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Aug 25, 2014

Slow start from Real Madrid

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ESPN FC's Craig Burley and Gary Bailey discuss Real Madrid's 2-0 victory over Cordoba and whether Cristiano Ronaldo is taking a chance by playing with nagging injuries.

Real Madrid's quest to reclaim the Primera Division title began with an unconvincing 2-0 victory over promoted Cordoba.

It took Karim Benzema 30 minutes to find a way past the second division playoff winners with a powerful header and Real toiled in vain for the best part of an hour with the second goal proving to be frustratingly elusive.

Carlo Ancelotti's men had perhaps been lucky to avoid conceding an equaliser to their plucky opponents at a packed-out and restless Bernabeu, but Cristiano Ronaldo eased the pressure and made the points safe on the stroke of full-time.

Real may have overcome Atletico Madrid in the capital clubs' Champions League final showdown, but the ignominy of finishing third-best to the Rojiblancos and Barcelona in La Liga has been hard to swallow.

Fuelling that sense of shame will be last Friday's Supercopa defeat to Atletico.

So on paper, facing Cordoba at home seemed the perfect opportunity to lay down a marker in the race for the Spanish championship. The Andalusian club had spent 42 years outside the top flight before returning in June.

Albert Ferrer's men were not at the Bernabeu to be brushed aside, though, and caused Real countless problems, particularly in the first half through Japanese striker Mike Havenaar.

After Ronaldo fluffed an early header, Havenaar burst into Iker Casillas' box to flash a low shot across the goalmouth and wide at the far post.

Real heeded the warning and pushed forward in search of a goal to dampen their opponents' spirits.

Luka Modric's free-kick ended up with Ronaldo, who fizzed the ball straight down Juan Carlos' throat, and in the 25th minute Sergio Ramos arrived in space to drive a dangerous volley into the Cordoba goalkeeper's gloves.

The southerners continued to probe for gaps behind Real's high defensive line but the European champions showed great focus and organisation to keep Cordoba at arm's length.

Seconds before the half-hour mark, Benzema grabbed his 73rd league goal for the Spanish giants.

Germany's World Cup star Toni Kroos picked out the France international in the Cordoba box and he rose highest to dart a bullet header beyond the flailing Juan Carlos.

Real were very nearly caught on the hop as cheers rang around their famous stadium.

First, Lopez Silva found room to slam a swerving effort just wide of a post and then, two minutes before the break, Havenaar nodded Fausto Rossi's ball from a corner agonisingly close to the target.

While thoughts of a second-half comeback might have been ambitious, Cordoba were certainly confident they could limit their illustrious opposition to a meagre winning margin and continued to frustrate them when play resumed.

It was not until the 59th minute that James Rodriguez found himself on the end of a solid opportunity, but his drilled shot from close range was parried clear by the resilient Juan Carlos.

Not 10 minutes had passed when Cordoba very nearly grabbed an equaliser from a set-piece, Aleksandar Pantic attempting an audacious overhead kick and connecting with Rossi's corner only to flick the ball over the crossbar.

Fidel soon drew a wobbly parry from Casillas and Ancelotti knew he had to make a change to stem the tide.

Withdrawing James, he introduced former Malaga midfielder Isco, whose driving runs meant Cordoba would have to retreat quickly or suffer the consequences.

As time ticked away Real continued to labour in pursuit of the second goal they needed to kill the match off and they looked to have been denied it by the offside flag when Ronaldo stole inside to ping the ball under Juan Carlos.

However, in the final 60 seconds, the Portuguese hitman made amends.

After taking possession deep on the left side, he turned and took a few strides toward the Cordoba box before hammering the ball into the net.

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