MADRID (AP) — As far as Diego Simeone is concerned, Atletico Madrid has taken a step forward despite its early elimination from the Champions League.
Atletico failed to make it past the group stage for the first time in five years, but the coach thinks his team will be stronger for the remainder of the season.
"Despite the disappointment of not being able to advance, this was a step in the right direction," Simeone said after the team's 1-1 draw against Chelsea on Tuesday in London. "The team is just fine. It's difficult to say that when you've been eliminated, but we are OK. We will remain competitive the rest of the season."
Atletico finished third in Group C, behind Roma and second-place Chelsea. Atletico ended with seven points after a win against Roma, a loss against Chelsea and four draws, including two against Azeri club Qarabag.
"We were eliminated despite earning more points against the first-place team than we did against the last-place team," Simeone said. "The team has been playing well, working hard. It remains very competitive. We lost only one match, and it was with a goal in the 92nd or 93rd minute. It's not an excuse, on the contrary, it's about reality.
"We know that it's not good to be out of the Champions League," Simeone said. "But the season is very long and it will matter what we are capable of doing at the end of the season."
There were high expectations for Atletico in the Champions League, a competition in which it had thrived recently. It arrived hoping to finally break through with the title after reaching the final twice in the last four seasons and making it to the semifinals last season.
"Soccer is not only about positions and schemes," Simeone said. "It's about getting the job done. We were not able to do that in the Champions League this season, and it was costly for us."
Atletico had advanced in first place in its group in each of the last four years.
"It hurts to be out of the Champions League because it was our biggest objective and we had gone far in the tournament the last few years," Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak said. "We are sad, but we have to move on."
Atletico's only hope for an international title is in the Europa League, the competition which the Spanish won in 2010 and 2012.
Atletico is also contending in the Copa del Rey and the Spanish league. Simeone's team made it to the last 16 in the cup competition and is third in the league, six points behind leader Barcelona.
"We'll keep going step by step," Atletico defender Filipe Luis said. "As the club keeps growing, the goals become higher and the pressure also increases. We've just been through a difficult moment, but we will remain positive and confident that we can have a great finish to the season."
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