Gelsenkirchen: Title holders Real Madrid have one foot in the Champions League quarter-finals after beating Schalke in the last 16 first leg in Germany for a second year running on Wednesday.
Real Madrid's Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo reacts after the last 16, first-leg UEFA Champions League football match FC Schalke 04 vs Real Madrid in Gelsenkirchen. Pic/AFP
A Cristiano Ronaldo header gave Real a deserved lead at the break and Marcelo rifled home a superb second goal with 11 minutes left as the Spanish league leaders stretched their winning streak in the competition to 10 games equalling Bayern Munich's record winning run which ended in December 2013. Ronaldo's goal, his first in four matches, was his 73rd in the Champions League.
The Ballon d'Or winner now sits only two behind Barcelona's Lionel Messi in the all-time topscorers list and Real manager Carlo Ancelotti was delighted to see his star forward back on the scoresheet. "It's clear that Cristiano Ronaldo lives to score goals," Ancelotti said. "It's not a problem for us if he doesn't score for a game or two but it's obvious that the goal did him good.
"It wasn't only a goal for the statistics. It was an important goal - the lead goal. At a key stage of the season it was important to win and I think we're on the right track." Schalke's Champions League debutant Felix Platte had struck the bar before Marcelo's goal, as the German side fared much better than last season when Real won 6-1 at the Veltins Arena.
Robert Di Matteo had employed a compact 5-3-2 formation in the hope of avoiding a repeat of that result but he was left with some regrets. "It's a disappointing result for us because both teams had few chances," he said. "At 1-0 we hit the bar and if we got the equaliser then there could have been a different outcome. "We fought and we tried everything we could today. We played against a very strong opponent and I think the quality that Real had made the difference.
"We hit the crossbar and they put it in the top corner and that's the difference at this level." After a solid start, Schalke wing back Dennis Aogo blazed over from the edge of the box after being well set up by Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Marco Hoeger. And there were howls of derision when a wild effort from Ronaldo almost went out for a throw in as Real -- playing in unfamiliar pink -- struggled to test Schalke's 19-year-old goalkeeper Timon Wellenreuther on his Champions League debut.
Soon after that, former Real striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar hit a long-range strike that Real keeper Iker Casillas pushed to safety. But on 27 minutes the visitors got in front with a simple goal. Aogo backed off Dani Carvajal allowing the Real full back to deliver a left-footed cross from the right side of the box. Ronaldo was left completely unmarked to head over the advancing Wellenreuther.
It nearly got worse for the home team just past the half hour when Toni Kroos played in Karim Benzema but Wellenreuther made just enough contact to prevent the ball squirming into his net. Schalke's hopes of coming back looked bleak when Huntelaar hobbled off with a leg injury and was replaced by 19-year-old Platte. Wellenreuther then flung himself to his right to keep out a free-kick from Ronaldo after the Real attacker was scythed down by Kevin-Prince Boateng.
Boateng was yellow carded as a result of the foul, meaning he will be suspended for the return leg on March 10. In the second half, Boateng twice tried his luck from distance and Isco sidefooted over for Real before Schalke came desperately close to an equaliser. Atsuto Uchida ran onto a long ball after 74 minutes and cleverly teed up the impressive Platte, who saw his fierce strike hit the bar.
Uchida got on the end of the rebound but his deflected effort lacked the power to beat Casillas. And Real ensured they would return to Spain with a commanding advantage when left-back Marcelo drove a sublime right-footed strike to the top corner from the edge of the penalty area.