Champions League – Pato settles thriller in Madrid

Alexandre Pato struck late on to give Milan a 3-2 win over Real Madrid in a hugely entertaining Champions League clash at the Bernabeu.

The Brazilian settled the match with his second of the night in the 88th minute as Milan roared back from a limp first half display to move level on points with Real at the top of Group C.

Real took a first-half lead through Raul before Andrea Pirlo restored parity on 62 minutes. Pato put the Rossoneri ahead just four minutes later before Royston Drenthe pulled Real back on to level terms on 76 minutes.

But Pato had the final say in a remarkable match to ensure Leonardo’s side bounced back in style from their defeat to Zurich last time out.

Even in the absence of the injured Cristiano Ronaldo, there was still enough talent on show in a rainy Madrid to capture the imagination of the watching football world.

A bit of magic from Kaka, a glimpse of Ronaldinho‘s trickery or even a long-range shot from Xabi Alonso was expected, but ultimately the match was littered not with moments of genius and a series of goalkeeping errors.

The first three goals all stemmed from awful mistakes, one an absolute howler by Milan’s Dida and two by the usually dependable Iker Casillas.

Dida was the man in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons on 19 minutes, the Milan keeper attempting to bounce the ball on the ground after he had seemingly dealt comfortably with Esteban Granero‘s shot, only to see the ball squirt off his knee and out towards Raul.

The Real legend needed no further invitation and he darted in to poke the ball past the unfortunate keeper before slotting into the empty net.

The goal brought up an incredible personal milestone for Raul – it was the Real skipper’s 66th Champions League goal, meaning he equalled German forward Gerd Mueller’s 32-year-old goalscoring record in the three main European club competitions.

Real were cruising at 1-0 up and the hosts dominated the remainder of the first half as well as the opening 15 minutes of the second.

But the game was turned on its head by two goals in the space of four mad minutes which saw Casillas try his utmost to outdo his opposite number in the gaffe stakes.

In the 62nd minute, Spain’s number one failed to pick Pirlo’s long-range strike on goal and was caught completely unawares as the ball flew into the bottom right hand corner.

And then, just four minutes later, Casillas charged off his line to reach a long ball through, only to realise he had ventured outside his area. A last-ditch desperate attempt to clear with his head failed, allowing Pato to run on and finish into an empty net.

Drenthe pulled Real back on to level terms on 76 minutes with the first goal of the night that could not be blamed on a goalkeeping error. Indeed, it was a fine strike from the substitute, who rifled the ball past Dida, who this time could do nothing.

Milan then thought they had found a winner in the 86th minute when Thiago Silva rose majestically to nod home from a corner, only for referee Frank De Bleeckere to disallow the ‘goal’ for an infringement.

It was not the first time the Belgian official had made a contentious decision. Real should already have been in front even before Dida’s initial comedy turn, but De Bleeckere waved away strong penalty claims when Gianluca Zambrotta hacked Karim Benzema to the floor in the Milan box on 14 minutes.

Four goals and two contentious decisions, but the drama was not over and there was to be a final twist to the tale as Pato took full advantage of some slack Real defending to volley home Clarence Seedorf‘s clipped ball through and cap a memorable game between two of European football’s genuine heavyweights.

Mike Hytner / Eurosport

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