MANCHESTER, LISBON: Kevin De Bruyne scored the only goal to give Manchester City a 1-0 win over Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal on Tuesday.
After a tight 70 minutes, City finally found their way through Atletico’s tough rearguard helped by Phil Foden’s vision. Just 79 seconds after coming off the bench, Foden slid in a fine throughball and De Bruyne raced through to fire in a low shot from a tight angle.
“We knew it was going to be pretty tough to create some opportunities,” De Bruyne said. “The first half was tight, but we didn’t give anything away and in the second half had a couple of chances. It was good that we took one.”
Both City and Atletico have reached the Champions League final but have never lifted the trophy.
Atletico played their usual cagey game as coach Diego Simeone had promised.
The first half was played at a slow tempo with City controlling most of the ball but, despite having all of its outfield players in the final third at times, being unable to create openings.
De Bruyne and Joao Cancelo both had efforts deflected wide and Aymeric Laporte missed the target with a header.
Ilkay Gundogan shot well over and Rodri had a long-range effort blocked before De Bruyne had a penalty appeal turned down and John Stones also missed.
“It is very hard,” De Bruyne said. “They played almost five at the back and five in midfield, it is very hard to find the spaces.”
It was not until the second half that the hosts tried to inject more pace into their play. That did open the game up slightly and Atletico almost capitalized with a couple of breaks from deep. Antoine Griezmann wasted one opening with a poor pass and Marcos Llorente chipped tamely at goalkeeper Ederson from another.
However, City also began to threaten more as Gundogan had an effort deflected wide and Laporte went close with a header.
City appealed for another penalty for a push by Reinildo on Sterling but it was not given. That proved Sterling’s final involvement as manager Pep Guardiola took him off in the move that changed the game.
Foden, who came on alongside Jack Grealish and Gabriel Jesus, teed up De Bruyne for the goal.
Foden created another chance for De Bruyne soon after following a tricky run to the byline but this time Atletico had enough players back to block.
“The way we played was good because we didn’t give anything away,” De Bruyne said. “You need to be calm and patient, try to find the balls and the spaces because they were compact.”
Diaz stars on return to Portugal in Liverpool’s victory
It just had to be Luis Diaz.
The Colombia winger was the last player Benfica supporters inside the atmospheric Estádio da Luz wanted to see race onto a throughball and produce an emphatic finish to complete a 3-1 win for Liverpool in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals on Tuesday.
After all, Diaz was playing for Porto, Benfica’s big rival in Portugal, until he was signed by Liverpool in January. No wonder he was whistled by home fans — and even targeted with objects thrown from the stands — as he wheeled away in celebration following his crucial third goal in the 87th minute.
It was a brilliantly taken goal, too, as Diaz latched onto Naby Keita’s deflected pass that split Benfica’s defense before rounding the goalkeeper and slotting his finish into the unguarded net from a tight angle.
“He got a nice reception, didn’t he?” Liverpool defender Andrew Robertson said, smiling. “It was a good finish for him and a really important goal for us. It gives us a two-goal cushion, which makes a difference.”
Diaz, who was jeered whenever he touched the ball, played a big part in Liverpool’s second goal, too, when he nodded down a pinpoint long pass by Trent Alexander-Arnold to allow Sadio Mane to tap home from close range in the 34th. That built on Liverpool’s opener scored by Ibrahima Konaté — the center back’s first for the club — off an outswinging corner from Robertson in the 17th minute.
Benfica, playing in the quarterfinals for the first time since 2016 after eliminating Ajax in the last 16, could easily have been further behind by halftime as Liverpool pressed high and was much sharper with its passing. But the hosts took the game more to the six-time European champions in the second half and Uruguay striker Darwin Núñez capitalized on a mistake by Konaté to pull a goal back in the 49th.
Konaté blotted what was otherwise a strong defensive display by failing to clear Rafa Silva’s cross from the right. The ball went through his legs and landed at the feet of Núñez, who took a couple of touches and delivered a composed, sidefooted finish beyond the sprawling Konaté and into the bottom corner.
There were a few more rocky moments for Liverpool — in one of them, goalkeeper Alisson Becker was almost dispossessed on the edge of his area by Silva — before Diaz’s strike ensured Jurgen Klopp’s team would clinch a fifth straight win in all competitions.
“Coming here and winning an away game in the Champions League is tough,” Klopp said. “Benfica fought for their lives. We gave them a little bit too much but they deserved the goal as well.”
Still, the Reds passed the latest test in their bid for an unprecedented quadruple of trophies, with the semifinals now in sight. They have already won the English League Cup, are in the semifinals of the FA Cup, and are one point behind leader Manchester City in the Premier League.
Klopp even took the option of bringing off star attackers Mane and Mohamed Salah in the 61st minute, perhaps with the league showdown against City on Sunday in mind.
City also will go into that game on the back of a win in Tuesday’s other quarterfinal, 1-0 over Atletico Madrid.
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