Goalscorer Saul Niguez insisted Atletico Madrid were rightful winners of Champions League Group C after a 2-1 victory at Benfica handed them top spot ahead of their hosts.
Saul found the back of the net in the 33rd minute of the clash at the Estadio da Luz to help extend Atletico’s winning streak in all competitions to seven matches and avenge the 2-1 defeat to Benfica in Spain back in September.
The midfielder’s third goal of the season was followed by Luciano Vietto’s first Champions League strike to ensure Diego Simeone’s side will avoid the likes of Manchester City and Bayern Munich in the last 16 when the draw is made on Monday.
Benfica, who required a point to finish above Atletico courtesy of their superior head-to-head record, gave themselves late hope when Konstantinos Mitroglou came off the bench to halve the arrears with quarter of an hour remaining, but the visitors held on – much to Saul’s delight.
“It was a very important win for us, hard work and we suffered a lot but I think we deserve to go through top of the group,” he said.
“Benfica played a great game, forcing us back and we had to hold on.”
Saul’s team-mate Gabi admitted that Atletico tired towards the end of the match but he paid tribute to the Spanish outfit’s resolve.
“I think that coming to this kind of pitch against a great side like Benfica and not being up against it is difficult,” he said.
“We played a great game and in the end with our fatigue and their goal we sat back a bit. The side’s identity never changes, however, and that’s important.”