Karim Benzema
Karim Benzema reacts after putting Real Madrid in front against Córdoba. Reuters

Real Madrid kicked off their La Liga season with a hard-fought victory against newly promoted Córdoba in a narrow 2-0 win at the Bernabeu. Against opponents playing their first top-flight match in 42 years, a star-studded Real Madrid side was expected to stroll to victory in their opening match of the campaign. Instead, they created precious few chances and were grateful for Karim Benzema’s first-half header from Toni Kroos’ corner and Cristiano Ronaldo’s late strike that allowed them to see off an impressive Córdoba side and keep early pace with Barcelona.

Real Madrid started with a thrillingly attacking lineup as James Rodriguez lined up alongside fellow summer signing Kroos and Luka Modric in midfield behind the famed “BBC” trio of Benzema, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo. But Madrid, still trying to fine the right balance with their new arrivals, struggled to find their rhythm throughout. It wasn’t until the 19th minute when Luka Modric squared a free-kick along the edge of the box for Ronaldo to strike straight at Córdoba goalkeeper Juan Carlos that the hosts threatened for the first time. Rodriguez, who has switched between forward and midfield roles so far in his young Madrid career, gave a glimpse of his ability with one beautifully chipped pass to Sergio Ramos that the defender couldn’t capitalize upon.

Given how well Córdoba were standing up to the task against their illustrious opponents, there will have been considerable disappointment from coach and former Barcelona defender Albert Ferrer, that their resistance was broken from a set-piece. Kroos whipped the ball back from a corner and Benzema rose ahead of teammate Sergio Ramos before emphatically heading into the net off the near post.

Despite the visitors posing only a limited threat, the traffic was not all one way in the opening period. The physicality of Córdoba debutante Mike Havenaar was causing Madrid’s center-back duo a few problems and, having drilled a shot wide early on, arguably should have equalized before the interval. The powerful front man, a Japan international with Dutch parents, got above Ramos from a corner but headed wide of the target. The miss was particularly galling given that once again, Iker Casillas had been caught in no-man’s land attempting to come and claim an aerial ball into the box.

The Spain goalkeeper, chosen ahead of Costa Rican new arrival Keylor Navas, did in part redeem himself after the interval, however, when, after an error from Alvaro Arbeloa, he showed what he does best by making a good low save from Ryder Matos. While Rodriguez produced a couple of sparkling moments, Casillas continued to be involved far more than his manager Carlo Ancelotti will have liked. And the Italian will again have had concerns about his goalkeeper when he parried Fidel’s shot straight out to substitute Xisco to tap in. To Casillas’ relief the offside flag correctly came to his rescue.

The flag was also raised as the ball hit the net at the other end, with Ronaldo frustrated to have a first strike of the season chalked off. But he would not have to wait long. In the final minute of the 90, the Portuguese star ensured his side could have a few moments of comfort at the climax of the match with a blast from 25 yards that bounced in front of goal to beat Juan Carlos.

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