dailypeghamMADRID: Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone said he was proud of his side’s title challenge, despite a 2-1 defeat to already-relegated Levante on Sunday ending their hopes of winning La Liga.

Fernando Torres had given Atletico the perfect start with the opening goal inside two minutes. However, Simeone’s men seemed to suffer from the aftereffects of sealing their place in the Champions League final against Bayern Munich in midweek, as goals from Victor Casadesus and Giuseppe Rossi mathematically ended Atletico’s title chances with one game remaining.

“There aren’t any excuses. We are ending a fantastic season and we are one game away from competing with Barcelona and Real Madrid,” said Simeone. “That makes me happy because in other years we were out of it with 10 games remaining.”

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The Argentine admitted though that it was a bitter pill to swallow. “We were a little bit short,” he said. “I am hurting to fall at the penultimate hurdle, but I am delighted to have been fighting until now for the championship. I am so proud of what we have done.”

Simeone also lauded Levante’s performance just six days after their relegation to the second division was confirmed.

“What Levante have done is enormously noble. They have gone down and they fought until the end,” added Simeone. “That is what makes football great that a team can come from playing in the semi-finals of the Champions League and lose.”

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Zidane still believes in Madrid’s pursuit of Barca

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane insists he believes his side can snatch the title away from Barcelona in a dramatic final day showdown this coming Saturday.

Barca hold a one-point lead over Real and will retain their title with victory at Granada next weekend after thrashing Espanyol 5-0.

However, Real moved up to second for the first time in 2016 with their 11th consecutive La Liga win, hanging on for a 3-2 victory over Valencia.

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And victory at Deportivo la Coruna next weekend allied with a Barca slip-up will hand Madrid the title.

“I am always positive. Now we are second, there is one game to go and anything can happen,” said Zidane. “In football you never know what can happen. We need to be aware of that, give our all until the end and see what happens. The first part is our part. It won’t be an easy game and we know that.”

Zidane has masterminded a dramatic turnaround in Real’s fortunes since replacing the sacked Rafael Benitez in January.

Madrid have won 20 of their 25 games since the French legend took charge to progress to just their second Champions League final since Zidane scored the winner as a player in 2002 and push Barca all the way in the title race.