LAS VEGAS — The game-winning goal was nothing short of bizarre, but Real Madrid still managed to stay unbeaten through two games of their North American tour Sunday night, knocking off Mexican champions Santos Laguna 2-1 in Herbalife World Football Challenge action at Sam Boyd Stadium.
Xabi Alonso opened the scoring in the 14th minute, Cristian Suárez pulled one back for Santos and Sami Khedira scored the game-winner with his face as Real Madrid followed up Thursday’s 5-1 victory against the LA Galaxy with a slightly less dominant performance in front of 29,152 fans, many clad in the green and white of Los Guerreros.
José Mourinho played a mostly first-team lineup in the first half, sending out the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Özil, Xabi Alonso, Fábio Coentrão, Gonzalo Higuaín and Iker Casillas, while Santos made one change from Friday’s draw vs. Puebla with local product Herculez Gomez leading the line.
Full Highlights: RM 2, CSL 1
With temperatures hovering above 100 degrees at kickoff, both teams took the better part of a quarter of an hour to acclimate and get a feel for each other before putting together a truly incisive move.
But despite the understandably lethargic start, one small opening was all it took for Real Madrid to open the scoring with a flash of quality. After a mix up at the top of the box, Álvaro Arbeloa laid the ball off for Xabi Alonso, who curled his right foot around the ball and into the bottom corner from 30 yards.
That strike seemed to spur the Spanish champions forward, and Ronaldo nearly fed Higuaín just a minute later, but the Argentine whiffed from 10 yards out after receiving a brilliant chip from his running mate. Just two minutes after that miss, Higuaín took his turn setting up a teammate, playing a neat one-two with Özil before driving a low cross across the box that the German sprayed wide.
But Santos held on and eventually pulled a goal back against the run of play that shifted momentum in their favor. With space to exploit on Madrid’s right flank, Daniel Ludueña picked out a streaking Suárez, who drove into the penalty area, shifted the ball from his right to his left boot and slammed a shot past Casillas at the near post to even things at 1-1.
From there, Santos took their turn applying pressure. Gomez had two chances in quick succession, but his attempt to catch Casillas off his line was well over goal and he couldn’t find the back post after latching onto a through ball behind the Madrid backline. Suárez also went wide after Darwin Quintero picked him out with a diagonal ball from right to left.
At halftime, Mourinho made the predicted wholesale changes, sending on a new 11 that included Kaká, Karim Benzema, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Khedira and Lass Diarra, while Santos stayed with the same lineup that finished the first half.
Almost immediately, Benzema and Kaká began combining to great effect, with the Frenchman sending a point-blank effort over the bar before forcing a diving save from Santos 'keeper Oswaldo Sánchez with an effort from the top of the 18-yard box. He also played creator, finding José María Callejón unmarked in the box, but the 25-year-old struck his shot directly at Sánchez.
Gomez broke up Madrid’s dominance with a yellow card in the 66th minute, when he drew a deserved caution after bowling over Pepe. It was the third yellow card of a match marked by periods of physical play followed by exasperated reactions, perhaps inspired by the desert heat.
Just six minutes later, Khedira scored the goal that separated the sides. After a Madrid corner floated all the way to Benzema at back edge of the penalty area, the forward whipped a cross across the six-yard box that Sánchez dove to parry. Unfortunately for Santos, he deflected it directly into Khedira’s face, and it ricocheted into the back of the net.
Quintero had a chance to even things for Santos, but his chip was directly into the body of Real substitute goalkeeper Antonio Adán, forcing the Torreón side to settle for a narrow defeat.
Real Madrid will continue their preseason tour with a game against AC Milan at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday followed by a match vs. Celtic in Philadelphia on Saturday.