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Saul stars as Atletico near ECL final

Soccer

Saul Niguez used the platform of a Champions League semi-final to announce himself as a rising star of European football, with a stunning individual goal in Atletico Madrid’s 1-0 first-leg win over Bayern Munich.

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Seeking to reach their second final in three years, Atletico will take a slender advantage into next week’s second leg in Munich, where the German giants will be out to avoid a third straight semi-final exit from the competition.

To do so, they will have to find an answer to Niguez, after the 21-year-old snaked his way past Bayern Munich’s Thiago Alcantara, skipped away from another pair of defenders, before producing a curled finish to give his side an 11th minute lead.

“It’s the most important goal of my career for sure, and it could be the most beautiful too,” said Saul.

“I was dribbling with the ball, I saw that I’d got by two opponents so when I got into the area I thought about getting it onto my stronger foot, and because it was on my left I placed it (the finish).”

Diego’s Simeone’s superbly-drilled outfit then snuffed out Bayern’s threat and even came close to doubling their lead late on when Fernando Torres’s shot struck the post.

“It was a great game, everyone believed in their work. We put in a huge effort,” Simeone said.

While Bayern’s David Alaba also hit the woodwork with a thumping drive, the result left Pep Guardiola’s side facing a huge task next week.

“I’m not happy with how we played,” said Guardiola.

“We started badly. The goal was a consequence of our slow play. We didn’t win even one battle.”

Atletico made an intense start in the first competitive meeting between the two sides since Bayern beat the Spaniards 4-0 in the 1974 European Cup final replay.

After Saul’s wonder goal, Bayern nearly equalised moments later when Arturo Vidal’s looping header beat Atletico keeper Jan Oblak, only for Jose Gimenez to head the ball off the line.

Bayern were more incisive in the second half, Alaba and Javi Martinez both failing to convert opportunities.

Atletico almost doubled their lead with their only real chance of the second half, when Torres hit the post before Koke’s effort on the rebound found the keeper.

The winners of the tie will face either Real Madrid or Manchester City in the final on May 28.

-Reuters

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