September 15, 2016 10:17:48 am
Cristiano Ronaldo and Alvaro Morata scored very late goals as Real Madrid came from behind to beat Sporting Lisbon 2-1 and avoid starting the defense of its Champions League title with a shock defeat on Wednesday.
Ronaldo equalized from an 89th minute free kick against his former club and Morata netted the winner deep in injury time to give the hosts a hard-fought victory in a match Sporting had largely under control.
“I’m happy with the points. We suffered but never gave up,” Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said. “I don’t know if the result was fair or not, but it’s clear we believed. You have to play until the end. It wasn’t a perfect match, you never see a perfect match, but the important thing was to win.”
Madrid, trying to become the first team to win back-to-back Champions League titles since the tournament’s new format went into effect in 1992-93, avoided what would have been only its second loss in 31 Champions League matches at home. It has won 27 times and drawn three at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.
Sporting was just a few minutes away from its first win in 11 matches in Spain in UEFA competitions. Madrid almost lost at home to a Portuguese team for the first time.
Boosted by a loud visiting crowd, Sporting played well from the start, defending with efficiency and creating dangerous chances up front with well-timed counterattacks and accurate passing.
Bruno Cesar put the Portuguese side ahead only three minutes into the second half after Sergio Ramos and Luka Modric failed to clear, allowing the Brazilian midfielder to fire a left-footed shot into the far corner.
It was the first time Real Madrid conceded a goal at home in the Champions League since the semifinals of the 2014-15 season.
“Our strategy worked well until the final five or six minutes,” Cesar said. “We played great and we showed what we are capable of. We are sad, of course, because we played face to face with a team like Real Madrid, we could have won and we lost, but we leave with our heads held high.”
Madrid struggled to produce significant scoring opportunities despite starting with the attacking trio of Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema for the first time since last season.
Ronaldo, who had been cheered by fans from both teams, was mostly ineffective until coming up with the well-placed free kick that was touched by Sporting goalkeeper Rui Patricio before hitting the post and going in. Ronaldo did not celebrate as he usually does and only raised his hands in the air as teammates rushed over.
“It was against the team where I learned my trade, the club has a place in my heart and I have a lot of respect for them,” he said. “That’s why I couldn’t celebrate.”
The winner also came in dramatic fashion, coming from a pair of second-half substitutes five minutes into stoppage time. James Rodriguez curled a cross into the area from the left flank and Morata found the net with a firm header from near the penalty spot.
Patricio again touched the ball but was not able to fully deflect it.
“We always believed in ourselves and we proved that you can always win a game until the referee blows the final whistle,” Morata said. “Football is not always fair but it was fundamental to win and that’s what we’ve done.”
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