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- Wayne Rooney’s goalscoring record is a rare piece of Manchester United history. Take notice.
- MOTD: Ibrahimovic salvages United point against Liverpool
- The Crystal (Palace) Maze!
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MOTD: Atletico Madrid 1-0 Bayern Munich
Saul Niguez’s wonder-strike put Atletico Madrid in the driver’s seat in a tight Champions League semifinal tie against Bayern Munich and took Diego Simeone’s men within ninety minutes of their second European final in three years.
It was the pair’s first meeting since the 1974 European Cup final, a night when Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck gave Bayern a 120th minute winner. Tonight, Atletico’s dogged defensive performance denied Bayern a late comeback, though their task is only halfway complete and there may yet be late drama ahead in the second leg in Munich.
There were just eleven minutes on the clock when Niguez struck, accelerating his way past Thiago Alcantara and weaving between Juan Bernat and Xabi Alonso. In a moment of brilliance, the twenty-one-year-old scythed through Bayern’s back-line and opened up his hips to curl a lovely finish into the bottom left corner from fifteen yards out.
The flash of quality stood out in an otherwise tight, tense affair and Atletico clung onto their lead.
Said Bayern coach Pep Guardiola, per the BBC: “Their goal is a brilliant goal, but it’s our mistake. We kept standing off. I’m not happy with how we played.
“It was a good game overall, but we started badly. The goal was a consequence of our slow play.”
There are few more intimidating welcomes in European football than the deafening roar of the Vicente Calderon and the Bavarians were overrun by Atleti’s roaring start. They had already taken five shots before Niguez found the back of the net, changing the complexion of the tie from the very outset. The deafening roar of the Calderon stunned Bayern and Guardiola’s men attempted to calm the tempo of the match down, to no avail.
Bayern are winless in their past eight away games in the Champions League knockout stages and could barely keep up in the opening moments. It was all helter-skelter and for every pass Bayern could complete, Atletico covered more ground.
The home side were the more dangerous on the break but Bayern’s wave after wave of attacking slowly wore down Simeone’s men. Juanfran cleared Arturo Vidal’s header off the line and Phillip Lahm had a penalty shout in the twenty-nineth minute, but before the television cameras could even cut to the replay, Antoine Griezmann was galloping in behind Bayern’s defense on the break. The Frenchman forced Manuel Neuer into a smart stop down low at the near post and Atleti coiled back into their stubborn defensive shape.
On the other side of the half, David Alaba smashed the crossbar with a swerving effort from twenty-five yards and Javi Martinez saw a towering header saved in the fifty-sixth minute. Yet Bayern’s usual work-up play and rhythm was disrupted by Atletico and Robert Lewandowski and Kingsley Coman were rendered almost invisible.
Douglas Costa came close before Vidal forced Jan Oblak into an acrobatic save, yet Atleti again struck on the break as Torres burst in own the right, cut inside and curled a lovely outside of the boot effort onto the inside of the post. Koke’s follow up effort was saved, but the warning signs were there and Guardiola replaced Bernat with Mehdi Benatia in reaction.
Alaba whistled a twenty yard effort just wide of the post and as the clock ticked down, Bayern poured more and more men forward. Yet Atletico clung onto the victory and a roar of triumph echoed around the Calderon at the final whistle.
Said Torres: “It was a fantastic night and I’m happy for all Atleticos. We’ve got the lead we wanted.
“We kept fighting, that’s what we do. Bayern have a level that few other teams have but we kept on doing our thing.”