Atlético defeats Elche to end winless run in Spanish league

MADRID (AP) — The World Cup break did some good for Atlético Madrid.

Atlético ended a three-game winless streak in the Spanish league with a 2-0 victory over last-place Elche on Thursday in its first match back after the World Cup stoppage.

João Félix and Álvaro Morata scored second-half goals for Atlético, which moved back into the Champions League places with the victory at the Metropolitano stadium.

“The team had a great attitude,” Atlético coach Diego Simeone said. “It was a very good match. We have to keep working to keep improving going forward.”

Atlético went into the World Cup break with a victory against fifth-tier Almazán in the first round of the Copa del Rey, but Simeone’s team had not won in five straight matches in all competitions before that, including two in a row in the group stage of the Champions League, which left it without a place in any European competition for the rest of the season.

Atlético had also beaten fourth-tier Arenteiro in the second round of the Copa del Rey after the World Cup.

Félix opened the scoring with a header in the 56th minute and Morata added to the lead in the 74th with a shot that bounced off a defender and over the goalkeeper.

Morata went to the ground after the shot and only found out he was the one who scored while celebrating with his teammates.

“I thought it was (Antoine) Griezmann who had scored off the rebound,” he said. “I was on the ground, had no idea.”

Morata was with Spain at the World Cup, and Félix was with Portugal. Their Argentina teammates at Atlético — Ángel Correa, Nahuel Molina and Rodrigo De Paul — were honored before the match against Elche for their world title in Qatar. None of them played as they rejoined the group late.

Pablo Barrios, 19, made his debut as a starter for Atlético.

Both teams played with 10 men as Elche saw Gonzalo Verdú sent off just before halftime and Atlético’s Mario Hermoso was red-carded in the 53rd. Elche also lost Domingos Quina with a red card in the 90th.

Elche, debuting coach Pablo Machín, remained the only winless club after 15 league matches.

OTHER RESULTS

Fifth-place Athletic Bilbao drew 0-0 at sixth-place Real Betis, while Girona drew 2-2 with visiting Rayo Vallecano.

Leader Barcelona hosts city rival Espanyol on Saturday. Second-place Real Madrid, two points behind the Catalan club, visits Real Valladolid on Friday.

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More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

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