Rafael Benitez opened his tenure as Real Madrid manager with a 7-6 loss on penalties to Roma in a pre-season friendly watched by more than 80,000 people at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Saturday.
Seydou Keita scored the winner after Roma goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis dived to his left to deny new Madrid signing Lucas Vazquez.
What started off as an entertaining opener of the Australian leg of the International Champions Cup turned into a somewhat lackluster affair that finished 0-0 after 90 minutes.
”We had some chances and they had some chances at the beginning of the game, but you can’t expect after five days (in Australia) to play with a high tempo,” said Benitez, who was named as Carlo Ancelotti’s replacement last month.
”We were passing the ball sometimes really well … but for me we need just to keep working on the defensive part of the game.”
While man of the match Gervinho was the standout for Roma and 38-year-old captain Francesco Totti dazzled in his 32-minute cameo, Cristiano Ronaldo was the crowd favorite prompting a deafening roar every time the Madrid forward touched the ball.
Both teams fielded full strength lineups and they rewarded the big Melbourne crowd early when Roma came close to scoring in the fourth minute. The Madrid defense was forced to scramble inside the box as both Daniele De Rossi and Totti took close-range shots.
Gareth Bale sent the ball over the crossbar moments later on the back of a Madrid counterattack.
Roma manager Rudi Garcia said his side was primed for a major test against Madrid.
”I didn’t need to motivate my players, when you play against such big teams players are already very motivated,” he said. ”It is important to win, even after a shootout.”
Both teams made wholesale substitutions at the break, but appeared to pick up where they left off with Seydou Doumbia and Bale trading attempts on goal before the Welshman was subbed off in the 56th minute.
The intensity dropped off, however, until near-misses from Vazquez and Danilo Da Silva in the final minutes reinvigorated the Madrid attack.
Madrid plays its next match on Friday against Manchester City, which beat local affiliate club Melbourne City 1-0 in a friendly earlier Saturday. Roma and Manchester City meet in the second International Champions Cup match on Tuesday.