Madrid: Real Madrid got their La Liga campaign off to an unconvincing start as they beat newly promoted Cordoba 2-0 at home yesterday thanks to goals from Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Without the Manchester United bound Angel di Maria, Real missed the Argentine's energy in midfield but went ahead 15 minutes before half-time when Benzema rose highest to head home Toni Kroos' corner.
Cristiano Ronaldo. Pic/ AFP
Cordoba had their chances to equalise after the break as Iker Casillas denied Ryder Matos and Fidel, but Ronaldo sealed the game in stoppage time with a characteristic thumping finish into the bottom corner from 30 yards.
La Liga champions Atletico Madrid also get the defence of their title underway later yesterday when they travel to Rayo Vallecano. Real boss Carlo Ancelotti explained his side's below par performance was down to fatigue.
"There was a bit of tiredness because since the 12th we have played every three days and it is not an easy time of the season to do so," Ancelotti said. "We suffered a little bit, but we controlled the game. We tried to mix possession with playing a bit more direct and I think we were well-balanced."
Cordoba were playing in their first top flight game for 43 years and nearly had a dream start against Real's galacticos when Mike Havenaar pulled his shot just wide from the edge of the area. The European champions slowly began to impose themselves on the visitors as the first-half wore on and Juan Carlos had to be alert to parry powerful efforts from Ronaldo and Kroos. Madrid did go in front on the half hour mark as Benzema ended his four-month goal drought at club level with a thumping header to power Kroos' corner in off the post.
However, Cordoba were nearly level from a corner of their own just before half-time when Havenaar got between Casillas and the Real defence but saw his header fly just off target. Cordoba appeared to take heart from that opportunity, though, as they were the better team after the break against disjointed Madrid.
Casillas was forced into his first serious save as he pounced on Matos' shot after an error from Alvaro Arbeloa. James Rodriguez struggled to recreate his stellar World Cup form on his home league debut after a 75 million euro ($99 million, 60 million) move from Monaco, but the Colombian did nearly make the game safe for Los Blancos with a fierce strike that Carlos did exceptionally well to parry to safety.
Madrid were served a warning 20 minutes from time when Casillas could only parry Fidel's effort into Xisco's path, but the former Newcastle United forward's finish was rightly ruled out for offside. And despite failing to shine, Real did eventually ensure they started with a win as Ronaldo picked up the ball midway inside the Cordoba half and strode forward before unleashing a fine shot low past Carlos.