Seldom is a press box left short of something to say. However, as Jan Oblak pulled off a stunning trio of saves to first thwart Julian Brant, then twice deny Kevin Volland in quick succession during Atlético Madrid’s 0-0 draw with Bayer Leverkusen on Wednesday, a stunned silence enveloped journalists and fans alike before the stadium erupted in appreciation.
There were nods of the head, some journalists joined in with the applause and others continued to look on in disbelief at what they had just witnessed. Even Iker Casillas, the former captain of great city rivals Real Madrid, took to Twitter to voice his appreciation.
“These are things that happen. Sometimes you save three efforts and other times they score all three,” an equanimous Oblak told UEFA.com. “It’s something that’s hard to explain. I just saw the ball and went to make the save with all I had. Today everything went right for me and hopefully it continues to do so.”
It was a big moment in the tie as a whole and helped ensure Atlético’s passage to the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals for the fourth consecutive season. “It’s not something that’s easy to achieve,” he said of their recent competition record. “Everyone at Atlético values it. The side will continue to grow as it has done over the last few years and I know we can achieve big things.”
Coincidentally, it was almost exactly two years ago to the day against the same opposition that Oblak first truly made his mark as an Atlético player as they defeated the Werkself on penalties.
Having struggled for playing time following a big-money move to the Spanish capital from Benfica, the then 22-year-old replaced the injured Miguel Ángel Moyà in the first half. After keeping the visitors out all night, he then won a place in the hearts of the Vicente Calderón faithful as he kept out Hakan Çalhanoğlu’s effort in the shoot-out.
One man’s bad luck is another man’s good fortune and Oblak has not looked back since, putting in a number of impressive displays to cement the No1 berth. “Two years ago, I made my Champions League debut here due to Miguel’s bad luck. I have great memories of that game. It changed my life at the club because I started to play more,” said the Slovenian international.
A shoulder injury sustained in December meant he missed the first leg, but he made up for lost time as he returned with what coach Diego Simeone labelled as a “fantastic” performance.
Oblak has conceded just one goal in his last nine European appearances at the Calderón and has been beaten just twice in seven continental outings this term. It is not hard then to see why Antoine Griezmann describes him as “the best goalkeeper in the world. He shows it every game he plays in and he did it again today”.