Atletico had multiple chances to extend their lead before Antoine Griezmann played a brilliant one-two with De Paul, who found himself alone inside the box to tap home into an empty net in the 62nd minute.
It was a satisfying victory for coach Simeone who had faced heavy criticism from local media after being knocked out in the Champions League quarter-finals by Manchester City and following a run of just two wins in their previous seven games in all competitions.
The 52-year-old Argentine was celebrating his 400th Spanish league match in charge of Atletico after joining the club in December, 2011.
In the last decade he has elevated Atletico to European soccer’s elite, reaching two Champions League finals and winning eight trophies: two league titles, one Copa del Rey, two Europa Leagues, two European Super Cups and one Spanish Super Cup.
“I think it’s the year that we’ve scored the most goals since I’ve been at the club, incredibly, and incredibly it’s been the year that we’ve conceded the most goals,” added Simeone.
“That’s the balance that it’s been hard for us to find this year. [Stefan] Savic and [Jose] Gimenez were out for a long time, Reinildo came and did well, he works, he’s humble, aggressive, and he allowed the team to have something it always needed. We scored a lot of goals this year.”
Information from ESPN’s Alex Kirkland was used in this report.
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Welcome to ESPN India Edition