Ferland Mendy on Wednesday put Real Madrid within touching distance of the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals, with a late strike that sank 10-man Atalanta BC 1-0 in Bergamo, Italy.
The French leftback’s curling effort came four minutes from time in a last-16, first-leg clash in which the hosts had to play a man down for more than 70 minutes, giving Zinedine Zidane’s side the advantage heading into the second leg in Madrid on March 16.
“We didn’t have a great game tonight, but the most important thing was the result, scoring away was important for us,” Zidane said. “It’s a very good result against an Atalanta team even at 10, because they defended very well.”
“The tie is open. We are going to have a great return match,” he added.
Atalanta had attacked early, but the game was transformed when Swiss midfielder Remo Freuler was harshly sent off in the 17th minute for tripping Mendy at the edge of the penalty area.
Gian Piero Gasperini’s woes continued with forward Duvan Zapata limping off after half an hour with a muscular problem, with midfielder Mario Pasalic coming off the bench.
“The game was ruined,” Gasperini said. “I don’t know what would have happened 11 against 11.”
“I just got banned for saying something in Serie A, if I say something now then UEFA will ban me, but this is football suicide,” he said. “Enough of these referees who’ve never played a game, and don’t know the difference between a challenge and a foul.”
Spanish midfielder Isco had a rare start up front for injury-hit Real Madrid, playing alongside Marco Asensio and Vinicius.
The 13-time European champions were without striker Karim Benzema due to an ankle problem with an injury list also including Sergio Ramos, Eden Hazard and Dani Carvajal.
“It’s true that there are many casualties, but the players who are here are doing well, committed, every time there is a change we adapt,” Zidane added.
Madrid have the advantage going into the second leg having missed out on the quarter-finals for the past two seasons.
“Normally there are a lot of goals in games against Atalanta, we were expecting a difficult game, but after the red it was normal they would defend deep,” Real goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois said.
In Budapest, Manchester City moved to the verge of the Champions League quarter-finals with a 2-0 win over Borussia Moenchengladbach, but coach Pep Guardiola said his team still need to “be more clinical up front.”
A first-half header from Bernardo Silva and a Gabriel Jesus strike in the second period of the last-16 first-leg tie extended a winning streak by Guardiola’s high-flying side to 19 games in all competitions.
Premier League leaders City camped inside the ’Gladbach half for most of the game, which was moved to Hungary due to Germany’s COVID-19 travel restrictions.
Although dominant, City took time to break down a stubborn German defense, often foiled by the interceptions of Algerian leftback Ramy Bensebaini.
While Guardiola said afterward that he was “pleased” with the result, he added that City “have to improve” to challenge for Champions League honors.
“We controlled the game. Unfortunately we were not clinical up front, it is something we have to improve in this competition, we were not good enough in the box, we didn’t dribble and shoot enough,” Guardiola said.
“In this competition, you have to be perfect to be sure you can go through,” he said.
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