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Atletico go top in Spain despite two missed penalties

Madrid (AFP) – Atletico Madrid moved top of La Liga despite missing two penalties as Antoine Griezmann and Kevin Gameiro handed Diego Simeone’s men a 2-0 win at Valencia on Sunday.

Valencia goalkeeper Diego Alves extended his exceptional penalty record as he denied Griezmann and Gabi from the spot either side of Griezmann’s opener just after the hour mark.

However, Gameiro finally sealed a deserved three points for Atletico in stoppage time to move a point clear of Real Madrid and two of Barcelona, who face Eibar and Celta Vigo respectively later on Sunday.

New Valencia coach Cesare Prandelli watched on from the stands before officially taking charge on Monday, but other than Alves taking his record of saved penalties to 22 from 45 faced in Spanish football, there were few positives for the Italian.

“It doesn’t make any difference to me. I wanted to win the game, which was the most important thing,” Alves told BeIn Sports Spain.

“If I save penalties and it helps the team I am delighted, but if we lose I don’t care.”

After weathering a fast start from Valencia with former Manchester United winger Nani particularly dangerous, Atletico went on to control the majority of the game.

“We faced a great goalkeeper today,” said Gameiro.

“We had to give a lot to win the game, especially after such a difficult Champions League match (against Bayern Munich).”

Saul Niguez’s low effort from Gameiro’s cut-back put Alves to work after just 10 minutes.

The Valencia stopper then made a spectacular save to turn a fierce Griezmann effort onto the roof of the net.

Alves’ best stop was still to come, though, as the visitors were awarded a penalty two minutes before half-time.

Griezmann had hit the bar from the spot against Bayern in midweek, but there was little more the French international could do as his well-struck penalty was brilliantly turned behind.

However, Griezmann has now missed four of the six penalties he has taken for Atletico.

Rodrigo then had a great chance to open the scoring as Valencia raced down the other end, but Jan Oblak stood firm to save low to his left as Atletico registered their seventh clean sheet in nine games this season.

Atletico’s quality off the bench paid dividends when they finally made the breakthrough in the second half.

Substitutes Yannick Carrasco and Fernando Torres combined and despite the latter’s effort being brilliantly saved by Alves once more, Gameiro teed up Griezmann for his sixth La Liga goal of the season from the rebound.

Gameiro should have sealed the three points five minutes later when he fired straight at Alves when one-on-one, but again Atletico made the most of the second ball as Mario Suarez chopped down Griezmann.

Atletico captain Gabi took over penalty duties, but again Alves couldn’t be beaten from the spot.

Nani and Eliaquim Mangala forced Oblak into saves late on as Valencia made a valiant push for the equaliser.

Yet, the hosts were finally caught out deep into stoppage time when Gameiro burst through on goal and this time slotted past Alves sparking wild celebrations from Simeone on the sidelines.

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