Ronaldo fails to impress in first Real match

DUBLIN: Cristiano Ronaldo struggled in his first match for Real Madrid, missing two free kicks in a preseason friendly against Shamrock Rovers before a late strike from Karim Benzema gave the visitors a 1-0 win.

The Dublin club of part-time footballers held Real Madrid's starters at bay through the first half Monday and came close to embarrassing the star-studded team in front of a sellout crowd of 10,800 at Tallaght Stadium. The facility erected temporary stands that tripled capacity for the occasion.

Ronaldo, the world's most expensive player after his euro94 million ($134 million) transfer from Manchester United, struck one free kick wide right and the other straight into a wall of Rovers players. He also hit a shot wide before being substituted at halftime.

Instead it was Benzema who finally subdued the Dubliners. The former Lyon striker, who also made his debut after being bought for euro30 million ($42.5 million), hit the post in the 56th minute before finally scoring the winner in the 87th.

Until then, a Rovers defence led by elevator repairman Darragh Maguire repelled attack after attack from Madrid. Defender Greg Sives was yellow-carded after a hard sliding tackle on Ronaldo in the 18th.

"We played against a good team, and I enjoyed to play today," the 24-year-old Ronaldo said, adding he still needs to get back into peak fitness. "I'm not 100 percent, but I hope to be 100 percent when we start the season." Rovers arguably had the better second-half chances as striker Dessie Baker found himself twice with only goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek to beat. But Baker - who stood out by wearing one orange boot and one green - struck one first-touch effort high over the crossbar and lost control of his second chance before he could take a shot.

As Madrid pressed for a winner, defender Salgado was yellow-carded for an obvious penalty-box dive in the 75th minute.

Rovers coach Michael O'Neill said he couldn't believe how well his team played, considering none of them are full-time athletes. He didn't even play his full starting squad because Rovers is in the thick of the League of Ireland title race and face leader Bohemians this weekend.

"The reality is that the lads were disappointed to lose the game and to lose it so late in the game, but they can take immense credit for what they achieved tonight," O'Neill said.

Kaka, Madrid's other massive offseason signing from AC Milan, didn't travel to Ireland for the past week's training camp at a five-star resort near Dublin.

Rovers' weekly payroll totals about euro15,000 ($21,000), while Real Madrid's is an estimated euro2 million ($2.85 million).