Sporting suffer another Real sucker punch
Portuguese side are victims of yet another late show by Real
SPORTING LISBON 1
(Adrien Silva 80-pen)
REAL MADRID 2
(Raphael Varane 29, Karim Benzema 87)
Cristiano Ronaldo was lauded like a king on his return to Sporting Lisbon, but Real Madrid showed no mercy in booking their place in the Champions League knockout stage for a 20th consecutive season with a 2-1 win yesterday morning (Singapore time).
However, victory came at a cost for the European champions as Gareth Bale limped off just before the hour mark with an ankle injury just 11 days before Real travel to face Barcelona for the El Clasico.
"I don't know at the moment (the extent of the injury), it is his ankle. At the moment it doesn't look good, but I can't say any more," Real boss Zinedine Zidane told Spanish TV station Mega.
He praised his side's battling display after Karim Benzema's 87th-minute header gave Real victory after they let 10-man Sporting back into the game following Joao Pereira's red card - the third time in five Champions League games a late goal has got them out of trouble.
"We had difficult moments, but that's what you expect and what we knew could happen but, once again, we refused to give up," said Zidane.
"We kept playing after conceding and scored a great goal thanks to Karim. It's obvious that playing every three days is not easy and we lacked a bit of energy."
Real also beat Sporting 2-1 in September with two late goals and drew 3-3 at Legia Warsaw after an 85th-minute equaliser from Mateo Kovacic.
The win stretches Real's unbeaten run in all competitions to 30 games, two short of a club record of 32 matches set by Leo Beenhakker's side in 1989.
"These 30 games are an extra motivation for us to keep working as we are," said Zidane.
"We're going to keep going like this but I don't know for how long because it's not easy for us physically."
It was not an easy day for Real fullback Fabio Coentrao who gave away an 80th-minute penalty when the ball hit his arm after he threw his hands up to appeal for handball against Sporting's Joel Campbell.
"It was a very serious error, I messed up really badly," he said.
"I appealed for handball, but I shouldn't have. I should have been more concentrated.
"It will be very tough to get playing time. Marcelo is the best left back in the world right now."
Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos, however, was more forgiving, saying: "I would never put the blame on a teammate.
"Mistakes are collective and every day it is someone's turn to make one.
"The important thing is that we won."
Real are second in Group F, two points behind leaders Borussia Dortmund, and will battle it out with the German side in a fortnight's time for top spot.
Madrid-based newspaper AS pointed out that finishing runners-up in the group could serve Real better than being top as they could potentially avoid sides such as Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City and Bayern Munich.
If Real finish second, they would also avoid fellow Spanish sides Barcelona and Atletico Madrid and could be paired with the likes of Leicester City or Monaco.
Los Blancos defender Raphael Varane, however, said his team were fully focused on topping the group.
He said: "We don't think about who we could get in the next round, we only think about winning and finishing first in the group."
- Wire Services.