MADRID: Goalkeeper Jan Oblak was Atletico Madrid’s hero as he defied neighbours Real in a goalless first leg of their Champions League quarter-final showdown in the Estadio Calderon.
The 22-year-old Slovene pulled off two vital first-half saves, the first of them at point-blank range, to deny Gareth Bale and enable Atletico to extend their unbeaten record against Carlo Ancelotti’s men this season to seven games.
Real, world and European champions, commanded the first half but ultimately had to make do with a share of the spoils to set up a dramatic shoot-out at the Bernabeu next Wednesday evening.
Intriguingly, Atletico have won and secured two score draws in their three trips into enemy territory to date during the campaign, and a similar result would be enough to secure a semi-final berth for Diego Simeone’s side.
Real sprinted out of the blocks and had their hosts on the back foot from the off with Bale in particular a threat as he and full-back Dani Carvajal prospered down the right.
Carvajal forced Oblak into a second-minute save with a long-range effort, but it was the Wales international who came closest to breaking the deadlock during the opening flurry.
He should really have scored with just four minutes gone when he took advantage of defender Diego Godin’s error to race in on goal, but Oblak threw out his right arm to make a fine save.
Cristiano Ronaldo failed to extend the keeper unduly with a 35-year-free-kick, but Bale did force him into another impressive save 14 minutes before the break with a skidding effort which bounced just in front of him.
Oblak distinguished himself once again six minutes later when he turned away James Rodriguez’s audacious effort, and opposite number Iker Casillas was called upon for the first time seconds later after Sergio Ramos had uncharacteristically gifted possession to Antoine Griezmann.
The second half, however, was a much more even affair and Atletico substitute Fernando Torres had appeals for an 87th-minute penalty waved away and before Mario Mandzukic blast a last-minute drive into Alvaro Arbeloa’s midriff.
In the night’s other tie Juventus took a decisive step towards a first appearance in the semi-finals of the Champions League for the first time since 2003 after Arturo Vidal’s penalty sealed a 1-0 first-leg victory over Monaco in Turin.
The Bianconeri last featured in the final four of the competition 12 years ago, beating Real Madrid to book a Manchester showdown with AC Milan which they lost after 120 goalless minutes and a penalty shootout.
Vidal provided a timely fillip from the spot this time around, however, converting in the 57th minute following a clumsy challenge from Monaco defender Ricardo Carvalho.
The Serie A leaders travel to the principality next week having avoided shipping an away goal, despite the best efforts of Geoffrey Kondogbia towards the end of a one-sided evening at the Juventus Stadium.