Diego Simeone had the perfect view of the perfect goal until the end when Saúl momentarily disappeared out of sight, and then Atlético Madrid’s manager had to imagine the goal that gave his side a vital 1-0 lead after the Champions League semi-final first leg against Bayern Munich.
The Spanish side will head to the Allianz Arena on Tuesday with the advantage given to them by Saúl’s stunning early strike.
As for Saúl himself, it all started unfolding when he swerved between Xabi Alonso and Juan Bernat and into the area, ready to score what he described as the “most important goal of my career, and maybe the most beautiful too.”
“I was standing diagonally from him so I could see the start of the move very well,” the Atlético Madrid manager said of the moment the ball dropped to Saúl in the centre circle after 11 minutes. “He got away from the first man [Thiago] and kept going. He is very strong, good one-on-ones.”
As Simeone watched, urging him on, the pitch opened up for Saúl. “I was dribbling with the ball, I saw that I’d got by two opponents and when I got into the area I thought about getting it onto my stronger foot. When it was on my left, I placed it.” The ball curled in off the far post. Ninety metres away, Simeone could see it now.
“When the ball went in we were happy,” he said. “Saúl is in a brilliant moment and it fills you with joy to see everything that is happening to him. He deserves it for the work he does, the persistence, the motivation, for believing in himself.”
Bayern’s manager Pep Guardiola called the goal “fantastic” but when he was asked if it could be compared to something Leo Messi would do, he puffed out his cheeks. “Pfff, I admire Saúl a lot,” he said, “but I don’t think you can compare him to Messi. Saúl is a great player. Spanish football has another great talent.”
Simeone, who celebrates his 46th birthday on Thursday, insisted that the victory gives Atlético a “chance” in the second leg. “It’s an open tie,” he added. “Playing in Munich means they’ll have their fans behind them and home advantage. But we have a chance to get an away goal. It’ll be a close game like today’s and we’ll see who makes the most of their chances.
“We got in front, we felt comfortable. In the second half they [Bayern] were better, they had lots of possession and they got in behind us. We defended well but it was a different game in the second half.”
Bayern’s Pep Guardiola was frustrated at his side’s slow start in Spain. “It was a good game overall, but we started badly. The goal was a consequence of our slow play. We have to play more intelligently in the return match,” he said.
“We need patience and we only need a goal to take the game to extra time. The result isn’t good. It makes the return tough but we still hope to make the final.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010