Alvaro Morata scored a 93rd-minute winner as Real Madrid began their Champions League defence with a dramatic 2-1 victory over Sporting CP.
Karim Benzema’s return was one of five changes made by Zinedine Zidane for the visit of Sporting as Dani Carvajal, Raphael Varane and Marcelo formed a new-look back four with its only survivor Sergio Ramos and Casemiro came back to anchor the midfield.
Madrid last met Sporting – Cristiano Ronaldo’s first club – in the 2000-01 Champions League group stage, when they similarly headed into that campaign as competition holders and won 4-0.
Bruno Cesar found some space near the edge of Madrid’s box inside the first couple of minutes and bent a shot inches wide of Kiko Casilla’s left-hand post. The goalkeeper then had to get a hand to Gelson Martins’ angled effort, which was destined for his bottom-left corner.
Madrid enjoyed more of the ball and were accurate in their passing, yet Sporting were refreshingly direct going forward and contained Los Blancos throughout the first half, limiting them to just a speculative Ronaldo shot, which his fellow Euro 2016 winner Rui Patricio tipped over the crossbar.
The defending champions were then dealt more woe when Sebastian Coates clattered into Gareth Bale down the left and resulted in the winger slapping the ground in agony. The Welshman managed to get back on his feet and was swiftly treated, but he wasn’t the same player after that.
With nothing to choose between the two sides at half-time, the restart was finely poised, yet Madrid didn’t learn their lesson as an unmarked Cesar needed just two minutes to take on a through ball in Madrid’s box and bend a perfectly-placed finish past Casilla.
William Carvalho was soon booked for shoving Luka Modric to the ground, prompting Jorge Jesus to be sent to the stands after he expressed his anger at the decision to the fourth official.
Sporting survived that blow, however, as Gelson continued to run Marcelo ragged, his cross destined for Bas Dost, who flew onto the ball near the face of Casilla’s goal but could only hook it wide.
Marvin Zeegelar was a very lucky boy as he barged over Bale right on the edge of Sporting’s box and only picked up a booking, despite appearing to be the last man in Sporting’s defensive line. Nonetheless, Ronaldo failed to deliver from the free kick.
Zinedine Zidane, sensing the game was slipping away from his team, took the brave gamble of bringing off three key players in Bale, Benzema and Kroos and turning to Lucas Vazquez, Alvaro Morata and James Rodriguez for some much-needed inspiration.
Los Merengues suddenly came to life and embarked on an all-out assault, although Dani Carvajal could only hit a first-time volley wide from Vazquez’s right-wing cross, before a string of misses saw Morata missed a cross, which Ronaldo couldn’t turn in, and Casemiro fail to head home from a yard out.
Just days after Barcelona’s humbling against Alaves, Madrid were seemingly set to follow suit when Ronaldo met the ball at Patricio’s near post, with the goalkeeper beaten, but the No 7 only managed to half-volley onto the woodwork.
Yet after a disappointing 88 minutes, Ronaldo dragged Madrid out of the doldrums with a minute of normal time remaining as he flighted a free kick into Patricio’s top-right corner, before the holders won it right at the death thanks to Morata, who powered an unstoppable header past Patricio.
Real Madrid 2-1 Sporting CP
Ronaldo 89, Morata 90 (RM) Cesar 47 (S)
Real Madrid: Casilla; Carvajal, Ramos, Varane, Marcelo; Kroos (James 77), Modric, Casemiro; Bale (Vazquez 67), Benzema (Morata 67), Ronaldo
Sporting CP: Patricio; Pereira, Coates, Semedo, Marvin; William; Gelson (Markovic 70), Adrien, Cesar; Ruiz (Campbell 90), Dost
Referee: Tagliavento [ITA]