Madrid (Spain) (AFP) – Fernando Torres marked the announcement of his Atletico Madrid departure with a goal after coming off the bench to score in a 3-0 win over Levante on Sunday.
Six days after confirming he will be leaving his boyhood club at the end of the season, Torres rolled back the years with a volleyed finish the 34-year-old would have been proud of in his prime.
It was also his 100th goal in La Liga.
“Fernando is an icon here,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. “Whether he is scoring goals or not, winning titles or not, he has a place in the club that has been earned by respect, hard work and having an identity with the club. That will not change because of one more goal.”
Torres’ grievance this term has been a lack of playing time and he was a substitute again at the Wanda Metropolitano, replacing Antoine Griezmann, who was also on target. Angel Correa opened the scoring in the first half.
A comfortable victory cuts the gap behind leaders Barcelona back to 11 points and restores some momentum for Atletico, with their Europa League semi-final against Arsenal less than a fortnight away.
The result also guarantees Atletico a place in the Champions League for a sixth consecutive season.
“Barcelona’s season is tremendous,” Simeone said. “We will try to get closer to them and if we can’t get closer, we will congratulate them.”
This was something of a free hit for Levante, who stay 17th, five points clear of the relegation zone.
Simeone’s side now face Real Sociedad on Thursday and Real Betis on Sunday before the first leg at Emirates Stadium but they arrived here with only two wins from their last five matches.
– Long farewell –
Torres enjoyed the biggest cheer of the afternoon and followed his brilliant finish by blowing the crowd a kiss and waving both hands. It promises to be a long farewell.
The Spaniard is unlikely to face Arsenal but Griezmann almost certainly will and his goal was his 19th in La Liga this season, coming without Diego Costa, who is still nursing a thigh strain.
Atletico shaded the first half without creating too many clear-cut chances. But the visitors’ resistance was broken in the 33rd minute when Vitolo weaved inside to the edge of the penalty area and slipped the ball left to Correa.
Correa surprised the cluster of shuffling defenders by cutting back onto his right foot before using the space to guide the ball into the corner.
Griezmann was convinced he should have had a penalty before half-time when he ended a one-on-one by toppling over the hand of goalkeeper Oier Olazabal. The touch, however, was not only faint, but engineered by Griezmann’s dragging right foot, and the Frenchman was booked for diving.
Complaints turned to celebrations after the interval, as Sime Vrsaljko volleyed in a cross first time from the right and Griezmann finished first time into the top corner.
That was his last significant contribution, before making way for Torres just before the hour, and Koke was also spared the last 30 minutes, replaced by Gabriel Fernandez.
Simeone’s confidence was clear but Torres had the final say, the veteran sweeping home an instinctive volley from Correa’s cross to wrap up a routine win.