Atletico Madrid easily beats Astana 4-0 in Champions League

MADRID (AP) Saul Niguez, Jackson Martinez and substitute Oliver Torres scored a goal each as Atletico Madrid defeated Astana 4-0 to take the Group C lead in the Champions League on Wednesday.

Niguez opened the scoring with a back-heel finish following a corner in the 23rd minute. Martinez then fired home in the 29th and Torres added another in the 63rd to put the game out of reach at the Vicente Calderon Stadium in Madrid.

The fourth goal came when Astana defender Denys Dedechko turned the ball into his own net while trying to clear a low cross in the 89th.

The victory leaves Atletico with six points from three matches in Group C. Benfica, which lost 2-1 at Galatasaray, also has six points but trails the Spanish club on goal difference. Galatasaray reached four points, while winless Astana remains in last place with only one point.

Atletico will travel to Kazakhstan to play Astana in the next round, while Benfica hosts Galatasaray in Portugal.

”I’m happy with the win, because once again we have gone top of a difficult and complex group,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. ”I think that the team is growing on an individual level and on a collective level.”

The Champions League runner-up two seasons ago, Atletico had a slow start but was in control throughout the match.

Niguez found the net with a remarkable back-heel touch after Yannick Carrasco picked up a pass from a short corner and drove into the area before firing a low pass to Niguez in front of the goal.

Martinez’s shot deflected off a defender before going in for Atletico’s second goal, and Torres came off the bench to seal the victory with a chip shot over Astana goalkeeper Nenad Eric after a run through the right side of the area.

”I have worked so hard to help the team,” Martinez said. ”Scoring was like being liberated, after what had happened in recent matches. I stayed calm even though I wasn’t scoring, and now I hope to keep on scoring.”

Martinez had one of his best performances since joining Atletico this season, and his second goal since arriving at the Spanish club came as a relief following a long scoring drought. In addition to having a goal disallowed in the 27th, the Colombian also came close to scoring with a close-range header brilliantly saved by Eric in the 40th.

”Jackson is a vital player for us,” Simeone said. ”He is a striker and so it’s always good for him to score.”

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