Cristiano Ronaldo did not celebrate a goal last night, but that does not mean he did not score one – and a huge one at that.
The Real Madrid striker curled in an 88th-minute free‑kick and immediately lifted his hands apologetically towards the top of the north end of the Santiago Bernabéu where Sporting Lisbon’s supporters had fallen quiet for the first time. As Ronaldo raised his hands, Madrid’s supporters raised the roof. Three minutes later, the volume rose once more, when the substitute Álvaro Morata headed in an injury-time winner.
Until Ronaldo’s moment, Sporting’s supporters, around 5,000 of them, had seemed set to celebrate victory, thanks to Bruno César’s 47th‑minute goal. They would have deserved it, too. But then the man who began his career in their colours snatched victory from them and they were still recovering when Morata snatched even the draw away, too.
So, Madrid’s defence of the European Cup would not begin with defeat after all. Instead, it began with a victory that was so like them. “That’s the way Madrid win!” chanted the Bernabéu. For a long time they did not appear set to celebrate a win at all. And defeat would have been costly, leaving them third in the group; instead, they sit joint top with Borussia Dortmund who beat Legia Warsaw 6-0 away.
Madrid did not let in a single home goal in the Champions League last season, so to concede one on the opening night of this season’s competition was a shock, Bruno César bending a first-time shot low into the bottom corner from just inside the area.
It had been coming: Sporting had enjoyed the majority of the possession, moving the ball with purpose throughout the first half, William Carvalho providing a calm, steady base from which Adrien Silva played, circulating the ball with intelligence, while Gelson Martins tore into Madrid on the right. To the other side, narrower, Bruno César moved cleverly.
Bruno César had struck the first shot just wide after 10 minutes and from one of Gelson’s sprints up the line, Bas Dost just failed to reach the pull back across the six yard box. In between time, Carvalho had a shot headed away by Raphaël Varane. Ronaldo had forced a save from 30 yards, but that was a rare relief. For Marcelo, in particular, this was becoming long night.
Nor did Sporting stop when the goal arrived, Gelson Martins especially. Marcelo had sought assistance from Sergio Ramos early but even together they were struggling. Gelson, meanwhile, grew. Soon he was dashing through, hurdling Toni Kroos, Casemiro and Luka Modric. A neat backheel almost put Silva in and Kiko Casilla had to save from Bruno César.
Real reacted and the final quarter of an hour felt like a long one for Sporting. Sebastián Coates almost deflected into his own net, Rui Patrício saved Morata’s tame shot, and Ronaldo struck the post from close range. When the rebound eventually found Morata and he put the ball in, the linesman’s flag was raised. A moment later, Dani Carvajal’s volley bounced wide.
Then with two minutes to go, Elías was judged to have fouled Ronaldo 25 yards out. It appeared a very soft decision, but Ronaldo struck the free-kick in, via the keeper’s hand. Then James Rodríguez delivered a wonderful cross for Morata to head in. Rui Patrício reached that one too but could not stop it; he was left with a lost look on his face, chewing over his own culpability, unable to believe that victory had become defeat before his eyes. It had taken three minutes.
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