Benzema Strikes To Edge Real Madrid Past Spirited Shamrock Rovers

The Galacticos secured a victory over the Irish minnows, but made heavy weather of the win...
Shamrock Rovers 0-1 Real Madrid

A late winner from Karim Benzema spared Real Madrid's blushes at the Tallaght stadium as the Spanish giants squeezed past tiny Shamrock Rovers to kick off their pre-season preparations.

The £30m former Lyon forward coolly rolled the ball home four minutes from time to secure the win against the courageous Irishmen, who simply refused to be starstruck by the glittering array of talent facing them.

First Half

Tonight was meant to be all about the glitz and glamour of Los Galacticos moseying into the Tallaght stadium, but instead it was Shamrock Rovers who were left beaming with pride after giving their infinitely more illustrious visitors a real test in their first pre season clash.

The tiny Irish side had constructed temporary stands to meet the demand of the locals desperate to see Cristiano Ronaldo break sweat in brilliant white for the first time, and there was a carnival atmosphere inside the stadium as The World’s Most Expensive Footballer swaggered onto the field.

However, in the first half Manuel Pellegrini’s side were forced to work considerably harder than they might have expected, with Shamrock working tirelessly to close and harry Madrid at every opportunity.

Despite Los Blancos as expected dominating the possession, there was a distinct lack of conviction in the final third from the forward foursome of Higuain, Guti, Ronaldo and Raul, with the veteran Spaniard deployed in a lone striker role.

For all the slick passing and intricate interplay on the edge of the area, a fizzing shot from Marcelo that stung the hands of Barry Murphy inside the opening five minutes was by far the best attempt of what was a sterile half in front of goal.

What of Ronaldo? Well, it was a low key debut to say the least for the £80m man. Aside from a few neat flicks and two free kicks that almost ended up back in Spain such was their distance from the target, he was overshadowed by the gutsy determination of the home side, who were in no way overawed by the reputation of the Portuguese. Shamrock comfortably negotiated until the interval with their goal intact, and probably wondered what all the fuss was about.

Second Half

In true friendly style, Pellegrini made nine changes at the break, with Lassana Diarra and Jerzy Dudek the only survivors, and immediately Madrid looked a more potent force. A tactical shift saw them employ a more conventional 4-4-2, with Alvaro Negredo and Karim Benzema paired up top with Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van der Vaart operating in behind.

And indeed the latter of the quartet almost opened the scoring. The former Ajax man skipped away from two challenges before unleashing a strike that flew agonisingly over the crossbar. Madrid were gathering some rhythm, and moments later Benzema turned sharply on the edge of the area and rifled a shot off the inside of substitute ‘keeper Duggans’ right-hand post.

It appeared that the Spanish giants were in the ascendency, finally, but Shamrock to their eternal credit refused to be pegged back, and began to show some ambition of their own.

From a deep corner, defender Flynn rose to nod the ball goalwards, and Negredo had to look sharp to hook the ball to safety from underneath his own crossbar. Then from a quick free-kick the fluorescent-footed Dessie Baker raced clear but volleyed the ball over the crossbar from a decent position at the edge of the area.

Madrid were under pressure, and the same man Baker blew a golden opportunity to earn hero status fifteen minutes from time. Tebar’s lacklustre pass back went straight to the 31-year old,  but as he raced in on goal the ball skipped away from him and a glorious opening was squandered, with Dudek eventually pawing the ball clear.

As time wore on, the realisation that Shamrock may manage to secure a famous draw began to hit home, and Madrid were all too aware of the embarrassment of their stellar side failing to net against a team of part-timers.

The level of urgency was amplified in the closing moments. Benzema once more went close with a low shot across goal that had to be hooked to safety, while Drenthe whipped in a teasing cross that went inches wide of the far post.

But Madrid were not to be denied. The impressive Benzema, who was by far Los Merengues' most exciting player on the night, eventually broke through in the closing minutes to slide the ball past the advancing Duggan to deflate the home side and allow Madrid to maintain their dignity.

Manuel Pellegrini will see the fixture as a useful opener as he ponders his preferred tactics and starting eleven, while Shamrock can hold their head high - they almost held the mighty Real Madrid.

Paul Macdonald,