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Madrid seal victory in Cyprus

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By David Redshaw

Wednesday 28 March 2012

Real Madrid all but secured a Champions League last four spot with a comprehensive 3-0 quarter-final first-leg victory over Apoel Nicosia in Cyprus.

Madrid boss José Mourinho caused a surprise before the game when he chose Nuri Sahin to replace the suspended Xabi Alonso and Fabio Coentrao at left-back, while leaving Marcelo and Kaká on the bench.

Apoel, the first Cypriot team to make it to the last eight of a European competition, made their intentions clear from the start with just Ailton up front and the rest behind the ball as they attempted to frustrate the Spanish league leaders. It appeared to work during an opening period in which the visitors became frustrated with their inability to break through, although Karim Benzema had the best chance of the half when he inexplicably put the ball over from close range after being set up by Sahin.

However, the introduction of both Marcelo and Kaká in the 63rd minute for Coentrao and Gonzalo Higuaín changed the complexion of the match, and Benzema got the vital breakthrough 13 minutes later when he nodded home Kaká’s left-wing cross. With the hosts visibly tiring, Madrid doubled their advantage eight minutes from time when Marcelo picked up Cristiano Ronaldo’s backheel and found Kaká, who calmly slotted home.

It got worse for the home side in the last minute as Mesut Ozil and Ronaldo combined on the right to give Benzema the easiest of finishes and become the first player in Real Madrid history to play in 17 undefeated Champions League games.

Only one team has ever come back from a 3-0 home loss in European competition - Dinamo Bucharest against Slovan Liberec in the 2009-10 Europa League - and Mourinho acknowledged afterwards that his side more or less await their semi-final opponents.

“It looks good for us because we were calm and did our best work possible,” he told TVE. “But some strange things have happened to us, although we didn’t want to talk about them at the time, even more so now after what has happened in the last couple of weeks.

“We left it late to score the first goal,” he continued, “because our opponents played well and were strong. But they didn’t have the talent because they do not have the economic power of other teams in the Champions League.”

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