Real Madrid’s French coach Zinedine Zidane / AFP PHOTO / PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU
Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane urged his side to put their disappointment of a first defeat in 40 games behind them as Sevilla produced a remarkable late turnaround to breathe new life into the Spanish title race with a 2-1 win on Sunday.
Zidane’s men looked set to extend their commanding lead at the top of the table when Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring at the Sanchez Pizjuan from the penalty spot midway through the second-half.
However, Real captain Sergio Ramos delighted the home fans by heading into his own net on his return to his former club.
And substitute Stefan Jovetic curled home a dramatic stoppage time winner on his La Liga debut as Sevilla closed to within a point of Real.
Victory also takes Sevilla a point above Barcelona into second, but Madrid still have a game in hand on both.
“I have to be very proud of them all for what we have done until now,” Zidane told BeIN Sports Spain.
“We know this was going to happen some day, it is today, and now we have to continue working hard in all competitions.”
Ramos received an even more hostile reception than normal in Seville after goading the ultras section of the home support in scoring a late penalty in a 3-3 draw in the Copa del Rey between the sides as Real progressed 6-3 on aggregate on Thursday.
“There is no need to point the finger or apologise,” said Ramos.
“When we win, we all win and when we lose, it is the same. We couldn’t kill the game off.”
And Zidane rejected any suggestion his concentration had been affected as he bulleted a header into his own net to inspire Sevilla’s late fightback.
“He played great. I am very happy with how he did, he played with personality,” added Zidane.
Ramos was part of an unusual Madrid line-up with three at the back, but Zidane’s tactical change had worked well for 85 minutes.
Wing-backs Dani Carvajal and Marcelo were given extra licence to roam forward and it was Carvajal who was chopped down in the area for Ronaldo’s opener.
“We did very well with the wing-backs. Dani and Marcelo offered a lot offensively,” said Zidane.
“It is a shame. To play like that for 85 minutes and then to lose is hard to take, but that’s football.”
– Momentum –
By contrast, Sevilla coach Jorge Sampaoli claimed his side can cash in on the momentum gained by such a late turnaround to fuel their unlikely title challenge.
“It has to stimulate the team. Playing like this against a team that hadn’t lost in so long,” said the Argentine.
“The conclusion to take from the game is that we won it, we are a point behind them and played with great bravery against such a big team.”
Jovetic in particular has enjoyed a whirlwind week as the Montenegrin only completed a loan move until the end of the season from Inter Milan on Tuesday.
However, he netted on his debut against Real on Thursday and repeated the trick with a great hit from 25 yards two minutes into time added on.
“I couldn’t imagine a better start,” said Jovetic.
“I want to offer the team what it needs to go as far as possible in the league and Champions League.”