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The Argentine's fine strike was enough to give the Spanish side victory in their Champions League opener at Dinamo Zagreb - and underlined the winger's importance to the team

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By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Editor

Real Madrid's new red shirt went on sale yesterday morning in the Spanish capital and the main promotional picture featured Angel Di Maria, flanked by two team-mates 'celebrating' a goal. Madrid had never scored in red before, but just over nine hours later, Di Maria lashed a left-footed drive into the top corner to settle a tricky Champions League opener away to Dinamo Zagreb. His selection for the photo had turned out to be an inspirational choice.

And Di Maria's selection had proved inspirational on the pitch as well. Coach Jose Mourinho - suspended and watching from the stands - had sent out his strongest possible XI in the Croatian capital. And, at the moment, that line-up simply has to include the Argentine. Di Maria may not be a prolific scorer, but the former Benfica winger has a knack of popping up and netting important strikes. Last season, he was the match-winner in 1-0 victories over Sevilla and Auxerre, converting - as he has this term - his side's first Champions League goal of the season in the second of those games.


A pre-emptive promo pic | Di Maria 'celebrates' in Adidas' publicity shot for the new kit

Nine goals in 53 appearances represented a decent return in a high-quality opening campaign for the youngster at the capital club. Even more impressive, however, were his 20 assists, including the perfectly-weighted cross that picked out Cristiano Ronaldo for the header that defeated Barcelona in the final of the Copa del Rey at Mestalla - the club's first silverware in almost three years.

In the summer, however, Di Maria angered Madrid by demanding a pay rise on his already lucrative contract. And as Real sought to bring in Neymar, and then added Angel's former Benfica team-mate Fabio Coentrao to their ranks, there were question marks over whether the Argentine would start for the club in 2011-12. Such doubts, however, appear not to have entered the mind of Mourinho.

Di Maria returned from the Copa America with Argentina and after just one training session with his team-mates, he appeared as a second-half substitute against Guangzhou. In the next match, against Chinese side Tianjin, the 23-year-old was back in the starting XI - and he has stayed there ever since. Following his bright cameo in pre-season, which included a fine goal in the Tianjin game, the Argentine began the Trofeu Santiago Bernabeu versus Galatasaray, before featuring from the outset in the two Spanish Supercopa clashes against Barcelona, both of Madrid's league successes over Zaragoza and Getafe, and then again last night.

“I'm very happy. It's a difficult ground to come to and it was important to win. It was a very special goal.  
                                                  
                                                        - Angel Di Maria



The winger didn't have his best game in Zagreb, giving away possession on several occasions, but he did what Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil, Karim Benzema, Marcelo and Coentrao all failed to do, as Madrid racked up 24 chances in the Croatian capital - he scored.

It was a crucial intervention and a vital goal, and the Madrid-based press hailed their very own Angel in their sports pages on Thursday morning. This time, though, the image of the player's celebration was no publicity stunt; it was for real. And so is Di Maria.

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