Carlo Ancelotti optimistic about Real Madrid’s new year despite defeat to Milan
Real Madrid 2 AC Milan 4
Real Madrid Ronaldo 31’, Benzema 83’
AC Milan Menez 23’, El Shaarawy 35’, 48’, Pazzini 72’
Man of the match Stephan El Shaarawy (Milan)
DUBAI // So it transpired on one of those rare footballing occasions in the UAE, when bona-fide superstars tempt the masses, with a sell-out crowd of 45,000 witnessing perhaps the highest-profile friendly the country has staged.
If the vast majority of those in attendance craved a Real Madrid victory, then they would leave only slightly disappointed: AC Milan may have triumphed 4-2 on the night, but both sides, with 17 European Cups between them, contributed to a stellar show.
Carlo Ancelotti, the Madrid manager, promised on Monday to field a strong line-up and the Italian was true to his word. Confirmation came 45 minutes before kick-off: Cristiano Ronaldo, Sami Khedira, Fabio Coentrao and Raphael Varane – a quartet who started the Uefa Champions League final in May – were included in the first XI.
Gareth Bale, who played a pivotal role in Madrid’s clinching of “La Decima”, would begin on the bench, as did James Rodriguez, the top scorer at last summer’s Fifa World Cup.
With Karim Benzema alongside the pair, Madrid’s collection of substitutes boasted at least €235 million (Dh1 billion) worth of talent. Not a bad second string.
It was Milan who banked the spoils, though, with the opening exchanges keenly contested before the Serie A side pounced to score two goals in eight frantic first-half minutes.
Jeremy Menez latched onto a poor back pass from Nacho, which committed Keylor Navas off his line. Menez collected the ball, feinted and placed a shot low into the corner.
Stephan El Shaarawy doubled the advantage, turning inside Alvaro Arbeloa to fire a cunning shot inside Madrid’s near post. It seemed to only anger the beast, though, because within the briefest of flashes, the Spaniards halved the deficit.
Ronaldo, the darling of the crowd and at present comfortably the game’s finest exponent, lived up to his billing, racing clear of the Milan defence to curl the ball past Diego Lopez. The goalkeeper, a teammate until this summer and no doubt familiar with cursing Ronaldo in Real training sessions, probably thought he had seen the last of the Portuguese forward.
Ronaldo, fresh from collecting Player of the Year honours at Monday’s Globe Soccer Awards, departed Dubai defeated, but with an extra little honour.
As expected, Ancelotti rang the changes at half time, although the contest remained as competitive, most notably when Dani Carvajal made his presence felt with a barge into Milan’s Mbaye Niang.
Even with Bale, Benzema and, belatedly, Rodriguez introduced in the second half, Milan stretched their lead and looked to have sealed the victory.
On 48 minutes, El Shaarawy made the most of a Carvajal slip to shoot past Iker Casillas, the substitute goalkeeper, while Giampaolo Pazzini later applied the finishing touch to Niang’s pinpoint cross to make the game safe.
Ancelotti accepted Milan were the better side, although he said the friendly provided ideal preparation for when Madrid resume their quest for multi-faceted trophies on Sunday.
Currently, they sit top of the Primera Liga, a position gained in part from a run of 22 competitive victories in all competitions. Coritiba, the Brazilian club, hold the world record, at 24.
Madrid’s next assignment is the league encounter with Valencia on Sunday.
“Milan played well,” Ancelotti said. “But this doesn’t affect what we have already achieved. There’s no problem. We’re optimistic for January.
“We haven’t done everything necessary to be ready for Sunday, but tonight we didn’t have any major problems [with injuries], so all’s OK.”
There was enough time for Madrid to raise the audience to its feet, when Benzema expertly found the net from the penalty spot after Nacho had been bundled over by Niang. The clock read 83 minutes, but unlike the crazy conclusion to the Champions League final in May, Madrid could not summon another late comeback.
But Ronaldo and Bale, supported by a gifted support cast, had made it worth it. Losers only on the scoreboard, they contributed to a Dubai Football Challenge match that ticked all the boxes.
Follow us on Twitter @SprtNationalUAE
Published: December 30, 2014 04:00 AM