On a warm sunny evening in Dublin, all eyes were on the world’s most expensive player as Cristiano Ronaldo made his much anticipated debut in the famous white of Real Madrid. However, the specially expanded Tallaght Stadium saw a rather underwhelming performance from the Portuguese winger before he was substituted along with eight other players at half time. Instead, former Lyon hitman Karim Benzama, whose arrival has been somewhat overshadowed by Kaka, who didn’t play, and Ronaldo’s presence in the squad, stole the show in a second half performance that contained energy, physical presence and a real goal threat. Where Klaus Jan Huntelaar failed to impress and club talisman Raul’s ageing legs may be catching up on him, Madrid may have finally found a striker who can turn a game with a moment of magic.
Earlier in the week, Ronaldo had stated that he had never heard of Shamrock Rovers. It only took 19 seconds for him to become familiar with them as a crunching tackle from Pat flynn on the edge of the penalty area left the former Manchester United striker in a crumpled heap on the floor. Despite a promising looking opening where Marcelo and Higuain threatened Barry Murphy in the Rovers goal, Madrid’s tempo dramatically dropped as the Irish team comfortably saw out the first half. Ronaldo’s impact was minimal as a long range effort scuffed wide and a feable free kick was the pinnacle of his performance.
The second period saw a different looking Real Madrid line up with Benzama and fellow new four million pound striker Alvaro Negredo from Almeria start in a traditional 4-4-2 line up. The Madrid tempo increasingly rose during the second period as you felt many of the players such as Holland stars Roysten Drenthe, Wesley Sneijder and Rafael Van der Vaart were playing for their futures. Just after a rasping Van der Vaart effort hit the back frame of the goal, Benzama effortlessly turned his man in the 56th minute and blasted a shot that hit the inside of the right hand post before rolling across the goal and out of play. Nevertheless, the Irish side were holding their own and a header from a corner in the 65th minute was cleared off the line by Madrid striker Negredo. In the 71st minute, Van der Vaart saw an acrobatic effort well tipped over by the Rovers before the Dutch midfielder nearly gifted the Irish side the lead in the 75th minute as an awful backpass saw striker Baker played in but an overexcited first touch saw the chance go begging.
With the game nearing a close and Shamrock close to a memorable draw, a simple long ball from Gabriel Heinze in the 86th minute saw Benzama ghost in behind the defence and slotted in a composed finish to break Rovers’ hearts and give Manuel Pellegrini’s side a 1-0 lead. There was still time for Van der Vaart to curl a beautiful effort just wide of the right hand post but Madrid hung on in their first workout of the new season.
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