MADRID: 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 thoroughly merited lead.
However, in a frantic finale, Ronaldo’s free-kick levelled the game in normal time before Morata met James Rodriguez’s cross deep into stoppage time to complete a dramatic fightback.
“We started the game a little passively,” Ronaldo told BeIN Sports after netting against the side where he started his career.
“But football is like this and Real Madrid are like this. The comebacks form part of this legendary stadium.”
Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane hailed Real’s belief despite a sub-par display.
“I am happy because we have to suffer, but we never gave up,” said the Frenchman.
“I don’t know if it was a fair result or not, but we believed until the end. You have to play 90 minutes.”
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.
Sporting 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.
However, Sporting boss Jorge Jesus’s joy was short-lived as he was sent to the stands for protesting a dubious yellow card for William Carvalho.
“Real Madrid players were talking to the referee and nothing happened to them so I thought it was ok if I did the same thing,” said a disgruntled Jesus.
“I don’t know if we would have lost if I was on the bench until the end of the match.”
Instead it was Jesus’s opposite number 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 his boyhood club 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 Patricio.
Ronaldo refused to celebrate his goal, but there was no shortage of joy just moments later when Morata met Rodriguez’s in-swinging cross with a bullet header to deny Sporting in the cruellest of circumstances.
Next up for Madrid is a mouth-watering trip to face Borussia Dortmund in a repeat of the 2013 semi-final that Dortmund won 4-3 on aggregate.
The Germans got their European campaign off to a flying start with a 6-0 thrashing of Legia Warsaw in the other game in Group F Wednesday.