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‘Switched on’ Bellingham snatches Madrid win with late strike

By AFP - Sep 22,2023 - Last updated at Sep 22,2023

Real Madrid's English midfielder #5 Jude Bellingham scores his team's first goal during the UEFA Champions League 1st round day 1 group C football match between Real Madrid and Union Berlin at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid on Wednesday (AFP photo)

BARCELONA — Jude Bellingham rescued Real Madrid with a 94th-minute strike to earn the Spanish giants a 1-0 win over Champions League debutants Union Berlin on Wednesday.

Carlo Ancelotti's side, 14-time winners of the competition, were thwarted at every turn by their stubborn German opponents, who were only promoted to the Bundesliga four years ago, until Bellingham prodded home at the death.

The England international has started his Madrid career in stunning goalscoring form with six goals in six games for the club across all competitions.

Madrid seemed destined to take only a point after Union Berlin goalkeeper Frederik Ronnow frustrated them and Rodrygo and Joselu both hit the woodwork, until Bellingham intervened.

"Scoring in the last minute is the spirit of this shirt — of not giving up," Madrid coach Ancelotti told a news conference.

"[Bellingham] has great qualities, it seems he's got luck too, because the goal is a rebound, but he was there, he arrives from deep, and he's more switched on than others, he's got that quality and he's taking advantage of it."

Real Madrid have only failed to score in one of their last 68 home matches in the Champions League, and on few occasions at the Santiago Bernabeu have they seemed as toothless as in the first half.

Without injured forward Vinicius Junior the Madrid attack has lacked dynamism in recent weeks, even as midfielder Bellingham's goals have earned them a 100 percent record in La Liga after five games.

The English midfielder made his Champions League debut in the competition for Madrid after his move from Borussia Dortmund in the summer

Bellingham arrived after Madrid's thrashing by Manchester City in last season's semifinals, a new star to help Madrid try to win the competition they crave the most.

Despite Madrid's illustrious history, the visitors were calm, composed and above all, well-drilled defensively, under Swiss coach Urs Fischer.

Record signing Robin Gosens warned his Union Berlin teammates they could not play with "awe and fear" and they responded with a disciplined display.

Perhaps it should have been no surprise, with veteran Italian defender Leonardo Bonucci making his debut at the back for the visitors.

The German side sat deep, surrendered the ball to Madrid and succeeded in frustrating the hosts.

Joselu wasted Madrid's best chance in the first half, heading narrowly wide, while his teammates were reduced to pot-shots from distance.

Madrid turned the screw in the second half as the minutes ticked away, with Ronnow making a superb save to deny Rodrygo at the near post, before the Brazilian cracked another effort against the woodwork.

Berlin's goalkeeper tipped Joselu header's against the post, while also denying veteran midfielder Luka Modric, given a rare start by Ancelotti.

Union Berlin were living on a knife-edge in the final stages, with Joselu swinging a leg at Bellingham's cross to direct the ball fractionally wide with Ronnow beaten.

Eventually Bellingham decided the game, in the right place at the right time as a deflected Fede Valverde strike fell his way in the box and he stabbed home from point-blank range.

"I'm disappointed, we were a minute away from taking a point so you can understand that, but on the other hand I'm very proud of my team's result, they did everything possible," said Berlin coach Fischer.

"Football is fair — in the 95 minutes Real Madrid clearly 'won', but it hurts too if they take your point away in the last minute, because in defence we played well."

Madrid's 20-year-old midfield master Bellingham took Zinedine Zidane's number five shirt in tribute to the Los Blancos great when he arrived, but so far his goals have turned him into Madrid's de facto Karim Benzema replacement.

"We have the luck that he's here playing with us and I hope he keeps scoring a lot of goals," defender Nacho told Movistar.

"It was a complete game, we had a lot of shots, the one thing we had to do was to be aware of their counter attacks — we're very happy."

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