MADRID, Spain, September 19 – Cristiano Ronaldo struck a last-minute winner as Real Madrid beat Manchester City 3-2 in a thrilling Champions League clash that saw all the goals come in a nerve-wracking final 22 minutes.
Real came back twice through Marcelo and Karim Benzema to level the game after substitutes Edin Dzeko and Alexsandar Kolarov had put City ahead.
And then up stepped Ronaldo to give the home side a deserved three points to kick start their Champions League Group D campaign.
“We were lacking in confidence and in the circumstances it was difficult to play any better than we did,” Real coach Jose Mourinho said.
“We have won back our DNA, we’ve got three points, our last game in this phase is at home and we have a good chance of qualifying from a difficult group.”
Asked about what he was thinking as he performed an enthusiastic celebration on Ronaldo’s winner, the Portuguese coach was belligerent after recent press criticism of his team.
“I thought about all the match reports that the journalists would have to delete.
“My team has played completely the opposite to what we did in Seville on Saturday, we battled, we won balls and we played football, there are no problems within our camp and I have no problems with any of my players,” he said after surprisingly leaving out Sergio Ramos and Mesut Ozil from the side that lost 1-0 in Seville.
City coach Roberto Mancini was pragmatic about the defeat.
“It is difficult to take, not the way we lost but because we went 2-1 up,” said Mancini.
“I don’t want to continue to defend like how we did in the last four minutes.
“We were too deep, it can happen that you can lose here, Madrid were better in the first half but to score 2 here and be 2-1 up, then go too deep is disappointing.”
Mancini also announced a surprise in his line up, starting with 19 year-old Matija Nastastic at centre-half, making his debut after a summer move from Fiorentina.
Real took the initiative from the start as City took their time to adjust to their surroundings.
A blistering counter-attack by Real after eight minutes saw Gonzalo Higuain pick out Ronaldo who drew the first save of the evening from English international Joe Hart.
Four minutes later and Hart denied Higuain, this time with an acrobatic dive after the Argentine striker glanced a Ronaldo cross goalbound.
Next it was Alvaro Arbeloa cutting in from the left who tried his luck and it was all the home side.
Hart was then out quick to block Higuain and Sami Khedira shot over in the ensuing chaos as the Premier League side struggled to hold on.
On 32 minutes Hart got down well to save a Marcelo drive and the home crowd, strangely subdued at kick-off, for a fleeting moment smelt blood and upped the volume.
Yet the visitors gradually began to dispute more possession and but for a half chance for Higuain and an Angel Di Maria curled shot the interval arrived goalless.
City had yet to trouble the home defence and had also lost Sami Nasri who limped from the pitch on 35 minutes to be replaced by Kolarov.
On the hour the Spanish World Cup winner David Silva received a standing ovation from the home crowd on leaving the field as Mancini shuffled his pack and brought on Dzeko.
Mourinho immediately reacted bringing on Ozil to replace Essien and Marcelo saw another shot drift high.
It looked like the match would drift to a close with both teams happy with a point until Toure intercepted a short pass in his own half and made a wonderfully leggy sprint before playing in Dzeko who put City ahead.
The game burst into life and it was the English side who were enjoying the better chances. Dzeko and Toure went close as Luka Modric and Benzema were called from the bench for the hosts.
The changes had an immediate effect as Real levelled on 75 minutes when Marcelo, who had previously favoured his left, moved onto his right foot to curl a shot in from 25 yards.
City were now attacking at will and Kolarov took advantage to hit what looked like the winner on 84 minutes from a free-kick wide on the right that evaded Iker Casillas in the Madrid goal.
Their lead, however, was short lived during a crazy final five minutes.
It was another substitute in Benzema who turned well before shooting to level on 86 minutes.
And then Ronaldo, who had started the game on fire, finished it off with the last minute winner to break English hearts.