Diego Simeone hailed Antoine Griezmann as the best player in the world after the Frenchman’s double fired Atletico Madrid to victory over Club Brugge on Wednesday.
Griezmann scored twice and set up a third for Koke as Atletico won 3-1 in the stadium they hope to return to for the Champions League final next year.
Arnaut Groeneveld’s stunning long-range effort had pulled Brugge level shortly before half-time but Atleti, and Griezmann were too good.
“I said it last season and I’ll say it again — Griezmann is the best player in the world,” Simeone said afterwards.
“He won the Europa League, World Cup, Super Cup and finished second in a league with Barcelona and Real Madrid.”
Lionel Messi, who was simultaneously tearing Tottenham apart at Wembley, may have something to say about that but there is no doubting Griezmann’s importance to Atletico.
He has now been involved in 17 of their last 19 Champions League goals scored at home, chipping in with 12 goals and five assists.
Those performances can only boost the French star’s hopes of winning the Ballon d’Or.
“It’s not me who votes but I had a big season,” he said. “I’m very happy and proud of my season, there are still a few months to go so we’ll see.”
This was Atletico’s first match at the Wanda Metropolitano in this season’s tournament, 241 days before they hope to walk out here again for the final on June 1.
Simeone admitted the prospect of winning the cup on their own patch is a source of inspiration for his side, and they could not have made a better start.
Atletico boast six points in Group A, the same as Borussia Dortmund, whom they now play twice in succession, starting with a trip to Germany later this month.
A successful night was blighted only by injury, with both Diego Costa and Jose Gimenez forced off.
Costa sat out the last international round with Spain for personal reasons and he may be set to miss another.
Atletico are now unbeaten in six games and they started like a team with their tails up as Costa and Koke almost pulled off a neat one-two in the box while Griezmann strayed just offside before a superb lifted finish.
Thomas Lemar might have scored had Stefano Denswil not made a last-ditch tackle but it was the winger’s cross that found Griezmann at the back post soon after. Griezmann chested, controlled and steered the ball inside the far post.
Atleti looked almost too comfortable and Brugge seemed as surprised as anyone to equalise shortly before half-time.
Groeneveld rolled his studs over the ball 30 yards out and with no obvious option, whipped it, bending and dipping into the corner.
Filipe Luis came on for Gimenez at the interval and Atletico gradually turned the screw, Griezmann, Costa and Lemar all causing problems for the weary Brugge defence.
Another smooth combination created the goal as Griezmann played in Costa, who could have shot but instead turned back and returned to Griezmann. He made no mistake. It was Costa’s last contribution.
Denswil could have snatched Brugge a point but headed over from six yards and instead, Griezmann added a final flourish. He stormed down the left flank and teed up Koke to slot home from close range.
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