Ronaldo, Madrid begin Champions League in style

AP

Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale took center stage as Real Madrid opened the defense of its Champions League title with a swaggering 5-1 rout of Basel in Group B on Tuesday.

Having ended its 12-year wait for a 10th European Cup last season, Madrid started the long road back to the final with a Basel own-goal and strikes by Bale, Ronaldo, James Rodriguez and Karim Benzema.

The victory provided a much-needed lift for fans and coach Carlo Ancelotti, who had faced a hail of criticism after his side lost 2-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu against bitter crosstown rivals Atletico Madrid on Saturday.

“I liked the team’s reaction, I think the Bernabeu was happy,” Ancelotti said.

Although the pressure eased on captain Iker Casillas, who was jeered during the Atletico match, the goalkeeper received both cheers and whistles during Tuesday’s match.

Basel began by threading together an attack within the first three minutes but it was easily cleared by Madrid’s defense, although the crowd jeered as Casillas touched the ball.

Three minutes later it was all cheers as Casillas easily stopped a shot by Muhamed Elneny. After a swift counterattack, Ronaldo missed the target at the other end — though the breakthrough was not long in coming.

As Madrid attacked down the right, Rodriguez fed the ball through to Jose “Nacho” Fernandez, whose powerful shot was deflected by Basel defender Marek Suchy into his own net in the 14th minute.

Casillas was loudly jeered in the 22nd minute when he took his time to kick the ball into play from the penalty area.

Madrid kept up the pressure at the other end and Bale made a surging run forward to receive Luka Modric’s beautifully weighted pass through the Basel defense in the 30th minute. The Welshman lifted the ball over goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik’s head before darting past him to steer the ball into the empty net.

Just a minute later, Bale provided a low cross from the right for Ronaldo to score their side’s third goal of the night and effectively put the match beyond Basel’s reach.

Ronaldo then followed up by helping Madrid to score again in the 37th. The Portugal forward picked out Benzema for a shot which Vaclik only managed to parry — allowing Rodriguez to pounce on the loose ball.

A minute later, Derlis Gonzalez pulled one back for Basel after a darting run forward on the break ended with a powerful shot into the corner.

Madrid faced an awkward moment when a backpass by Modric was seized on by Marco Streller, who forced Casillas to save in the 39th. Six minutes later, Gonzalez almost surprised a badly placed Casillas when he hit a blistering first-time volley over the bar.

However, Casillas ended a period of pressure by Basel by saving Luca Suffi’s shot in the 51st and was given an ovation in the 67th when he saved an effort from Gonzalez.

Basel was unlucky in the 76th minute when Fabian Schar’s powerful shot bounced off the post with a beaten Casillas only able to watch.

Elsewhere, Borussia Dortmund beat Arsenal 2-0 and last season’s finalist Atletico Madrid lost 3-2 at Olympiakos.

Mario Balotelli got his first goal for Liverpool in the 82nd minute before Ludogorets, a side which had not won a game in UEFA competition before last season, equalized through Dani Abalo.

Liverpool was then awarded a penalty when goalkeeper Milan Borjan brought down Javier Manquillo and Steven Gerrard slotted home from the spot to give the Premier League side a 2-1 win.

“Looking at the game as a whole, we did OK. We didn’t do better than OK,” Gerrard said. “I thought they caused us quite a few problems on the counterattack, so there’s a lot for myself and the lads to learn.”

In Group A, former Manchester United striker Carlos Tevez ended his European goal drought as he scored twice for Juventus in a 2-0 win over Malmo.