A late header from substitute Roberto Soldado earned Real Madrid CF a valuable, but narrow, UEFA Champions League victory against a valiant Olympiacos CFP in the Spanish capital.
The Greek visitors appeared to have earned a point as Pantelis Kafes scored three minutes into the second period, the Olympiacos midfielder cancelling out Raúl González's ninth-minute effort. The Madrid forward's header made him the first player to register 50 goals in the European Champion Clubs' Cup - yet only looked good enough for a point until Soldado struck.
With both sides having lost their opening Group F fixtures a fortnight ago, to Olympique Lyonnais and Rosenborg BK respectively, their coaches opted for attacking 4-3-3 formations. Madrid's Vanderlei Luxemburgo was forced to improvise with Zinedine Zidane still nursing a groin strain and Ronaldo completing a two-match ban, so deployed Pablo García as a holding midfielder while Robinho, Julio Baptista and Raúl formed a three-pronged attack. Olympiacos counterpart Trond Sollied, meanwhile, dropped Haruna Babangida to the bench and brought Kafes into midfield.
Madrid drove into the visitors' penalty area straight from kick-off, Raúl and Baptista having early glimpses of goal. Raúl began the evening level with another Santiago Bernabéu idol, Alfredo Di Stéfano, on 49 European Cup goals, but on nine minutes glanced in David Beckham's right-wing set-piece to become the competition's all-time top scorer in his own right.
Iker Casillas was then tested at the opposite end, the Madrid goalkeeper diving full length to keep out a Rivaldo free-kick to an almighty groan of disappointment from the away supporters. Rivaldo, on his return to Spain following five seasons with FC Barcelona, looked keen to make an impact and another thunderous effort forced Casillas to block. Olympiacos's Antonios Nikopolidis was kept busy too, racing out of his area to head clear before palming another Baptista shot wide.
The hosts were pegged back three minutes into the second half, however, as Olympiacos levelled. Kafes collected possession on the edge of the box after his initial effort had been blocked and unleashed a terrific strike that curved away from Casillas and went in off the keeper's left-hand post. The goal was a severe blow for Madrid, while inspiring the Greek side to defend fiercely as a vital away point seemed within reach.
A lack of ideas in attack did not help the home team's predicament, although Robinho met a Roberto Carlos centre on the hour but powered his header over. Baptista then launched himself at another Beckham cross but failed to connect properly. As the minutes ticked away, Madrid's desperation to regain the lead increased and Baptista's flying header, which crashed against the bar on 77 minutes, seemed to sum up their frustration.
Soldado to the rescue
Luxemburgo swapped Baptista for striker Soldado with eleven minutes remaining and then immediately replaced Míchel Salgado for attacking midfielder Carlos Diogo. Olympiacos were four minutes away from claiming a point when Beckham's delivery was met by Soldado and, although Nikopolidis blocked his first header, the substitute reacted smartly to nod in the winner. It was the 20-year-old's first Champions League goal, and was celebrated with the same gusto as Raúl's 50th, although Madrid's night ended on a sour note as Sergio Ramos was sent off in added time for reacting to Ioannis Okkas's challenge.