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From unused sub to scorer, Saul redefines Spanish midfielder

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15th-Sep-2018       
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AP, Barcelona :
After patiently waiting his turn, Saul Niguez is doing more than just making the most of it. The 23-year-old Atletico Madrid player is revolutionizing what it means to be a Spanish midfielder.
Saul didn't play a single minute for Spain at the World Cup. Instead, he watched his country manage only one win in three group matches before losing to host Russia in the round of 16.
But the arrival of Luis Enrique as Spain coach, combined with the retirement from international soccer by Andres Iniesta and David Silva, has given Saul his chance.
Saul started and scored goals in both of Spain's UEFA Nations League matches. He netted the equalizer in the 2-1 win over England at Wembley Stadium on Saturday, and three days later he scored the opening goal in a 6-0 rout of World Cup runner-up Croatia.
"I have been working very hard on my team to have this chance, and for two years on the national team," Saul said after the win in London.
After the victory over Croatia in Saul's hometown of Elche in southern Spain, the midfielder admitted it had been frustrating not getting off the bench at the World Cup.
"I spent a lot of time thinking during the summer, but now is not the time to talk about the past because it doesn't matter," Saul said. "Even though I didn't play, I had an unforgettable experience at my first World Cup."
Saul made his international debut under coach Julen Lopetegui in September 2016 after he had not been called up Vicente del Bosque for that year's European Championship. He has made 12 national appearances in total.
Before his strong performances over the past week, Saul started his season in August by scoring a spectacular volley in extra time for Atletico's third goal in a 4-2 win over Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup.
Saul will now hope his scoring run with Spain will carry back over to Atletico when it hosts Eibar on Saturday. Atletico, which finished second in the league behind Barcelona last year, has only one win in three matches and is already five points adrift the defending champions and Real Madrid.
Spain won the 2010 World Cup in between European titles in 2008 and 2012 by deploying its unique "tiki-taka" style, which prioritized keeping possession and picking teams apart with precise passers like Iniesta, Silva and former Spain players Xavi Hernandez and Cesc Fabregas.

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