Sevilla, Spain, Mar 6 (EFE).- Atletico de Madrid on Sunday secured a hard-fought 3-1 road win over Betis, the victory getting them back into Champions League play thanks to a brace by Joao Felix and a late tally by Thomas Lemar after Cristian Tello had evened things up in first-half stoppage time.
The Portuguese player had opened the scoring just two minutes into play, but the match was a competitive contest in Benito Villamarin Stadium before some 45,000 fans, marked by injuries on both sides.
Atletico really came into its own after the break, however, when Felix snagged his second tally in the 61st minute and then Lemar virtually put a draw out of reach with a third goal in the 80th minute.
Both teams came into Sunday’s contest severely depleted, with Betis suffering the loss of the injured Montoya, Miranda, Alex Moreno, Bellerin, Camarasa and Rodri and the sanctioned Canales, and the capital squad missing Koke, Kondogbia, Hermoso, Cunha and Wass, all on the injured list, along with the sanctioned Savic.
The match started out in electrified fashion, with Diego Simeone’s boys getting on the board just two minutes into play, when Felix coolly hit the twine on a centering pass from the right by Correa.
But Betis didn’t roll over, reacting well despite its lack of strength along the laterals, a situation that became even more complicated when Guardado went down in the 11th minute, replaced by Tello.
It was a competitive first half with lots of stops and more injuries, with Atletico’s Vrsaljko having to be replaced by Yannick Carrasco in the 21st minute and Correa 6 minutes later by Antoine Griezmann.
But Manuel Pellegrini’s team didn’t lose focus, winning the battle at midfield, having apparently recovered nicely from the injuries and changes in the starting lineup.
Finally, after threatening the net manned by Oblak several times, Betis managed to even things up in the fifth minute of first-half stoppage time when Tello was in the right spot at the right time.
When play resumed after the break, Simeone strengthened his midfield by bringing in Lemar for Renan Lodi, and that worked well, giving the team more solidity against the combative Betis, with Oblak fending off several scoring chances by the hosts.
Just after the hour mark, Atletico found a way to go ahead once more, once again thanks to Felix, who notched his second tally after a rapid attack and great centering pass from Llorente.
Betis tried to fight back, but Joao Felix and Griezmann threatened and finally Lemar was able to hit for the 3-1, where the score remained until the final whistle, thus getting Atletico back into the Champions zone.
With the win, Atletico is tied with Barcelona with 48 points for the fourth and third spots, respectively, on the La Liga table, while Betis slid down to fifth place after starting the day in the No. 3 spot.
Meanwhile, Sevilla is in second and Real Madrid is nicely out in front of the pack perched at the top of the table.
Betis: Bravo; Sabaly, Bartra, Victor Ruiz, Guardado (Tello, m.11); Paul (Guido Rodriguez, m.57), William Carvalho; Aitor Ruibal, Fekir, Joaquin (Juanmi, m.66); Borja Iglesias (Willian Jose, m.66).
Atletico de Madrid: Oblak; Vrsaljko (Carrasco, m.21), Gimenez, Felipe, Reinildo, Lodi (Lemar, m.46); Llorente, Herrera, De Paul (Javi Serrano, m.83); Correa (Griezmann, m.27), Joao Felix (Suarez, m.83).