Atletico Madrid have one foot in the UEFA Champions League final after a 1-0 win over Bayern Munich at the Vicente Calderon.
Pep Guardiola came into his seventh Champions League semi-final looking to end Bayern’s staggering run of seven away games on the continent without victory, but their efforts were fruitless in the Spanish capital.
The future Manchester City boss was in the spotlight before a ball had even been kicked, after he chose to leave Thomas Muller out of his starting line-up.
Atletico did not water the pitch before kick-off, and this played into their hands as Bayern never looked comfortable despite a whopping 74% possession.
Diego Simeone’s side set out to find an early goal, with Saul Niguez and Antoine Griezmann going close in the opening exchanges.
It was in fact Saul who scored the game’s only goal, and it came on 11 minutes. Some 30 yards out from goal, he managed to slalom through three Bayern players, before keeping his cool and curling the ball round Manuel Neuer and off the post to send the home fans into raptures.
Bayern nearly found the perfect response though, as sloppy defensive work from Jose Gimenez saw him hit the ball back towards his own goal moments after the restart, although he made amends as he cleared Arturo Vidal’s header off the line.
The German champions continued to search for an equaliser, and their travelling support thought they’d found it midway through the first half. Douglas Costa tried to beat Jan Oblak at the near post but could only find the side netting, and the Bayern fans thought for a moment they had found an away goal.
With half-an-hour gone, Atletico nearly found a second when Griezmann headed towards goal at a tight angle, and it proved to be too much as his scuffed shot was easily stopped by Neuer.
The second half was largely one-sided, and Bayern nearly levelled the tie with David Alaba’s brilliant 35-yard strike which cannoned back off of Oblak’s bar.
A minute later, Javi Martinez was left unmarked following his side’s corner, but his header was a tame one, as Guardiola then threw Franck Ribery and Thomas Muller into the action.
Vidal’s fierce 20-yard strike looked destined for the top corner, but Oblak was on hand again to keep his side ahead.
A quarter-of-an-hour remained and Bayern were no closer to finding an equaliser, and they were nearly two behind after failing to stop an Atletico counter. Fernando Torres rolled back the years to skip past Alaba, but his shot with the outside of his foot could only find the post. Koke’s rebound produced a simple save from Neuer, as the Rojiblancos went back to camping in their own half.
Mehdi Benatia and Arturo Vidal missed half-chances in stoppage time, as Atletico held on to claim a precious victory.
Simeone’s men head to the Allianz Arena next Tuesday with a 1-0 lead, and perhaps crucially, no fear of an away goal deficit, while Guardiola has one last chance to claim Europe’s grandest prize at Bayern Munich, but will have to overturn one of the world’s most stubborn outfits to reach the final.