On a team built in the image of its fiery Argentine Diego Simeone
, 21-year-old Saul
stands out as someone different. He scored a goal for the ages, beating four Bayern Munich
defenders before slotting the ball past the great Manuel Neuer
and giving Atletico a slim 1-0 edge after the first leg of their UEFA Champions League semifinal series. Highlights: Saul goal
| Saul touches
With the goal, Saul, a Spanish under-21 international, thrust his name into contention for a spot on Spain's Euro 2016
team that will seek to win an unprecedented third straight championship.
What made the goal so amazing was that the first three players Saul eluded were Spaniards -- Thiago
and Xabi Alonso
-- before sidestepping Austrian David Alaba
and firing a left-footed shot past Neuer.
"I was dribbling with the ball and always
had my eye on the goal," Saul said. "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. Because it was on my left I placed it. It's the
most important goal of my career for sure, and it could be the most beautiful too."
Saul is not an unknown commodity. He is in his fourth La Liga season -- three at Atletico and one on
loan to Rayo Vallecano -- and been courted by most of the big English clubs.
There was talk of Saul wanting out at Atletico, despite signing a contract extension last summer through June
2020, when he started the current season on the bench, but he was inserted into the starting lineup when midfielder Tiago
was injured in November and has stayed there ever since.
Saul was born in the city of Elche and moved Atletico's city rival, Real Madrid, from his hometown club at the age of 11 only to quickly leave.
“During that year with Madrid," he
told El Mundo earlier in the year, "I learned many things, I matured a lot. It was a difficult year, because many non-sporting things were happening."
Saul said teammates stole his shoes
and food and he was banned from training for things he says he didn't do. At the end of the year, he moved to Atletico.
Saul's goal set up the possibility of facing the club he fled in
the Champions League final. Atletico and Real Madrid (which tied Manchester City 0-0 on the road) have the edge heading into the second leg of the semifinals.