After an exciting opening round of matches on Tuesday night, the Champions League continued to excite us Wednesday with the likes of Juventus, Real Madrid, Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund all taking the pitch. Juve were the only one of those elite clubs to drop points during their opening match (a 0-0 draw with Sevilla), but Real Madrid nearly followed suit against Cristiano Ronaldo’s boyhood club Sporting Club de Portugal. How late did Los Blancos leave it in the Spanish capital?
Both sides tested their luck in the opening ten minutes of the match with Gelson Martins forcing Kiko Casilla into a low save at one end, and Gareth Bale doing the same to Rui Patrício at the other. In the 27th minute, Ronaldo tried to take matters into his own hands with a knuckling drive from distance, but his compatriot Patrício easily batted the effort over the bar.
The first half ended with neither side able to find the back of the net. In truth, neither keeper was really tested besides Casilla’s opening save against Martins. Based on the opening 45 minutes, it looked as if this fixture could be heading for a 0-0 stalemate.
The goal drought didn’t last long into the second half with Sporting taking a surprise lead just two minutes after the break. After Sergio Ramos failed to clear the ball after momentarily intercepting a pass, Bruno César found himself through on goal. The 27-year-old still had a lot of work to do, however, and curled in a lovely low shot past Casilla to shock the home fans and send the visitors a goal to the good.
After César’s goal, Sporting, surprisingly, continued to attack Madrid’s backline. Summer signing Bas Dost was inches away from nodding in a cross from Martins, but the Dutchman tried to use his feet and arrived just a second too late.
Madrid began to look frustrated in the final third of the pitch the longer the match drew on. Their star-studded attack just couldn’t seem to get a dangerous shot on target, and the majority of their efforts came from ambitious long shots. Could they find a way past Sporting’s resilient defense?
In the 83rd minute, Madrid had their best chance of the match. A cross from Dani Carvajal somehow found its way all the way across the penalty area, and it looked as if Ronaldo had to score. Sadly, for the reigning Ballon d’Or winner, his shot cannoned back off the woodwork, and Álvaro Morata’s eventual tap-in was ruled offsides.
The final five minutes of the match saw Madrid throw everything they had at Sporting’s goal. In the 89th minute, their breakthrough finally came. Ronaldo, who hasn’t had his killer instinct from free kicks as of late, lined up a dead ball from 25 yards out. Deciding against his typical knuckleball technique, the winger curled in an absolute masterpiece into the top corner to level the scores. As a sign of respect to his former club, he refused to celebrate this highlight reel strike.
Fans at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium were in for a dramatic finish with four minutes added on at the end of the match. In the dying seconds of the match, Madrid grabbed the winner. A picture perfect cross from James Rodríguez found Morata’s head in the middle of the penalty area. The former Juventus striker hit a powerful header back across goal to find the back of the net and secure a dramatic 2-1 win for Madrid.
Despite their win, Madrid now find themselves second in the group on goal differential. Borussia Dortmund’s emphatic 6-0 win over Legia Warsaw sees them sit comfortably in front of Los Blancos, and in the next round of fixtures these two titans will finally clash. We can’t wait.