A last-minute free kick from Cristiano Ronaldo gave a lackluster Real Madrid a 2-1 win over a Sporting Lisbon side that had largely outplayed the Champions League holders at the Santiago Bernabéu on Wednesday night in their first match in Group F.
Real Madrid had struggled against their Portuguese guests during the first half, and found themselves in trouble when Sporting’s Bruno César scored in the first minute of the second half, taking advantage of Sergio Ramos' failure to clear on the edge of the box to fire low past Kiko Casilla. On several occasions throughout the first 45 minutes, Gelson Martins exposed weaknesses in Madrid’s defense, nearly scoring in the 33rd minute.
At the end of the day, as Real Madrid has shown time and again, the win is all that matters
In the second half, Gareth Bale took the initiative for Madrid, creating the first serious opportunity after he broke down the right, past Marvin Zeegelaar, only to see his shot stopped by goalkeeper Rui Patricio at the near post. The Welshman, celebrating his third anniversary with Madrid, then tried on the left, but was blocked before he could get a shot at goal. He limped off at half time after being brought down by Joao Pereira.
Madrid were awarded a free kick, but Ronaldo could do no better than to put the ball a few inches over the cross bar.
Nevertheless, throughout the second half an uninspired Real Madrid steadily applied pressure to Sporting, but the Lisbon side, which has won four consecutive league wins, held firm and it looked like the guests would take three valuable points home with them as the minutes wore on.
Finally, with just 20 minutes to go, coach Zinedine Zidane made some key changes: Bale was replaced by Lucas Vázquez and Morata came on for Karim Benzema, while a few minutes later James Rodríguez took over from Toni Kroos.
They all made an immediate difference to the pace of play, and the game picked up.
Then, in the 89th minute, Ronaldo, playing his 350th game with Madrid, was given a second chance with a free kick that he curled inside the right post. Suddenly Madrid seemed to wake up, seeing their opportunity to press home the advantage against a Sporting Lisbon that couldn’t quite believe what was happening.
With four minutes of extra time left to work some magic, Madrid piled the pressure on, repeatedly crossing into the 18-yard box, delivering a barrage that was clearly wearing down Lisbon’s defense.
Even so, it looked like the guests would hold on, until, with what was virtually the final kick of the game, Morata delivered the winner in the 94th minute, jumping up to catch James Rodríguez's cross from the left, slamming a header into the back of the net off a diving Patricio, with Madrid fans erupting with joy.
Real Madrid did not concede a single goal at home last season on the way to winning their 11th Champion’s League. That defensive record was broken on Wednesday night, but at the end of the day, as the side has shown time and again, the win is all that matters.
English version by Nick Lyne.