Madrid, Feb 15 (IANS) Real Madrid overcame an early deficit and then scored two late goals in a 3-1 victory over Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) in the Champions League (CL) round-of-16 action, a win that keeps the Blancos on track for a third straight title.
This marquee match-up of two of football’s most star-studded and financially flush clubs began in frenetic fashion at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium here on Wednesday night, with Real Madrid forcing PSG out of its comfort zone and also applying some early pressure on visiting net minder Alphonse Areola.
The Blancos later had the first golden scoring opportunity of the match before the half-hour mark, launching a rapid counter-attack in which star striker Cristiano Ronaldo received a cross-field pass from Marcelo but failed to covert when his shot ricocheted off the PSG goalkeeper’s face.
Shortly afterward, the visitors struck first on a play set up by a run down the right side by Kylian Mbappe.
The Frenchman sent in a cross that Edinson Cavani let through before Neymar back-heeled the ball to the unmarked Adrien Rabiot, who fired a right-footed shot past Madrid goalie Keylor Navas.
The goal was a jarring blow for a Real Madrid side that has already been eliminated from the Copa del Rey and trails arch-rival FC Barcelona by a whopping 17 points in La Liga.
With their entire season riding on the Champions League, the Blancos needed to respond quickly yet nearly found themselves down 0-2 when Casemiro was forced to lunge to deflect away a close-range shot by Cavani that was headed for the bottom right corner of the goal.
Real Madrid picked up their intensity offensively, yet PSG still looked like they would head to the intermission with the lead when Areola made a remarkable save to deny Karim Benzema.
But on the ensuing corner kick, Giovani Lo Celso was called for a penalty on Toni Kroos. Ronaldo then equalised when he did the honours from the 12-yard mark in the 45th minute.
When play resumed, PSG had a couple of clear chances that were turned away by Navas and star defender Sergio Ramos.
But the key turning point came in the 79th minute when Real Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane sent in Lucas Vazquez and Marco Asensio in a bid to give his team new life.
The move proved to be stroke of genius as Asensio proved to be the main creator for Real Madrid down the stretch.
First he fired in a pair of threatening crosses in the 83rd minute, the second of which led to a goal by Ronaldo — his 101st in the Champions League for Real Madrid — after the ball was tipped by Areola.
The Spanish midfielder then orchestrated a third goal with yet another cross that set up Marcelo for a score in the 86th minute.
The win was perhaps the biggest of the season for the Blancos and leaves them in excellent shape heading into the second leg, which PSG will host on March 6 at Parc des Princes Stadium.