In an undistinguished opening week in the Champions League for La Liga's quartet, even Real Madrid's win was hardly a satisfying affair. With Barcelona and Valencia having tied their first group matches on Tuesday night, and as Villarreal was being led a merry dance on its home turf by Bayern Munich, Real ran out at Dinamo Zagreb's Maksimir stadium with expectations of a rout in the air.
But it was not to be. Dinamo, playing a makeshift defense owing to injuries, proceeded to park the proverbial bus in front if its goal and watched as the unusually red-shirted Real stars floundered amongst a sea of gray-blue Croatian defenders. Madrid's impeccable Portuguese center-half pairing of Pepe and Ricardo Carvalho pushed right up to the half-way line to ensure that the ball stayed in the Dinamo half, but clear-cut chances were few and far between. Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema offered plenty of movement up front, but the passing was not fluid and Ángel Di María was unusually wasteful in his approach play from the flanks.
And so it remained until half time. Eight minutes into the second period, however, an excellent move started by Ronaldo and continued by Benzema and the forward-bound Marcelo gave Di María the chance to make amends, the Argentinean's left-foot shot giving Real the lead and making the original premonitions of a goal rush seem the likeliest outcome once more. Ronaldo took a couple of shots in search of his goal and Coentrão had his chance, but goalkeeper Ivan Kelava stood up well to the onslaught. In the end, Madrid was made to suffer in a game it should have wrapped up far more comfortably after the hyperactive Marcelo received his marching orders for a second yellow card when he was adjudged to have simulated a foul in the Dinamo penalty area.
Real players argued after the game that the referee had turned a blind eye to some rough stuff from the Croats, Ronaldo complaining he had to have "three stitches" applied to a cut. "I don't understand this refereeing, these people who appeal for fair play and for skillful players to be protected, I don't get that. I think that because I am rich, handsome and a great player, people are envious of me. I can see no other explanation," the Portuguese number 7 said.
Still, Real is top of Group D after Ajax was held 0-0 at home by Olympique Lyon in the other match. No other Spanish team can enjoy such comfort, Barça having leaked a late goal fro a corner to a creaky old Milan side for 2-2 at Camp Nou and Valencia failing to get a three-point start at Genk in a Group E which also contains Chelsea and Bayer Leverkusen.
Most dismal of all was Villarreal's debut in the competition proper, Bayern Munich's Franck Ribéry torturing the home defense as an early goal for Toni Kroos and a late strike by Rafinha gave the German club a comfortable victory.