Atletico finishes strong after poor start to season

Atletico players with head coach Diego Simeone, far right in black, celebrate with the trophy after winning the Europa League Final soccer match between Marseille and Atletico Madrid at the Stade de Lyon in Decines, outside Lyon, France, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
Atletico's head coach Diego Simeone, in black suit, celebrates with his players after winning the Europa League Final soccer match between Marseille and Atletico Madrid at the Stade de Lyon in Decines, outside Lyon, France, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
Atletico's head coach Diego Simeone, in black suit, celebrates with his players after winning the Europa League Final soccer match between Marseille and Atletico Madrid at the Stade de Lyon in Decines, outside Lyon, France, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

MADRID — It all turned out just fine for Atletico Madrid.

After enduring a poor start to the season, Atletico ended it on a very high note.

Diego Simeone's team is celebrating the Europa League title and still has a chance to finish second in the Spanish league, a feat it hasn't achieved since 2014.

"We're very happy. We've been doing well year after year," Simeone said. "We've always said the best way to start winning again was to always keep trying."

It was the sixth title for Simeone since he arrived in 2012 to revamp Atletico and make it into perennial title contender. He is now tied with Luis Aragones for the most titles with the club.

"It's about more than a trophy," Simeone said. "It represents the value of hard work, a steady hand and consistency, values to be successful in life."

Life poured onto the streets of the Spanish capital late Wednesday to celebrate Atletico winning a third Europa League trophy after beating Marseille 3-0 in the final in Lyon.

It was a good way to end a season which began with very high expectations for Atletico but mostly disappointed until the last few weeks.

The main goal was to make it back to the Champions League final after coming very close to winning the title in recent seasons, But it couldn't even get past the group stage.

Atletico easily made it to the knockout stages in the last four seasons, losing the final to Real Madrid in 2014 and 2016, and being a semifinalist last season and a quarterfinalist in 2015.

"We came very close in two Champions League finals, and in the semifinals last season," Simeone said. "We lost one (final) with two minutes left, and another on penalties. But we got ourselves back up."

Atletico lost to Sevilla in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey to see another title opportunity slip by, and in the Spanish league it stayed near the top throughout the season but was never really able to mount a title challenge against Barcelona.

Not helpful was a FIFA transfer ban which wasn't lifted until January, when Atletico could finally sign striker Diego Costa.

Atletico needs a draw at home against Eibar on Sunday to hold on to second place ahead of Real Madrid and secure its best finish since it won the league in 2014. Atletico finished third behind either Barcelona or Madrid in all the other years since 2012-13, which was the team's first full season under Simeone.

A draw or a loss by Real Madrid at Villarreal on Saturday will also be enough for Atletico, which is three points ahead of the city rival with one match to play. The teams are even in the head-to-head tiebreaker — they drew 0-0 and 1-1 — but Atletico trails on overall goal difference.

Sunday's Liga game will also mark the end of Fernando Torres' career with Atletico. The former Spain striker earlier announced he will leave the club at the end of the season.

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More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga

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Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

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