Sunday 27 November 2016, 10:00

Need a wonder goal? Better call Saul

The announcement of the winner of the FIFA Puskás Award for the best goal of the year will be one of the most eagerly awaited moments of The Best FIFA Football Awards™, to be held on 9 January 2017. The destination of the trophy will be decided by the fans, who have the task of voting for their favourite from the ten goals up for the award.

Among the contenders is Saul Niguez’s spectacular solo effort against Bayern Munich, a goal that had an entire stadium on its feet. It came on 27 April, in front of a full house of 54,000 at the Vicente Calderon, where Atletico Madrid were playing host to the Germans in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League semi-final.

The atmosphere was typically raucous, with the home crowd in full song, swinging their scarves in the air. Then, with only ten minutes on the clock, time suddenly stood still for a few seconds.

There was little indication of what was about to come when the Atletico defence cleared a long ball, sending it just over the halfway line, where Arturo Vidal beat Augusto Fernandez in the air. Vidal’s header found its way to Saul, who promptly brought the ball down with his right foot and then began drifting out to the right flank. On seeing that he had no team-mates in close support, the Atletico midfielder chose to turn and head for goal. By that time, he had Thiago Alcantara snapping at his heels and Juanfran steaming down the wing, offering him the chance to lay the ball off.

Declining the easy option, Saul made a speedy beeline for the Bayern box, with the home fans wondering if he was doing the right thing, especially as Juan Bernat and Xabi Alonso were lying in wait, poised to block his path. Cutting one way and then the next, with the ball now glued to his left foot, Saul left Bernat trailing in his wake and skipped past Alonso, whose sliding tackle was in vain.

Bearing down now on the visitors’ box, he found David Alaba standing in his path, level with the penalty spot. By this stage, however, the only thing in Saul’s sights was the goal defended by Manuel Neuer. Knowing exactly where he wanted to place the ball, he deceived the Austrian centre-half with an impish jink and curled a low left-footed shot just out of reach of the diving Neuer and in off the far post.

Cue delirium in the stands, as the fans rubbed their eyes in disbelief at what they had just witnessed and Diego Simeone danced a jig of delight on the touchline, the Rojiblanco coach getting so excited that his mobile went tumbling to the floor. Recovering his composure after his side’s narrow 1-0 win, Simeone described Saul’s majestic match-winning strike as “a goal of pure talent.”

Do you agree? Check out the ten goals in contention for the Puskás Award at The Best FIFA Football Awards 2016 and vote for your favourite. You have until 2 December to make your mind up.

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