Vol. 5 Num 479 Fri. September 30, 2005  

UEFA Champs League
Real owe it to reserve man

Real Madrid have never been beaten in the Santiago Bernabeu by a Greek side and they kept their streak alive with a 2-1 win over Olympiakos in the Champions league group F encounter here on Wednesday.

The victory partially banished the memories of Real crashing 3-0 at Lyon two weeks ago and there were double celebrations as club captain Raul reached his half century of goals in European competition.

However, the Spanish giants left it late to secure all three points, the winner from second half substitute Robert Soldado, who usually plays for Real's reserve team, coming four minutes from time.

"In the first half everything went fine but we didn't build up enough of an advantage to allow us to relax for the rest of the game," reflected Real coach Wanderley Luxemburgo.

"We should have finished them off in the first half and this is what I said in the dressing room in the break. We can't afford to have five or six chances and only score once.

"When they scored and made it 1-1, we suffered. Time seemed to pass very slowly. In the end we made hard work of winning but I think we deserved the victory.

"I can't explain why you saw us play two different ways in each half, but I do know that we can't do it if we are to win titles" added Luxemburgo.

It was Soldado's first goal in Europe's top club competition so he has a few to catch up on Raul, who had earlier notched up his 50th strike in the competition.

Raul already held the accolade as the top scorer in the Champions League since its inception during the 1992-93 season but on Wednesday he also became Real's most prolific marksman in European competition, edging ahead of Alfredo di Stefano.

The legendary di Stefano, who is now the Real honorary president, scored 49 times in the old European Cup between 1955 and 1964.

Raul's hallmark effort came after just nine minutes, a glancing header from a perfect David Beckham cross which left Olympiakos' keeper Antonios Nikopolidis rooted to the spot.

Beckham, who has been in some of the best form since he arrived at Real in the summer of 2003 in recent games, nearly set up a second goal after 29 minutes when Robinho controlled a cross from the England captain on his chest.

"I don't know if this was Beckham's best game (for Real) but Beckham is a great player, he was in the midst of everything," added Luxemburgo, paying tribute to possibly his best player on the night.

Robinho's volley gave Nikopolidis the fright of his life but just flew wide.

The Bernabeu were silenced when Pantelis Kafes equalised barely two minutes after the break with a right foot thunderbolt from 20 yards, which squeezed between Real goalkeeper Iker Casillas and his left post.

The Greeks' goal seemed to deflate Real as well as their fans and they only turned up the pressure again in the final 15 minutes, almost being left to regret their first half misses until Soldado struck with his head.

Beckham again sent a long pass into the area and Soldado's first header was parried away by Nikopolidis but his double-fisted punch sent the ball stright back to Soldado and the 20-year-old striker didn't miss a second time.

The gloss of Real's win was slightly dulled by Sergio Ramos getting a red card in injury time, his second sending off in four games.

The central defender was hacked down by Ioannis Okkas but retaliated although the Olympiakos striker made a meal of the slight contact.

"I don't think anybody believed we were going to win at the Bernabeu but the team played well and nearly pulled off a good result," said Olympiakos coach Trond Sollied.

Despite the win, Real languish in third place in group F, adding importance to the visit of Rosenborg in three weeks time.

The Norwegians lost 1-0 at home to Lyon on Wednesday and have three points from their first two games, the same as Real.

BYE, BYE DI STEFANO! Real Madrid's Raul heads his side infront against Olympiakos at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid on Wednesday and then celebrates in trademark style. It was Raul's 50th goal in European Cup matches. With that strike, the Spanish international surpassed club legend Alfredo di Stefano's record mark of 49. PHOTO: AFP