Cristiano Ronaldo marked his 350th game in a Real Madrid shirt by saving their blushes with a late free-kick against Sporting Lisbon to help them stage a late comeback and win a game they looked like losing.
Ronaldo’s strike cancelled out the visitors’ 46th minute opener and when Alvaro Morata headed in James Rodriguez’ cross with the last move of the game, Zinedine Zidane’s team had somehow taken all three points from a match they struggled in throughout.
Jorge Jesus’ lively Sporting side had taken full advantage of the fact that the Champions League holders were not so much resting on their laurels as fast asleep on them for the most part and Bruno Cesar gave them a rude awakening when he scored the opening goal.
Ronaldo’s response was his 94th Champions League goal and as promised he barely celebrated it against the first team he ever played professionally for.
In truth there was very little to celebrate from such a below par performance from Madrid. But Ronaldo always scores against Sporting – he did it twice for Manchester United – and his late free-kick was perfectly placed past Rui Patricio.
Real Madrid did not concede a single goal at home last season as they won this competition. Already that defensive record has been broken but the win is all that matters and Rodriguez and Morata, who both started the game on the bench, combined to deliver the three points.
Sporting were coming into the game on a run of four straight league wins and they had the first chance when Cesar found a surprising amount of space on the edge of the area and curled his shot just wide of Kiko Casilla’s right post.
They fashioned the second chance too when Gelson Martins shot from the right and Casilla had to palm the shot away.
Gareth Bale was the first to threaten for Madrid. He broke down the right cutting past Marvin Zeegelaar and his shot was smothered by Patricio at his near post. Bale then swapped wings and crossed dangerously from the left only for Ruben Semedo to clear. On the three year anniversary of the Welshman’s debut for Real Madrid he was their brightest player.
For Sporting, Martins was giving Marcelo a torrid time down the Madrid left. The 21-year-old looks like being the next big thing to come from the club’s Alcochete Academy and several times in the first half he exposed the space behind the Brazilian full back.
When he crossed dangerously on 33 minutes all it needed was a touch from a team-mate on the edge of the six-yard area and Real would have been behind.
Bale was clattered by Joao Pereira and hobbled off at half time. It looked like 50-50 challenge but Real Madrid were awarded a free-kick and from it Ronaldo skimmed the top of the net.
The Wales star appeared to tell Zidane he was fine to carry on – some good news for the Madrid manager after watching his side put in an average first half performance against a spirited and confident Sporting side looking every bit like the best team in Portugal on current form.
Bale did emerge for the second half but the real Real Madrid did not. They looked just as off the pace at the start of the second period and it was no surprise when they went behind on 46 minutes.