There are not many 20-year olds who have celebrated their UEFA Champions League debut by scoring the winning goal in front of more than 62,000 fans, but Roberto Soldado did just that last night to earn Real Madrid CF a 2-1 home victory against Olympiacos CFP.
With Ronaldo suspended, Madrid's three-pronged attack of Raúl González, Robinho and Julio Baptista were only once able to beat Antonios Nikopolidis - the captain becoming the first man to register 50 European Champion Clubs' Cup goals in the ninth minute - before Soldado was introduced in the 78th minute. By then, Pantelis Kafes's tremendous swerving strike just after the interval had drawn the Greek side level, and threatened to leave Madrid with just a point to show from their opening two Group F fixtures.
The sight of a gifted youngster emerging from the bench late on to pep up the attack was a familiar one in the early days of Javier Portillo, and the tactic again paid dividends against Olympiacos. As Vanderlei Luxemburgo had hoped, the visitors chiefly concentrated on marking Madrid's big-name players, leaving Soldado to roam the penalty area almost unnoticed. With three minutes to go, the Spanish youth international made that freedom count by nodding in the winner to ignite the Bernabéu and Madrid's European campaign.
'Nick of time'
Speaking to uefa.com, Soldado said: "As a team we are very happy with the victory. We created a lot of chances during the first half and could even have finished the match in the opening 45 minutes, only for Olympiacos to turn the game around right at the start of the second half. The team did everything possible to get back in front - some days you have luck and when they go in it's a different story. We were lucky that one arrived for us in the nick of time."
Del Bosque influence
The former Madrid coach Vicente Del Bosque was an influential figure in Soldado's early career, tempting him to the capital after scouts had been left drooling at the 14-year-old's displays for Don Bosco CF, a Valencia-based regional side. The forward worked his way up to the reserves and continues to lead the attack for Real Madrid Castilla in the Segunda División, consistently scoring goals to move prominently into Luxemburgo's thoughts despite the coach's attacking riches.
"I know that I am still a reserve-team player and my priority is to keep scoring for them," Soldado told uefa.com. "If I continue to get minutes for the first team and score more goals then maybe I will have more chances to represent them. It's my job to score goals and some days are luckier than others.
I thank God that against Olympiacos I got lucky and one came my way."
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