Champions League: Last-minute Ronaldo strike sinks City

THE REAL DEAL::Real Madrid fought back twice against Manchester City with goals from Marcelo and Karim Benzema, before Cristiano Ronaldo’s late show won it

AFP, MADRID

Thu, Sep 20, 2012 - Page 20

Cristiano Ronaldo struck a last-minute winner as Real Madrid beat Manchester City 3-2 in a thrilling UEFA Champions League clash that saw all the goals come in a nerve-wracking final 22 minutes.

Real came back twice through Marcelo and Karim Benzema to level the game after substitutes Edin Dzeko and Alexsandar Kolarov had put City ahead.

Then up stepped Ronaldo to give the home side a deserved three points to kick-start their Champions League Group D campaign.

“We were lacking in confidence and in the circumstances it was difficult to play any better than we did,” Real coach Jose Mourinho said. “We have won back our DNA, we’ve got three points, our last game in this phase is at home and we have a good chance of qualifying from a difficult group.”

Asked about what he was thinking as he performed an enthusiastic celebration after Ronaldo’s winner, the Portuguese coach was belligerent after recent press criticism of his team.

“I thought about all the match reports that the journalists would have to delete,” Mourinho said.

“My team has played completely the opposite to what we did in Seville on Saturday, we battled, we won balls and we played football, there are no problems within our camp and I have no problems with any of my players,” he said, after surprisingly leaving out Sergio Ramos and Mesut Ozil from the side that lost 1-0 in Seville.

City coach Roberto Mancini was pragmatic about the defeat.

“It is difficult to take, not the way we lost, but because we went 2-1 up,” Mancini said. “I don’t want to continue to defend like how we did in the last four minutes. We were too deep, it can happen that you can lose here, Madrid were better in the first half, but to score two here and be 2-1 up, then go too deep is disappointing.”

Mancini also announced a surprise in his lineup, starting with 19-year-old Matija Nastastic at centerhalf, making his debut after a summer move from ACF Fiorentina.

Real took the initiative from the start as City took their time to adjust to their surroundings.

A blistering counterattack by Real after eight minutes saw Gonzalo Higuain pick out Ronaldo, who drew the first save of the evening from England international goalkeeper Joe Hart.

Four minutes later and Hart denied Higuain, this time with an acrobatic dive after the Argentine striker glanced a Ronaldo cross goalbound.

Next it was Alvaro Arbeloa cutting in from the left who tried his luck and it was all the home side.

Hart was then out quickly to block Higuain and Sami Khedira shot over in the ensuing chaos as the Premier League side struggled to hold on.

On 32 minutes, Hart got down well to save a Marcelo drive and the home crowd, strangely subdued at kickoff, for a fleeting moment smelt blood and upped the volume.

Yet the visitors gradually began to dispute more possession and, but for a half-chance for Higuain and an Angel di Maria curled shot, the interval arrived goalless.

Manchester City had yet to trouble the home defense and had also lost Sami Nasri, who limped from the pitch on 35 minutes to be replaced by Kolarov.

A speculative shot from Yaya Toure earned City a corner on 53 minutes and the first action for their noisy traveling support to cheer, while Marcelo saw a thunderous drive go just wide at the other end.

On the hour, Spanish World Cup winner David Silva received a standing ovation from the Santiago Bernabeu crowd on leaving the field as Mancini shuffled his pack and brought on Dzeko.

Mourinho immediately reacted, bringing on Ozil to replace Essien, before Marcelo saw another shot drift high.

It looked like the match would drift to a close with both teams happy with a point until Toure intercepted a short pass in his own half and made a wonderfully leggy sprint before playing in Dzeko, who put City ahead.

The game burst into life and it was the English side who were enjoying the better chances.

Dzeko and Toure went close, as Luka Modric and Benzema were called from the bench for the hosts.

The changes had an immediate effect as Real leveled on 75 minutes when Marcelo, who had previously favored his left, moved onto his right to curl in a long-range shot.

City were now attacking at will and Kolarov took advantage to hit what looked like the winner on 84 minutes from a free-kick wide on the right that evaded Iker Casillas in the Madrid goal.

However, the lead was short-lived during a crazy final five minutes.

It was another substitute in Benzema who turned well before shooting to level on 86 minutes and then Ronaldo, who had started the game on fire, finished it off with the last-minute winner to break English hearts.