Ronaldo’s Real home debut proves unspectacular

MADRID: Cristiano Ronaldo produced only glimpses of his talent during his home debut for Real Madrid in a 1-1 draw with Al Ittihad on Sunday.

Ronaldo was substituted by Gonzalo Higuain in the 66th minute, immediately after Hicham Aboucherouane equalised for the Saudi Arabian champions in the Peace Cup. Raul Gonzalez gave Madrid the lead at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in the 55th minute.

Madrid's new No. 9 came closest to his first Madrid goal just before halftime when his shot was tipped around the post by goalkeeper Mabrouk Zaid after a swift exchange of passes with Karim Benzema.

The Portugal winger, the world's most expensive player after his euro94 million ($133.7 million) transfer from Manchester United, was one of three new signings included in the starting lineup by Madrid's new Chilean coach, Manuel Pellegrini. The others were striker Benzema and defender Ezequiel Garay.

"The changes I made today were planned. I didn't want Cristiano Ronaldo or Benzema to play more than a hour," Pellegrini said.

"I'm happy because these are offseason matches. At the moment, I see good and bad things about the team and of course things which need improving." Kaka and defender Raul Albiol, two more signings in Madrid's euro214 million ($300 million) spending spree since Florentino Perez regained the club presidency last month, were to begin training with Madrid on Monday.

The Peace Cup is a 12-team offseason tournament that also includes former European champions Juventus, FC Porto and Aston Villa. Madrid competes in Group B, and its next opponent Tuesday is Liga de Quito. The final takes place in Seville next Sunday.

Ronaldo, who played his first game for Madrid last week in a 1-0 friendly win in Ireland against Shamrock Rovers, impressed with his first touch after a minute, performing a series of step-overs before passing the ball to a teammate.

With Madrid failing to trouble Zaid in the early stages, Ronaldo's first goal attempt arrived in the 15th minute when he fired a shot from outside the area which went over the crossbar.

Zaid was finally called into action in the 26th minute, acrobatically pushing Raul's goalbound shot over the bar.

Meanwhile, Al Ittihad proved more threatening with striker Naif Hazizi spurning a clear chance to head his team into the lead in the 33rd minute.

Five minutes later, Ronaldo had a penalty appeal turned down by Greek referee Michael Koukoulakis after he appeared to be pushed over by defender Saleh Al-Saqri.

Madrid made the breakthrough when Benzema threaded the ball through to Raul just inside the area, and the former Spain striker controlled the ball with two touches before swivelling to send a low shot home with his right foot.

The lead lasted only briefly, with Aboucherouane then sending a looping header deftly past goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek from Al-Saqri's floated free kick to the near post.

Together with Ronaldo, Pellegrini also replaced Benzema with Arjen Robben but it was another new Madrid signing, substitute Esteban Granero, who almost restored the lead when he rattled the bar with a long-range shot in the 78th.

The result would have been worse for Madrid if Al Ittihad had done better with two late chances.