Real Madrid CF had to bide their time in Tuesday's 3-0 first-leg victory at APOEL FC, but Pepe was full of praise for the collective effort that laid the platform for their late charge.
Though Madrid were overwhelming favourites to establish a healthy lead in the opening instalment of their quarter-final tie Nicosia, they were forced to wait until the closing 16 minutes before goals from Karim Benzema either side of a Kaká effort broke the hosts' resolve. José Mourinho's side were the dominant force throughout, however, and were rarely troubled by APOEL.
"In the first half, we started strong," said Pepe. "They were defending and we had possession. We tried to penetrate their defence but we couldn't. In the second half, we improved and took advantage of the chances we got. It was an important victory. The whole team contributed to make sure that we, the defenders, had rather a quiet night. Everybody worked very well together.
"It was an important match for us; we needed to be very concentrated because APOEL may not be a 'big' team, but their players work hard. They're a very organised side and I think the team needs to be congratulated."
It was only after Mourinho shuffled his pack just past the hour, replacing Fábio Coentrão and Gonzalo Higuaín with Marcelo and Kaká, that the Merengues found that clinical edge. Kaká played a key role by setting up Benzema for the opener and scoring the second.
"I am happy with my participation for 30 minutes," said the Brazilian playmaker. "I made use of the opportunity I had. I scored a goal, I provided an assist. I am also happy with the victory; we took a big step towards the semi-finals. My aim is to help the team in my own way."
Benzema, who took his UEFA Champions League goal tally for the season to seven to trail only Mario Gomez and Lionel Messi, conceded the game was not as straightforward as the final score suggests. "It was a very difficult match, especially in the first half," he said. "In the second, we played better and achieved a very important victory. We will continue at the same pace in the second leg as well."
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