Atletico Madrid clinch shoot-out win against MLS outfit

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Atletico Madrid required penalties to beat the San Jose Earthquakes after a goalless draw at Candlestick Park.

Khari Stephenson, Billy Schuler and Miranda all failed from 12 yards as the Spanish champions won 4-3 in a shoot-out that wouldn’t have been necessary had Raul Garcia not similarly missed in a dominant first half performance.

The Quakes were good value for their stalemate, however, and were particularly impressive after the break in a showing far better than their lowly Major League Soccer ranking may suggest.

San Jose even created the game’s first chance after 15 minutes. Mike Fucito’s deft flick provided Stephenson with a sight of goal, but the Jamaican’s snapshot carried too much power and cleared the cross-bar.

At the other end, Koke controlled the height of his blast rather better, but screwed the effort nastily wide. Emiliano Insua’s 30th-minute flick met the same fate, and Mario Suarez shaped into Bryan Meredith’s clutches, as the hosts dug in.

Atleti’s patience in possession almost led to a first goal as the first period wore on. Garcia held the ball up beautifully and fed Leo Baptistao, but the goalkeeper’s spread-eagled dive proved an obstacle too large for the former Betis loanee to beat.

More drama was just three minutes away, though. A continuation of the pretty passing around the Earthquakes’ area gave Suarez half a yard in which he was hacked down by World Cup defender Victor Bernardez. Garcia had again been instrumental in the build-up, and took the resulting penalty, but struck a post, with Meredith alert to turn Guilherme Siquiera’s swift rebound over the by-line.

The Californians silently celebrated a half-time return to the sanctuary of their dressing room, but a return to the neat football that had preceded the madness should have seen Tommy Thompson score. The diminutive 18-year-old bore down on goal after an exquisitely-timed release from Cordell Cato, but delayed in the hope of committing Miguel Angel Moya, and instead allowed the Spanish stopper to easily take ownership of the ball.

Despite the sudden interest in pressuring their guests, Mark Watson’s charges remained nervy when protecting their parity – evidenced by the contrasting attitudes of the goalkeepers, with Meredith scurrying after a harmless, wayward cross, while Moya confidently waved at Billy Schuler’s narrow miss.

A pattern emerged that San Jose would hurriedly shake a limb at any semi-dangerous Madrid delivery, before discovering an immense sense of self-assuredness upon progression into enemy territory. Stephenson would shoot hard and low at the Atleti goal, and a short Brandon Barklage back-pass would require hasty intervention from his ally Meredith.

Thompson may have earlier stumbled, but he was displaying a tenacity that betrayed his rookie status as, time and time again, he ran at one of Europe’s finest back-lines. Cato was proving equally problematic for Diego Simeone’s men, and from his stoppage time cross Sam Cronin nodded straight at Moya.

As the tie was billed as “Copa EuroAmericana”, a failure to hit the net meant that a penalty shoot-out was required to settle the score, and San Jose finally crumbled.

Stephenson missed and Schuler was denied, while Siquiera, Cronin and Gabi powered home. Miranda’s inaccurate chip gave the hosts hope, and conversions from Shaun Francis and Suarez teed up Barklage to rattle in the pick of the spot-kicks.

The Spaniards’ class showed though, as Saul Niguez settled the outcome.

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