Real Madrid needed a 77th-minute goal from substitute Karim Benzema for a 2-1 comeback win at Champions League newcomer Ludogorets on Wednesday, after Cristiano Ronaldo missed one penalty before making amends with a second spot kick.
Unfazed by the star-studded visitors in its first home game in Europe‘s top-tier competition, Ludogorets surprised the defending champions by taking the lead in the sixth minute.
Ronaldo squandered his first chance to level when his penalty kick was saved by goalkeeper Vladislav Stoyanov in the 10th. But he didn’t miss a second time from the spot in the 24th.
With Ludogorets holding its own, Benzema went on in the 67th and was soon broke the deadlock when he volleyed in Marcelo‘s cross to secure Madrid‘s second win of the tournament.
Ronaldo‘s goal took his total in the Champions League to 69, giving him one more than Barcelona’s Lionel Messi as the two stars race to reach Raul Gonzalez‘s tournament mark of 71.
While Madrid held on for the tougher-than-expected win, Liverpool was beaten 1-0 at Basel in the other Group B match.
Liverpool’s loss left Madrid alone in first place of the group with six points. Basel and Liverpool have three points, while Ludogorets was left with zero despite two strong showings against Madrid and Liverpool.
He finished the match grimacing and favoring his left leg after a late tackle by Anicet Abel left him writhing on the turf.
Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti rested some of his first-choice players and gave starts to Javier Hernandez, Asier Illarramendi and Franciso “Isco” Alarcon.
And although Isco was Madrid’s best player with his incisive runs and passes on the left side of the midfield, Ancelotti had to turn to Benzema to replace Hernandez with the former Manchester United forward lacking his finishing touch.
Ludogorets‘ fans had to travel 335 kilometers (210 miles) to play at Vasil Levski Stadium in Sofia because the club’s 6,000-seat arena does not meet UEFA standards.
But travel-weary supporters soon had a good reason to celebrate after Madrid turned over possession and Marcelinho got off a shot which glanced off a defender and earned a corner kick. The 30-year-old Brazilian turned that opportunity into a stunning opener when he headed in the cross flicked on to the far post.
Madrid started to take better care of the ball and was soon creating a steady stream of scoring chances.
A deflected Isco pass left Hernandez alone in the area, where defender Yordan Minev fouled him to stop him from facing the goalkeeper one-on-one.
The risky move paid off when he escaped with only a yellow card and Ronaldo missed the penalty.
Ronaldo fell after contact with Cosmin Moti in the area and was rewarded with a penalty following another attack led by Isco. The Portugal forward chose the same right side of Stoyanov, but this time put an unreachable strike just inside the post.
Ludogorets still remained dangerous and goalie Iker Casillas had to get low to parry Mihail Alexandrov’s shot on the break in the 31st.
An otherwise quiet Gareth Bale tested Stoyanov with a header in the 52nd, but it was Casillas who made one-handed saves to deny long strikes by Fabio Espinho and Marcelinho.
Ronaldo was inches from a second goal when Minev cleared his shot off the line seconds after Benzema entered the game.
Benzema then took full advantage of the only blown coverage by Ludogorets when his marker apparently fell, leaving him alone in front of goal to turn in Marcelo’s pass.