Arbeloa the surprise hero for 10-man Madrid

Posted by Nicholas Rigg

Real Madrid players celebrate a goal in their victory over Galatasaray.AssociatedReal Madrid players celebrate a goal in their victory over Galatasaray.

First it was meant to be about Cristiano Ronaldo and his push for the Ballon d'Or. Then it was meant to be about Madrid's young guns plugging the gap with Champions League qualification all but secure. What it ended up being was about the unlikeliest of men.

Gareth Bale scored on an absolute cracker of a free kick in Ronaldo´s absence but it wasn't him. Angel di Maria scored one and assisted another but it wasn't him, either. Instead, the name of Alvaro Arbeloa rang around a chilly Bernabeu as 10-man Madrid booked their place in the last 16 with a comfortable 4-1 victory over Galatasaray.

The right-back rarely steals the show, especially after seeing his side reduced to 10 men with the dismissal of Sergio Ramos in the first half. But the Spanish international did exactly that with a finish even Ronaldo would have been proud of to put Carlo Ancelotti's side ahead and an assist for Di Maria to all but seal the points before Isco made it 4-1.

It was just the sixth goal of the 30-year-old's career and his first for three years -- his last goal also came in the Champions League as Madrid crushed Ajax 4-0 in Amsterdam on Nov. 23, 2010. It was the first time he has ever scored and assisted in the same game.

And the thing is, he could have had another and won Los Blancos a penalty, too.

Bale fired the hosts ahead with a brilliant free kick that left Galatasaray stand-in stopper Eray Iscan stunned and stuck to the spot. The Welsh wizard made the most of Ronaldo being sidelined through a thigh injury and didn't waste his chance to show that he can take a fine free kick, too.

It ensured Madrid set a new Champions League by scoring in 30 consecutive matches. That lead lasted just a minute, however, as the Turkish side hit back immediately with Didier Drogba turning and passing for Umut Bulut to level before halftime.

Roberto Mancini's men dominated possession for the rest of the half and at the start of the second half, too, so Arbeloa's rare goal came at a crucial time. On first inspection, it seemed Isco had nipped in behind the visiting defence to tuck home the neatest of finishes, but a second take saw the former Liverpool man wheeling away in celebration.

Di Maria, who had struggled down the left in the first half against Emmanuel Eboue, provided a teasing cross and the right back, of all people, beat the offside trap and tucked his shot away with a superb first touch. Ronaldo, Bale, Karim Benzema -- eat your heart out.

Not only did it draw a somewhat shocked reaction from the Bernabeu crowd and his teammates, but good friend Xabi Alonso celebrated as if Madrid had just booked their place in Lisbon for the final. That's how much an Arbeloa goal means.

It acted to lift the atmosphere in what had been a quiet Bernabeu, bar the noisy away end. The home fans thought their new star had won a penalty just minutes later but instead his copybook was blotted by a booking for simulation. A somewhat harsh booking, for my money, given it looked as though a slip was the main cause, rather than a dive.

Even so, Arbeloa's forward run was inspiring and Madrid were struggling to remember they were actually a man down.

On a night that saw Madrid set a record in the competition for scoring in 30 straight games, Ramos acted to extend his own personal record, too, with a 17th dismissal in the all-white of Madrid. A tug on Bulut just before the half-hour was the cause and although it looked extremely soft, the former Seville man let his opponent get goal side of him and had few complaints when trudging off the field.

The next most dismissed Real Madrid player? Fernando Hierro with 12. Ramos is going to take some beating.

It was a dismissal that cost Jese Rodriguez a rare start in leading the Madrid attack, too. Karim Benzema had a night off and with Ronaldo injured, Jese was set for his big night with Carlo Ancelotti preferring him to Alvaro Morata, probably as a result of his two assists at the weekend. Rodriguez huffed and puffed during his brief role, but Madrid struggled to click into gear early on.

His best chance to make a name for himself came in the 11th minute when Marcelo carved out a chance for him down the left, but Selcuk Inan acted fast to deny No. 20 space to get a shot away. After Ramos' red card, Nacho was introduced to shore up the defence at the expense of the Spanish youngster.

Arbeloa wasn't done. Just before the hour mark, he helped carve out Madrid's third, which all but sealed the victory. Another storming run down the right saw him play a neat one-two with Isco before feeding Di Maria to score.

Ronaldo may have been the source of applause and attention at the start of the match, but Arbeloa was the star. His next touch brought a standing ovation from some, a smirk from others, and huge applause from all.

There was time for Iker Casillas to make a mark on his European outings with a brilliant save to deny Drogba with 20 minutes still left. But Galatasaray attacks were few and far between and it was easy to see just how Madrid has knocked 10 goals past the Turks in two matches.

The fourth came from some Isco brilliance, and a bit of fortune, as the youngster danced his way toward goal before seeing an initial shot blocked. The rebound found its way back to the 21-year-old and he tucked away to complete the scoring and complete a good night on the whole for Los Blancos.

Asier Illarramendi and Casemiro also shone together in holding roles in the middle of the park, with Alonso left on the bench and Luka Modric suspended. Illarra lasted the full match and the understudy played alongside the master when Alonso was introduced in the second half.

It came at Casemiro's expense but it was the right decision, coming after Madrid had regained the lead. Experience was needed in the engine room and it certainly arrived. Madrid didn't look back.

There were 45,000 Ronaldo masks handed out before kickoff and a large banner in the Bernabeu North Stand was unveiled before the start in support of the Portuguese's case for the Ballon d'Or.

Maybe the two supporters clubs that organised the event should look at printing out some Arbeloa masks for the next match, too.

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.