Cristiano Ronaldo saluted Real Madrid’s fighting spirit as he helped inspire a late comeback to ensure their UEFA Champions League defence got off to the perfect start with a 2-1 victory over boyhood club Sporting CP.
“We always believe until the end – to the very last minute,” he told UEFA.com “A match is 90-plus minutes and you need to believe until it’s over. In the closing stages we were good and if it weren’t for that we wouldn’t have won.
“It was very tough and we need to start better. We weren’t great from the off. We thought the game was going to be easier and Sporting made life very difficult for us. They showed they’re a very good side and can make it out of this group.”
Bruno César’s smart finish on 48 minutes gave Sporting the lead and, after hitting the post from point-blank range late on, it appeared it was not going to be either Ronaldo’s nor the Merengues’ night.
But with less than a minute remaining, a stunning free-kick from their No7 was the catalyst for yet another Madrileño European comeback. It was his 95th UEFA Champions League goal but the former Sporting protégé chose not to celebrate. He admits there were mixed emotions as it sailed past Rui Patrício.
“It hurts a little to play against and score against them, but I represent my colours and they’re those of Real Madrid,” he said. “This is a club that I love and is in my heart now but to play against Sporting, where I grew up, was difficult.”
Rarely do visiting teams cause Madrid such problems at the Bernabéu; Ronaldo, though, was not surprised. “They were always going to come here with a game plan and they executed it very well. Their coach is a smart guy and he was going to make life difficult. Sporting almost beat us.
“We know we’re the defending champions and that all sides want to beat Real Madrid. We’re ready for that. We’re going to do things correctly and with calm and with the belief we can win it again.” Do that, and Madrid will become the first side to retain the competition in the UEFA Champions League era.