MADRID (AP) — While Atletico Madrid stars Diego Costa and Thibaut Courtois garner much of the praise for the team's success, fringe player Diego Ribas' superb goal against Barcelona showed just how heavily the Spanish leader can lean on its entire squad.
Ribas' opportunities have been lacking since a January loan move from Wolfsburg. But the Brazilian midfielder came off the bench to replace injured striker Costa and stunned the Camp Nou with a rising shot from 25 meters (yards) in the 1-1 Champions League draw on Tuesday. Atletico holds the away goal advantage for the quarterfinal return leg next week.
"Scoring is always wonderful. And scoring like I did and here in Barcelona is really special," he said. "I was able to hit the ball the right way. It is a great moment in my life."
Ribas arrived with much fanfare in January but has so far made little impact on a squad that prides itself on a physical approach.
But even coach Diego Simeone was excited about his unexpected strike, which swerved through the air and beyond outstretched Barcelona goalkeeper Jose Manuel Pinto, giving his side a valuable boost after Costa's exit.
"He was annoyed at not getting in the lineup and was working hard to get in. So I'm very happy for him," Simeone said. "He trains hard every day with this hope. The team needs him, and he answered that need. Hopefully he helps us maintain our advantage."
Ribas was one of Simeone's regulars during a Europa League winning campaign two seasons ago — when he was at the club on loan. He could well be called on in next Wednesday's return leg with Costa's availability uncertain after the Spain striker hurt his right leg.
Ribas will probably be needed to complement international midfielders Koke and Arda Turan, plus gritty captain Gabi Fernandez, when Atletico defends its one-point league lead over Barcelona against Villarreal on Saturday.
While Costa's goals have earned much of the attention in Atletico's standout season, Courtois' performances between the posts have been just as important.
The Belgium goalkeeper is in his third season on loan from Chelsea, and Atletico is desperate to retain his services for next season with Real Madrid showing interest.
"He's one of the world's best goalkeepers," Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino said.
The 21-year-old Courtois could even push Chelsea 'keeper Petr Cech out sooner rather than later if he maintains his current form.
"Next week I'll announce my decision," Courtois said. "I'm not going to say whether I'm staying or not (now)."
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