Olivier Giroud scored a superb second-half winner to end Chelsea’s wretched run in the Champions League knockout stages in style – then admitted that he had been as uncertain as anyone over whether the goal would be allowed.
Chelsea held their own in a typical European contest involving the current Liga leaders, with Diego Simeone’s wily contenders intent on defending resolutely and pouncing on the break through the likes of deadly top scorer Luis Suarez in the round of 16 first leg.
New manager Thomas Tuchel would likely have been content to have continued his unbeaten start as Blues boss before Giroud acrobatically intervened, reacting ingeniously to a dipping ricochet in the 68th minute to bend a bicycle kick into the corner of the net from inside the penalty area.
The veteran striker was left grinning ruefully after his spectacular effort was initially chalked off in Bucharest, only to be redeemed by a lengthy VAR check that ruled the ball had spun towards him off a final touch from unfortunate Atletico defender Mario Hermoso.
Giroud’s goal was a fitting way to end a run of nine matches without a win in the knockout stages of the competition for the English Premier League giants.
“We came here with strong intentions to win the game,” the composed World Cup winner explained to BT Sport afterwards.
“We analyzed their game well and knew how we could give them trouble. We were very strong at the back with a good defensive shape. It’s a deserved win.
“I was not over-confident [about the goal being given]. I didn’t know what to think because I was just focused on hitting the ball well. I had no clue about being offside or not.”
At 34 years and 146 days, the France forward became the oldest player to score in the knockout stages for Chelsea, and the oldest to hit the net for an English side since Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs scored at the age of 37 almost ten years ago.
Giroud also sealed the best goals-to-minutes ratio of any player to score at least twice in this season’s Champions League, averaging a goal every 38 minutes on the pitch.
Despite the match taking place in Romania because of travel complications relating to the pandemic, Chelsea were the “away” side – meaning Giroud’s goal could prove even more momentous in the second leg.
“We know the importance of the away goal in Europe and that’s why I was very pleased,” he purred.
“We were confident but we obviously faced a great team and I think we were very, very committed.
“We knew their main strengths – we just need to stay focused now and finish the job at home.”