Real Madrid CF recorded their first ever win in Russia to progress to the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals with a shaky 1-0 Group C victory against FC Lokomotiv Moskva, courtesy of Ronaldo's first-half goal. On a bare Lokomotiv stadium pitch, the Brazilian striker headed in Luis Figo's right-wing cross ten minutes before half-time to set up Madrid's first success on Russian soil in eight attempts.
All three points were vital for the European champions, who would have bowed out of the competition had they slipped up by virtue of BV Borussia Dortmund's 1-0 win against group winners AC Milan in Italy - and for much of the game it seemed a massive upset was on the cards.
Lokomotiv, who had held Madrid 2-2 in the Santiago Bernabéu in December, produced a performace of similar grit and determination and had three good chances to take the lead. Flavio Conceição went close to breaking the deadlock at the wrong end on 18 minutes, clattering a hurried clearance wide of Iker Casillas' goal from 20 metres out. The ensuing corner then presented Vadim Evseev with a simple header, which he sent down into the turf but watched in horror as it bounced back up over the crossbar.
On 25 minutes Marat Izmailov and Thabo Mnguni exchanged passes - the second a clever back-heel - and the Russian lashed a shot high into the side-netting. Then a minute later Ruslan Pimenov, still searching for his first Champions League goal, whistled a snap volley over the crossbar from 16 metres.
The goal, which followed Madrid's brightest spell of pressure, only briefly settled the Spanish side's nerves - but it was a delight to behold. Zinedine Zidane gave himself room to manoeuvre in midfield with a delicious double drag-back which allowed him to launch an attack from the middle of the increasingly muddy field. Raúl González then played the ball down the line for Figo - and the ball was destined for the net the moment Ronaldo found space to meet Figo's cross.
The second half was a cagey affair, without a shot on goal until the 77th minute when a tireless Lokomotiv raised their game. The ball sat up beautifully for Izmailov, whose shot from range deflected wide for a corner - and when the set-piece was delivered, Evseev, the most industrious player on the field, failed to connect successfully with the goal at his mercy, managing only to shoulder the ball towards Casillas.
News that Jan Koller had put Dortmund ahead filtered into the ground as the clock ticked down and on 87 minutes Evseev fed Dmitri Loskov - although he skewered an angled shot over the bar. The best chance of all fell to Lokomotiv substitute Julio Cesar with only a minute left to play but, with one of the biggest shocks in Champions League history beckoning, the Brazilian shot over the bar from eight metres out with just a mightily relieved Casillas to beat.