FC Zurich 2-5 Real Madrid: Comfortable In The End For Los Blancos


Madrid survived a second half scare in Zurich to get their Champions League campaign off to the right start.

Real Madrid escaped from the Letzigrund with three points largely thanks to two goalkeeping errors after FC Zurich mounted a spirited second half comeback in an enthralling UEFA Champions League encounter.

Two goals in the dying minutes from Cristiano Ronaldoand substitute Guti put the gloss on a far from convincing second half performance by Los Blancos but the Spanish giants didn’t have it all their own way, picking up six yellow cards in the game.

Manuel Pellegrini’s men lead 3-0 at the break but were made to sweat as the home side produced an excellent second half to give Madrid a scare. The Chilean coach will have to sweat over the fitness of key midfielder Xabi Alonso, who hobbled off after going over on his ankle after 55 minutes.

The Swiss outfit certainly didn’t seem overawed in the early stages and enjoyed some brief spells of possession in the opening quarter of an hour while also testing Real’s resolve with some stern physical challenges.

The home side found space in front of goal, but striker Eric Hassli was wasteful, lacking in ideas where a final ball could have proved telling. An early corner for Zurich almost gave them a shock lead but Iker Casillas was alert, getting down to stop Hannu Tihinen’s clever back heel.

Madrid gradually enjoyed more possession and pressed the home side further and further back and Xabi Alonso began to find the movement of Ronaldo and Kaka with some accurate passes.

Then on 27 minutes Cristiano struck gold with a thunderous free-kick from 25 yards that whistled past Johnny Leoni in the Zurich goal. The ‘keeper should really have done better as the effort was well within his reach.

Ronaldo had a sighter moments earlier from similar range but blazed over the bar. This time he made no mistake although Zurich captain Hannu Tihinen did appear to get a foot to the ball in conceding the free-kick.

The nine-times European champions started to dominate proceedings with Xabi Alonso andLassana Diarra orchestrating things from midfield and Real soon had their second goal.

Ronaldo played the centre forwards role, climbing above Tihinen to head Pepe’s lofted ball forward into the path of Gonzalo Higuain inside the Zurich penalty area and the Argentinian surged towards the byline before pulling a low ball across Leoni’s goal which Raul tapped in from close range to give the visitors a two goal advantage and claim his 65th Champions League goal for Real.

From there to the break it was cruise control for Los Merengues, Ronaldo gave Florian Stahel a torrid time while Kaka, Higuain and Raul gave an exemplary display of movement.

The tie looked to be beyond all doubt as Madrid took a 3-0 half-time lead with a fantastic move.

Xabi Alonso threaded an excellent pass to the feet of Raul who played a neat touch through the middle to Higuain and he clipped the ball one side of Tihinen before darting the other side of the Finnish centre half and confidently arrowing a low shot into the far corner past the advancing ‘keeper to make it three for Madrid.

Los Blancos opened the second period content to sit and hit the home side on the counter-attack and Zurich had occasional chances.

Xavier Margairaz failed to direct his header on target from a Johan Vonlanthen free-kick from the left-hand byline.

Alonso hobbled of with an ankle injury to be replaced by  Fernando Gago and Madrid seemed to instantly lose their composure

Philippe Koch found a way through the Real defence just before the hour mark and brought a fine save from Casillas after fine work from an industrious Vonlanthen. 

Zurich were then handed a lifeline as Casillas felled Alexandre Alphonse inside the penalty area. Margairaz stepped up and smashed the resulting spot kick past Casillas to give the home side faint hope.

A minute later Alvaro Arbeloa conceded a corner, which could have easily been a penalty and from Vonlanthen’s corner Silvan Aegerter evaded Ronaldo to fire a near post header which beat Casillas and Royston Drenthe on the goal line stunning Madrid.

Pellegrini introduced Guti at the expense of Higuain in an effort to stabilise the midfield, but the visitors could not assert their superiority.

Zurich dealt with the quality of Madrid’s offensive play quite well for much of the remaining half hour, while also giving the Madrid rear-guard plenty to think about with substitute Dusan Djuric and Vonlanthen proving potent attacking threats on either side.

Then in the dying minutes Ronaldo fired another free-kick, from similar distance to the first, which slipped through the fingers of Leoni when he really should have caught it, to end Zurich’s hopes of rescuing a point and Guti raced clear from the halfway line in stoppage time to loft an exquisite effort over the head of Leoni to make it five for Madrid.

Three points for Real Madrid, who showed some outstanding offensive qualities but the defensive lapses and the injury to Alonso will be of some concern to Pellegrini. Zurich can take heart from a courageous second half performance against a far superior side and the final score line was probably a little harsh on the Swiss outfit.


~ by footballdirecta on September 16, 2009.

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