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Keylor Navas leads Real Madrid to another shutout in first leg of Champions League semifinals

A “walk-off” save from goalkeeper Keylor Navas allowed Real Madrid to escape Manchester City with a tie in the first leg of the team’s Champions League semifinal Tuesday. Navas jumped up to swat away a free kick from Belgian wunderkind Kevin De Bruyne in extra time, saving a 0-0 draw and giving Real Madrid a great chance to get into the Champions League title game for a record 14th time.

A limping Madrid side now figures to be favored in next week’s winner-take-all match when it returns home to Bernabéu Stadium for the second and final leg. Los Merengues were without injured superstar Cristiano Ronaldo Tuesday, while banged-up French striker Karim Benzema started but only lasted one half before having to be subbed out. Still, Real Madrid’s defense did its part to carry an offense that was far from 100 percent.

Until the last minutes, the semifinal opener was one of the few times all season where Navas was virtually unchallenged. In the 58th minute, Man City’s all-star forward Sergio Agüero raced into the side of the box but was cut off by a lunging Navas. It was the first time in the match that Navas was called into action, and the Costa Rican star looked shaken up following the collision.

In the 68th minute, De Bruyne crossed a laser into the box but Navas dove in front to intercept it and deny giving up any rebound opportunities. Then Navas wasn’t tested again until De Bruyne’s on-target free kick in penalty time.

Navas’ latest shutout marks his 10th clean sheet in 11 career Champions League games, an incredible rate of consistency that left him second all-time in consecutive minutes (737) played without giving up a goal in tournament history.

“I felt we were really well organized on defense and luckily we didn’t have any severe problems pop up,” Navas told a television reporter after the game.

Though Madrid has been vulnerable away from home in both Champions League and Spain’s La Liga this season, the defense tightened up and held its own against an impressive line of Man City attackers. On offense, Real Madrid’s closest chances started to come towards the end of the second period.

In the 78th minute, Real Madrid forward Gareth Bale appeared to be fouled while streaking towards goal, but no infraction was called. A pair of subsequent corner kicks were nearly put in by a Madrid scrum, but Man City keeper Joe Hart managed to deflect away both tries that came just three minutes apart. On the second attempt, Madrid defender Pepe had a point blank try that hit the stomach of a sliding Hart, who made a fantastic play on the ball.

Earning a tie on the road in the first of the two-game series is considered a victory for Real Madrid, which has looked much more comfortable at home all year and should be getting Ronaldo and Benzema back in the lineup.

Real Madrid and Man City go back to Madrid’s Bernabeau Stadium on Wednesday, May 4 with the winner playing in the Champions League final.

If Navas and Real Madrid take care of business at home next week in the second leg, they’ll be one step closer to winning a historic 11th Champions League title.

Contact Michael Krumholtz at mkrumholtz@ticotimes.net

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