The $120 million man, James Rodriguez, gave Real Madrid the lead with his first goal in a Madrid jersey, but they could not hold it against their arch-rivals, as Atletico Madrid came away from the Santiago Bernabeu with a 1-1 draw — and a critical away goal — in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup.
Raul Garcia scored that critical equalizer with two minutes to play after keeper Iker Casillas was caught in no man’s land on a corner. The keeper allowed the ball to bounce in front of him, and Garcia, unmarked, was able to sidefoot it in at the far post. The goal sent the few Atleti fans in attendance into delight — and damaged Real’s hopes of collecting six trophies on the season.
The two sides will meet again on Friday at the Vicente Calderon in the second leg, and adding to Real’s woes is the fact that they may have to play that rematch without their star and talisman, Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo was removed at the half after visibly struggling, and the early reports were that he might have suffered a recurrence of a leg injury that hampered the end of his season last year.
Real Madrid did not look nearly as crisp and incisive as they had against Sevilla in the UEFA Super Cup, and somewhat surprisingly left new signing James on the bench at the outset. As expected, Los Blancos had far more of the ball in the early going — but unexpectedly, Atletico had the far better chances. Real did not get a single shot off in the first half on target, wastefulness that was due to a lackluster showing from Karim Benzema and very solid defensive work on the part of Juanfran and Diego Godin.
In contrast, Aletico, playing their usual narrow and muscular game, tested keeper Casillas throughout. Mario Mandzukic slapped an early volley in the 13th minute but it was easy for Casillas on the hop. Saul had a good early effort when Sergio Ramos alarmingly headed the ball back on and into his rival’s path, but Casillas again got down well to snuff it. Then, with Godin up and causing some problems, Casillas almost made a bad gaffe, parrying the ball right onto Mandzukic’s forehead. The Croatian was unlucky — he headed it right back into Casillas’ mitts.
It wasn’t until very late in the half, when Gareth Bale sent in a cross from out wide left that got behind Godin, that Real had some semblance of a chance. Ronaldo got up for a header, only to see it spin well wide of Miguel Moya’s frame.
Ronaldo of course would not make it to the end of the game, yanked at the start of the half for Rodriguez, and the move almost paid immediate dividends when Bale stung Moya’s palms off a fine snap-shot. Bale would again test Moya with twenty to play off a free kick. Rodriguez fell down and Ramos whipped the free over the bar — but referee Javier Estrada Fernandez called for a re-take claiming encroachment. Bale blew the shot right through the wall, only to see Moya make a superb reaction save. Toni Kroos was on the rebound but could not get over the ball and cannoned his shot into the cheap seats.
But that pressure proved to be a harbinger, and Rodriguez’s goal came with just under ten minutes to play, a squib of a shot that took a big cut off defender Cristian Ansaldi when Benzema over-ran the ball in the box as it popped back out to the youngster. The young Colombian playmaker stumbled it into the net with some help.
But Atletico, so often the scrappy underdogs, did not give up, and after Casillas let that corner bounce two yards in front of him in another one of his lapses, pounced.
As has been the case so often in these Madrid derbies, there were also plenty of extracurricular activities. Seven yellow cards were dealt out, and the most serious incident which came when Ramos was seen to punch Mandzukic on the face when both men were on the ground. Mandzukic had fouled Ramos and came down hard on top of the defender, but there was no need for Ramos to punch out — and he was lucky not to be immediately sent off.
Tuesday’s game was preceded by a moving ceremony for the late Alfredo Di Stefano, who passed away last year.