Job done for Real in Zagreb
Real Madrid made a solid start to their UEFA Champions League campaign with a hard-fought Group D win which saw them finish with 10 men.
The prestigious Spanish outfit, with coach Jose Mourinho banished to the stands serving a touchline suspension, were in the ascendancy throughout, but only Angel Di Maria's second-half strike earned them the points. The narrow win was tarnished, too, by the dismissal of Marcelo for two bookings in quick succession, the second being handed out for diving.
Madrid started brightly and Karim Benzema clipped the bar with a shot from the right in the 11th minute after Di Maria's simple pass up the field. Di Maria failed to make the most of a chance himself when the tables were turned six minutes later. Benzema squared a low ball across the face of goal, only for the Argentinian to make only a half-hearted attempt to reach the inviting pass.
Di Maria was similarly slapdash with the half-hour mark nearing as his tame shot wasted more good work by Benzema, Ivan Kelava making the save before immediately denying Mesut Ozil on the rebound. Marcelo could have won a penalty moments later, but replays showed referee Svein Oddvar Moen was correct in ignoring his pleas.
At the other end, Ante Rukavina missed a sublime chance when, after being put through brilliantly, he decided to try to chip Iker Casillas only to loft the ball comfortably into the goalkeeper's arms. Shortly after, Jerko Leko was booked for a cynical foul on Fabio Coentrao.
The second half started with Madrid taking a 53rd-minute lead. Marcelo played his part with his first meaningful contribution, receiving the ball centrally from Benzema and playing it to Di Maria, who swept the ball into the top left corner. It was not long before Cristiano Ronaldo came close to doubling the advantage, only for Kelava to sprawl and parry the ball away.
Marcelo was guilty of a crude tackle from behind which earned him a booking, before substitute Nikola Pokrivac had an effort blocked for the hosts. Marcelo was off moments later when, for the second time in the game, the referee denied him a penalty - and this time decided to book the Brazilian for his simulation.
Benzema then had a shot saved and Kelava, continuing a stellar performance, was again involved to keep Ronaldo at bay in the 80th minute as Madrid had to settle for a one-sided, but ultimately narrow, victory.