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Real Madrid CF and AC Milan played out a UEFA Champions League classic as the Serie A side recovered from Dida's early error to breathe life into their Group C campaign with a 3-2 win.
With 16 European Champion Clubs' Cups between them and a plethora of stars on display, fans flocked to the Santiago Bernabéu expecting something special – they were not disappointed. Raúl González opened the scoring midway through the opening period but two second-half goals in four minutes from Andrea Pirlo and Pato turned the game on its head. Royston Drenthe's low drive restored parity before Pato decided the contest with a dramatic volley two minutes from time.
So Madrid's night ended as it had begun – on a sour note. Gonzalo Higuaín picked up an injury during the warm-up to join a daunting list of absentees. Yet Manuel Pellegrini is hardly short on talent and, with Esteban Granero handed his UEFA Champions League debut, the hosts set the early pace. Granero and Karim Benzema bristled with intent and the pair were in the thick of things as Madrid broke the deadlock on 19 minutes. Benzema drew defenders on the edge of the Milan area before teeing up Granero for a speculative effort. It was straight at Dida yet the Brazilian, playing in place of the injured Christian Abbiati, let the ball slip on to his knee and into the path of the prowling Raúl who clipped in his 66th UEFA Champions League goal.
The Rossoneri were stunned, and as they allowed their opponents more possession they might have been punished further had Lassana Diarra applied more finesse to his chip. The French international sent another attempt just wide from distance and Marcelo also warmed Dida's hands. Milan threatened only once in the first half, Clarence Seedorf's cross needing a timely Raúl Albiol interception to deny the lurking Filippo Inzaghi with the scores at 0-0, and the second period started in a similar fashion. Raúl flashed a left-footed drive wide before Kaká measured a teasing pass across goal to no avail.
Dida was getting plenty of opportunity to atone for his error, denying Benzema and then, following a defensive lapse, Raúl. It all looked so comfortable for Madrid but, in the space of four minutes, they were behind. Receiving possession 30 metres from goal, Pirlo unleashed a blistering strike that crept inside Iker Casillas's near post. The goalkeeper could do nothing about that, yet was culpable when he opted to come out to meet Massimo Ambrosini's lofted pass soon after but misjudged the bounce, leaving Pato to slide the ball into an unguarded net and give Leonardo's side the lead.
It was merely the beginning of the drama. With 14 minutes left, Drenthe met Raúl's corner with a crisp low shot that levelled matters, yet these sides had played enough European Cup football – 526 matches between them – to suspect another sting in the tail. It duly came: Pato latching on to Seedorf's flighted pass with an emphatic volley to finally settle a thrilling contest.
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