Ronaldo, Morata rescue Real from Sporting upset
Cristiano Ronaldo and Alvaro Morata struck in the closing minutes to seal a stunning Real Madrid comeback to beat Sporting Lisbon 2-1 to start their Champions League defence on Wednesday.
Madrid looked to be heading for their first home defeat in the competition for five years after Bruno Cesar’s low effort three minutes into the second-half handed Sporting a thorughly merited lead.
However, in a frantic finale, Ronaldo’s free-kick levelled the game with two minutes remaining before Morata met James Rogriguez’s cross deep into stoppage time to complete a dramatic fightback.
The clash pitted two of Europe’s most in-form teams against one another with Madrid having won 15 La Liga games on top of claiming their 11th Champions League in May, whilst Sporting are on a 13-game winning streak in Portugal.
Yet, it was the visitors who looked by far the more confident as they bossed Madrid for the opening hour to the delight of the boisterous travelling thousands from Lisbon.
The pace of Gelson Martins caused the Madrid defence no end of problems and the diminutive winger had the first effort on goal when his low shot was turned away by Kiko Casilla.
Real’s star front three of Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema started together for the first time this season, but all three looked rusty as a long-range effort from Ronaldo turned over by Rui Patricio was the only serious threat to the Sporting goal before half-time.
A dangerous Martins cross just evaded Dutch striker Bas Dost as Sporting continued to press before the break.
The visitors finally got their reward just three minutes into the second-half when Luka Modric and Sergio Ramos failed to clear and the ball fell kindly for Cesar to curl into the far corner.
Sporting boss Jorge Jesus’s joy was short-lived as he was sent to the stands for protesting a dubious yellow card given the William Carvalho.
And it was Jesus’s opposite number Zinedine Zidane who turned the game in Madrid’s favour with three vital substitutions in the final quarter.
Zidane sacrificed Bale, Benzema and Toni Kroos for Lucas Vazquez, Morata and Rodriguez as Madrid piled on the pressure in the final 20 minutes.
Ronaldo looked to have missed his chance to net against the club where he started his career when he smashed against the post with eight minutes remaining.
However, the three-time World Player of the Year, who was given a rousing reception by the Sporting fans before kick-off, curled home a free-kick that just had too much power for his Portuguese international teammate Rui Patricio.
Ronaldo refused to celebrate his goal, but there was no shortage of celebrations just moments later when Morata met Rodriguez’s in-swinging cross with a bullet header to deny Sporting in the cruellest of circumstances.