A late strike from substitute Angel di Maria earned Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid a narrow 1-0 win over Auxerre in the UEFA Champions League group phase match on Tuesday. The visitors dominated the game in terms of possession and territory but looked destined for their third goalless draw of the season until di Maria struck with nine minutes to play.
The Argentine winger, a second-half replacement for Lassana Diarra, stole in front of Benoit Pedretti to cushion a right-wing cross on his chest and then angle a left-footed half-volley into the bottom-right corner. Up to that point Auxerre had defended with composure and they almost took the lead moments before di Maria's intervention, only for Real centre-back Pepe's header to strike his own post and bounce back into play.
"There were matches before where we created about 15 chances but didn't score, like at Mallorca or at Levante," said Mourinho, whose team were held to an unwelcome goalless draw at Levante on Saturday. "Everyone said that we didn't deserve to win as we didn't score. Tonight, if everyone's being pragmatic, we scored so the victory is deserved."
Having won 2-0 at Ajax in their opening fixture, Real top Group G with six points, but the three points long looked far from a formality on an awkward night for the nine-time European champions at a packed Stade Abbe-Deschamps. Jean Fernandez's men secured a surprise third-place finish in Ligue 1 last season and their well-established counter-attacking formula proved a tough nut to crack for their illustrious opponents.
Having bossed the first period, Real found clear chances more difficult to come by in the second and Mourinho cut an increasingly animated figure on the touchline as the minutes ticked by. Cristiano Ronaldo went close twice in the space of a minute, seeing a trademark free-kick punched away by Olivier Sorin and heading over from the following corner-kick, but he largely endured a frustrating evening.
It had taken Auxerre less than four minutes to get the home fans on their feet. In attempting to clear a Delvin Ndinga through-ball, Real goalkeeper Iker Casillas succeeded only in smacking it against Dennis Oliech but the Kenyan could not get to the ball before it crossed the line for a goal-kick. Oliech failed to connect with a Steeven Langil cross moments later, but thereafter the hosts set up semi-permanent residence in the Auxerre half.
Ronaldo shot straight at Sorin, Diarra twice fired off-target and Gonzalo Higuain had an effort kicked off the line by Kamel Chafni after a neat turn following a corner. Sorin also did well to push away a volley from Marcelo after the Brazilian left-back hared onto a lofted Xabi Alonso pass.
Amid that flurry of chances, Ndinga headed inches wide of Casillas's goal from a Pedretti free-kick and both Pedretti and Dariusz Dudka tested the Spanish international in the minutes approaching the interval. The first clear chance of the second half also fell Auxerre's way, but half-time substitute Ireneusz Jelen dragged his shot wide after being set free by a well weighted pass from Pedretti.