Gonzalo Higuain scored on Wednesday to give Real Madrid a 1-0 win over FC Zurich and take it to the verge of qualifying for the knockout stage of the Champions League.
Higuain beat goalkeeper Johnny Leoni with a low shot in the 21st minute in a Group C match that also saw the return of Cristiano Ronaldo after nearly two months out because of an ankle injury.
Madrid stayed top of the group with 10 points and can even advance in its last game against Marseille with a defeat since it won the first meeting 3-0.
Marseille stayed alive with a 1-1 draw at AC Milan. Milan has eight points, Marseille and has seven and Zurich is last with three.
The crowd at Santiango Bernabeu stadium cheered in the 70th when coach Manuel Pellegrini replaced Raul Gonzalez with Ronaldo, whose last club game was against Marseille on September 30 when he scored twice. Since then, he has only played 27 minutes for Portugal.
Ronaldo managed a few touches; none better than in the 90th as Esteban Granero played him clear into the area, but Leoni got down to stop his diagonal shot. The Spanish leaders, who were keen for Ronaldo to play with a league “clasico” against Barcelona to come on Sunday, improved after he came on in a match it had dominated.
Leoni was busy from the fifth minute, palming Kaka’s powerful drive over the bar. Higuain should have scored two minutes later but for a poor touch from Raul’s excellent through ball.
Zurich defended its area well considering most of the match was played in its half, forcing Madrid midfielder Xabi Alonso to let fly with several long-range attempts and requiring Leoni to make an impressive save in the 27th.
Higuain, who has scored five goals in his last four games, and Marcelo were Madrid’s best attacking players in the first half. Marcelo hit the post in the 35th with a long-range shot.
Zurich’s Alexandre Alphonse tried his luck from long range four minutes later but the ball went wide.
The Swiss champions looked overawed against the world’s most expensive team, often giving the ball away carelessly.
Madrid’s Rafael van der Vaart made his first European appearance of the season in the 59th, and forced Leoni into a low save six minutes later. The Dutchman also fired over from inside the box with in the 88th.