By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
You could see how much it meant to them. Cristiano Ronaldo lay on the turf at one end of the pitch, lapping up the applause from the Santiago Bernabeu faithful. There was no love lacking now. And on the sidelines, Jose Mourinho slid across the playing surface in a celebration reminiscent of his greatest Champions League nights. This may have been only a group game, but it was a big deal.
Madrid twice trailed in a game they could have lost but ultimately beat Manchester City 3-2 thanks to Ronaldo’s last-gasp winner. Having dominated the first half, Edin Dzeko gave the visitors something of a shock lead. Madrid were staring down the barrel at a damaging defeat in front of their restless fans. Losing a fourth game out of seven this season – and at home, to boot – was not a good idea.
| MADE IN PORTUGAL
| MOURINHO MAKES KEY CHANGE
|73′||Modric and Benzema replace Khedira and Higuain as Real Madrid look for a way back into the game at 1-0 down.
| RONALDO SCORES THE WINNER
|90′||GOAL!!!!! Cometh the hour, cometh the man as they say and Cristiano Ronaldo has got the goal in the final minute of normal time. The forward finds room on the left of the box and hits it hard towards goal but as Kompany ducks instead of heading it away, the ball zips underneath Hart’s boot and fizzes in. What a game. What a turnaround.|
But Mourinho reacted – he had to. Despite dominance in the first half, the midfield ‘trivote’ made up of Alonso, Michael Essien and Sami Khedira was far from the positive ideology Madrid fans had hoped for. The home side huffed and puffed in the first 45 minutes but came up against a great Joe Hart. At 1-0 down, however, it was time for something different – and on came Luka Modric and Karim Benzema. Earlier, at 0-0, Mesut Ozil had replaced Essien.
Ozil and Modric looked lively and showed no shortage of quality around the City area. The Croat’s probing, in particular, seemed to spark Madrid into life again. But it was Marcelo, who came close several times with long-range efforts, who levelled with a deflected effort, only to see Aleksandar Kolarov’s free kick go in off Alonso and restore City’s lead. Madrid were behind once again and time was ticking.
But Benzema, without a goal since May for club or country, turned and beat Hart with a fantastic finish inside his left-hand post with four minutes left. It was game on.
And now it was Ronaldo’s turn to shine. The Portuguese completed every single one of his 50 passes over the 90 minutes, but had looked less dangerous than he can be at his brilliant best. Something still did not seem quite right following his revelations of unhappiness and refusal to celebrate his two goals against Granada before the international break.
Madridistas had been frustrated by the Portuguese’s poor performance in the defeat at Sevilla on Saturday, too, and some had even reached the somewhat hasty conclusion that perhaps it was time for him to move on.
But in an instant, all of that was forgotten. The Portuguese had work to do in the area as he took possession in the final minute but cut inside his marker and beat Hart with a fizzing effort the England goalkeeper will have thought he should have saved. Ronaldo won’t care, though – and nor will Madrid.
It may have been a rollercoaster ride, but the home fans left happy. And instead of waking up to headlines of player mutinies (Sergio Ramos was surprisingly left out of the starting line-up, a decision described as “technical” by his coach) and a lack of decisiveness, Mourinho and Ronaldo made peace with the Bernabeu.
La Liga is still not lost, even though they trail Barcelona by eight points, but there is a sense this season that the one they really want is the Champions League. This win sets up their campaign just nicely. Coming through such a test will do Madrid no harm at all and Mourinho could barely contain himself after the match. “That’s what I want from my team,” he said. “I am sorry for the journalists who had their story written and then had to change it,” he added later.
But he wasn’t sorry, of course – he was loving it. The feelgood factor is back and this comeback could just kick-start the campaign for Madrid. In this mood, they look like true champions.
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