Two goals from Fernando Morientes helped Real Madrid CF to a 3-2 victory over AC Sparta Praha in a breathtaking UEFA Champions League Group C encounter at the Letná stadium.
The home side twice recovered from a goal down to level the scores in an open, fast-flowing game, which was effectively settled when Morientes tucked home his second and Madrid's third 16 minutes from time.
Zidane on target
After a tight opening spell, Morientes had a hand in the opening goal. The 25-year-old striker's 20th-minute shot was parried and the ball fell to Zinedine Zidane on the edge of the area. The Frenchman, who showed some exquisite touches in the Madrid midfield, brought the ball under control and launched a dipping, left-footed strike over goalkeeper Petr Cech and into the Sparta net.
Madrid almost doubled their lead when Morientes was played through four minutes later, but the Spaniard's strike crashed against the top of Cech's right-hand post. Then minutes later Rastislav Michalík got the home side back on level terms when he carefully watched Libor Sionko's cross and drilled the ball first time through Michel Salgado's legs and back across goalkeeper Iker Casillas and into the far corner of the net.
However, Sparta could only hold Madrid for six minutes before slick passing and nimble movement brought the visitors their second goal. Having been released down the right by Raúl González, Salgado outpaced Vladimír Labant to deliver a square ball across goal where Morientes side-footed a shot high into the Sparta net.
Jan Flachbart brought a marvellous save from Casillas midway through the second half as the home side battled hard for a second equaliser. The 20-year-old goalkeeper dived full stretch to his right and tipped Flachbart's long-range effort away for a corner. Moments later the ball fell to Lukáš Zelenka, whose drive powered through a crowded box straight at the unsighted Casillas, who somehow blocked the ball again.
Pressure pays off
Sionko finally made Sparta's pressure pay two minutes later. The 24-year-old forward drilled a 16-metre shot at the Madrid goal and the ball clipped Pavon Barahona's boot, wrong-footing Casillas and skidding over the Madrid goalline.
But Madrid regained the lead once again after Roberto Carlos cut inside from the left and fired a shot on goal with his weaker right foot. The Brazilian's effort was parried by Cech, but Morientes could scarcely miss with his poke home from six metres out.
Despite Madrid attempting to tighten the midfield and kill the game, Sparta had a wonderful opportunity to grab what would have been a deserved share of the spoils in injury time. The otherwise excellent Casillas dropped a relatively simple catch and Tomáš Hubschman hooked the ball out from underneath the goalkeeper's legs. The ball rolled into Flachbart's path but, with Casillas stranded, his eight-metre shot was drilled well wide of goal.