When Real Madrid paid a world record £80million (Dh480m) fee for Cristiano Ronaldo in the summer, part of the attraction was his box office appeal. Here was an undoubted star who dominated matches, usually through his sublime talent, but more than occasionally through petulance, posturing and personality. The new president Florentino Perez felt Real had lost their verve and drama under the previous regime and hoped that with Ronaldo in his side, Real would triumph not with a silent, ruthless efficiency, but with headline-grabbing bangs.
Perez got everything he hoped for in a 4-2 win at the Bernabeu on Saturday in a night of drama against a mid-table Almeria side managed by Real's former star striker Hugo Sanchez. Ronaldo was man of the match and his own worst enemy as he was dismissed a minute from time after a dramatic second half. Following the disappointment of last week's El Clasico defeat at Barcelona - a performance which nevertheless gave Real fans much hope - Manuel Pellegrini's side dominated the first half with Ronaldo central to all that was good about their game. Starting his first home game for more than two months after injury, he set up Sergio Ramos for Real's opener in the 31st minute and twice came close to scoring.
"We should have scored two or three more goals before half-time," opined Pellegrini. "Almeria didn't come close to our box." Those missed chances appeared costly as Almeria equalised in the 58th minute through Fernando Soriano. When Kalu Uche put the visitors ahead four minutes later, it not only looked as if Real's perfect home record of six straight wins would be undone, but it promp-ted a ferocious reaction from the crowd who demand better.
Ronaldo was the driving force as Real chased an equaliser, but Almeria defended with a hardened resolution their coach has instilled. They held firm until 16 minutes from time when Gonzalo Higuain levelled after Almeria were unable to clear a Ronaldo cross. The Portuguese winger then won a disputed 81st-minute penalty after he tumbled over Argentine goalkeeper Diego Alves who then saved Ronaldo's spot kick, before out-of-form Karim Benzema scored from the rebound. As the French striker celebrated putting his side in front, an angry Ronaldo trudged back to the centre circle alone.
Two minutes later, Ronaldo was all smiles as he made it 4-2 from a Higuain cross, his first goal since returning from injury. He ripped off his shirt in celebration and received a yellow card. He was given a second yellow - followed by a red - a minute from time, after reacting to provocation by kicking Juanma Ortiz on the leg and will miss the next game at rivals Valencia. Pellegrini showed compassion and defended Ronaldo, saying: "His sending off was perhaps fair by the letter of the law but he's the type of player who does not deserve to be sent off. He focuses on creativity and playing football, it's others who dish out the kicks."
Ronaldo was immediately repentant. "I'm human and I made a mistake," he said. "I have my flaws, but I am a professional who doesn't like to miss or lose. I was sad after missing the penalty and that's why I didn't celebrate the goal that followed. I'm a perfectionist, but I'm glad Karim scored. I was sent off because I reacted instinctively. I wish to apologise for that." Real stay second, five points behind Barcelona who outclassed Deportivo la Coruna 3-1 at the Riazor. Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi scored twice, the second in the 80th minute with the score at 1-1 after Adrian had levelled for Depor. Zlatan Ibrahimovic continued his superb scoring record - and habit of getting late goals - with an 88th minute strike which made it three.
"We were true to our style of play," said coach Pep Guardiola. "Deportivo are really well organised, but we played very well to come through." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org