Rafael Benitez’s first match in charge of Real Madrid ended in defeat as Roma triumped 7-6 on penalties in the International Champions Cup at the MCG on Saturday.
After a goalless 90 minutes, the Serie A side came out on top in the shoot-out thanks to goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis and midfielder Seydou Keita.
De Sanctis saved Lucas Vasquez’s spot-kick and Keita stepped up to convert the following effort.
Benitez named a strong starting XI, with the Spaniard handing the captain’s armband to Manchester United target Sergio Ramos, while Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Luka Modric, Raphael Varane and Marcelo were all selected.
There was also a spot for 16-year-old Norwegian prodigy Martin Odegaard.
Francesco Totti, Daniele De Rossi, Gervinho, Radja Nainggolan and Ashley Cole were included by Roma boss Rudi Garcia.
Roma settled well and came close to breaking the deadlock after just four minutes.
De Rossi rattled the crossbar from inside the six-yard box and his shot sparked a goalmouth scramble as Totti’s follow-up effort was cleared off the line by Marcelo.
Real slowly worked their way into the match, with Ramos creating some space at the back post before firing over the bar.
Bale – the liveliest of Real’s front three during the first half – picked out Ronaldo inside the penalty area but Cole dispossessed the latter just as he was about to pull the trigger.
Keylor Navas was kept busy approaching the half-hour mark, forced into a save from distance by Totti, who was withdrawn soon after, while the Real goalkeeper also produced a fingertip save to keep out Salih Ucan.
As expected, both sides made a host of half-time changes, with the likes of Karim Benzema, Toni Kroos, Isco, Miralem Pjanic, Adem Ljajic and Juan Iturbe introduced.
And it had a detrimental impact on the spectacle, though Bale and Seydou Doumbia both had opportunities to break the deadlock early in the second half.
Bale came within a whisker of scoring after his header flashed wide of the post in the 53rd minute, while Doumbia hit the side netting just after.
With extra time looming, Real stepped it up a gear.
After having their penalty shouts for a handball waved away by referee Mark Clattenburg, Benzema played a first-time pass to second-half substitute Vasquez but De Sanctis came to Roma’s rescue.
That proved the last piece of action before the shoot-out, which saw Roma convert all seven of their penalties.
Football Federation Australia
Speaking at a press conference before his team’s International Champions Cup match against Roma on Saturday, Benitez was asked by Goal if the 25-year-old Wales international, five years Ronaldo’s junior, could soon become the more prominent member of the Madrid attack.
“You can ask my daughter if she prefers my wife or me. The father or the mother. It’s not easy,” he said.
“Ronaldo, Bale, all of them – they are so good. For me it’s not a problem. James (Rodriguez), Isco, (Karim) Benzema, Ronaldo or Bale, we have an option with all of them.
“Ronaldo is a key player for us, Gareth will be a key player for us. But the same will be Benzema, James, Isco, (Toni) Kroos, (Luka) Modric. We have a fantastic team. We have to keep improving the squad, keep working hard with the players that we have.”
Benitez, a former Real Madrid ‘B’ player and coach, has won La Liga with Valencia and captured the UEFA Champions League at Liverpool, but now faces undeniably the biggest role of his career.
The 55-year-old knows he will face intense scrutiny in the hot seat at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, but believes focusing on the task at hand – and his inside knowledge of the club – will enable him to succeed where others have failed.
“If you analyse what I have to do every day, it’s more or less the same,” he said.
“It’s a football team and you have to train, to coach, prepare the training sessions and (for) the game. So it’s more or less the same.
“Obviously you have more media, more people around watching you. For me it doesn’t change too much. I have to concentrate on my job and try to do my best in the things that I know. Coaching the team and trying to have a winning mentality.
“(I do) have an advantage. I know the city, I know the fans, I know the club. So that is an advantage.”
Football Federation Australia