MINSK - An early strike from Raul earned Real Madrid a 1-0 win over BATE Borisov on Tuesday and a place in the last 16 of the Champions League. In freezing conditions, captain Raul gave the Primera Liga champions the perfect start with a goal after only seven minutes helping settle a side who have been struggling for form of late. The Belarus champions rarely threatened in the first half but pushed hard after the break, though Real always looked more likely to add further goals. The nine-times European champions are second in Group H with nine points from five games, two points behind leaders Juventus with one match to play. "The team came out really focused and the early goal allowed us to settle quickly," Raul told Spanish television station Antena 3. "We knew it was a final for them and they would give their all, and in conditions they would be more used to. But this is an important win that means we can approach the last game much more relaxed." With snow round the edges of the pitch and a wind chill factor taking temperatures down to -20 degrees Celsius, it was a surprise when the visitors started so brightly. Royston Drenthe broke down the left and his low cross evaded the home defence to find Raul, who rifled a shot in off the underside of the bar. Drenthe missed a golden chance to double the lead before the break with Real dominant but BATE slowly dragged themselves back into the game. An error from Gabriel Heinze after an hour gave Gennadi Bliznyuk a sight of goal and his shot flashed just wide of Iker Casillas's far post. The pressure grew on the visitors goal but Real were quick on the counter-attack and Raul had a shot which skimmed the top of the bar in the closing stages. After a couple of weeks dominated by Spanish media talking of a crisis in the team's standard of play, Real president Ramon Calderon was keen to talk up a second consecutive clean sheet. "We are back to being the team we were last year, who didn't concede many goals, and this means we can look to the future with optimism," he said.
25 November 2008
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