The Argentine's late intervention gave los Blancos maximum points against AJA in France...
Substitute Angel Di Maria was quick to pounce on some sleepy defending from Benoit Pedretti at the back post to control on his chest and smash home a shot just as it seemed that Jose Mourinho’s men would again be frustrated.
Glaring openings were infrequent, with Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain all kept quiet on an evening that raised more questions over the offensive abilities of Mourinho’s Blancos. Meanwhile, Pepe hit his own post in the closing stages as the quick countering Burgundy side threatened on the break.
In a first half dominated almost completely by the visitors, they created a disappointing number of genuine chances. Ronaldo was irritable and out of sorts, though an early shot did call home goalkeeper Olivier Sorin into serious action.
Before the period was out, Sorin would block impressively from Marcelo but would be defeated by a strike from Higuain. Thankfully for the hosts, Kamel Chafni was stationed on the line to clear.
Somewhat bizarrely, the Spaniards’ two best first half openings fell to Lassana Diarra, though he was unable to find the target after similar bulldozing runs produced shooting chances at the edge of the box.
Early in the second half, Auxerre began to look comfortable, though Ronaldo had a hat-trick of efforts on goal. Twice Sorin saved and on the other occasion the Portuguese went too high with a header. A cross from Di Maria was then frustratingly just too hard for Higuain to tap in with 15 minutes remaining.
The French club’s ploy throughout was to counterattack rapidly, primarily using the pace of Dennis Oliech as their chief weapon. With only four minutes gone the Kenyan nearly struck when he harried onto a long ball forward to block Iker Casillas’ clearance. The ball bobbled wide of goal.
AJA’s forays forward were rare, but a Delvin N’Dinga header midway through the first kept the visiting defence on their toes as it skimmed just by the post, while shots from Pedretti and Dariusz Dudka at least called Spain’s No. 1 into action.
Just after the hour mark, Pedretti fed a nice through ball for half-time arrival Ireneusz Jelen, but the forward didn’t have the pace to hold off Pepe and was forced into an early shot that went wide of Casillas’ goal. In stoppage time at the end of the match, the same player had another half chance, but the net result was the same.
Squandering these moments proved decisive as the French club’s strong defence was ultimately breached following a rare moment of sleepiness. Had Pedretti not decisively dallied, AJA may well have earned the point their supporters were dreaming of.
As for Madrid, this was a characteristic Mourinho success as they ground out another win and another clean sheet without particularly impressing.
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