Leading by two goals against a winless Polish struggler, Real Madrid’s players could be forgiven for letting their guard down. But Legia Warsaw seized the chance to fight back and the European titleholder had to muster a late goal to salvage a humbling 3-3 draw in the Champions League on Wednesday. Madrid looked set to romp to another big win after Gareth Bale netted an amazing opener from distance in the first minute before then setting up Karim Benzema to make it 2-0.
But in a stunning turn, Madrid went from strutting powerhouse for 40 minutes to a team desperately needing midfielder Mateo Kovacic to score an equalizer with five minutes remaining.
Madrid’s slack defense _ and over-confidence _ let Legia rally back in shocking fashion to take the lead. Vadis Odjidja and Miroslav Radovic struck from long range before Thibault Moulin also scored from outside the area in the 83rd.
Madrid was facing a humiliating defeat until Kovacic fired in from near the edge of the box to at least rescue a point.
Madrid substitute Lucas Vazquez almost turned the result back around when he sent a shot off the crossbar right before the final whistle.
Though it was a memorable match for Legia’s players, the home fans weren’t there to see it.
The game was played at a near-empty Wojska Polskiego Stadium as the club had been banned from selling tickets by UEFA following racist behavior and the throwing of fireworks by supporters during a previous loss to Borussia Dortmund.
Madrid would have advanced to the round of 16 with a win as Dortmund beat Sporting Lisbon 1-0 in the other Group F match.
Madrid has eight points, two points behind Dortmund and five ahead of third-placed Sporting. Legia earned its first point after losing its first three matches, including a 5-1 loss at Madrid.
“It was a strange match, it didn’t go the way we wanted it to,” Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane said. “We lacked a bit of everything. Above all, when you score two goals we dropped our intensity and when you do that they can score.
“Now we are going to forget this game.”
Denied any home support, Legia appeared to be ripe for another easy win for Madrid after conceding a competition-high 13 goals, while only scoring one, in its trio of previous defeats.
“It was strange playing without spectators, but it’s no excuse. We are not happy with the result,” Bale said. “We had control of the game and lost concentration and, if you do this at this level, you get punished. We need to be better defensively and the chances we have we need to be more clinical. We can learn from this, be stronger from it.”
Zidane experimented with his starting lineup, playing both Benzema and Alvaro Morata up front together with Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo, supported by two midfielders. He also gave some rare playing time to Fabio Coentrao in his injury-hit defense that was without Sergio Ramos, Pepe and Marcelo.
But all that meddling backfired after Madrid lost its focus.
“There are many things to analyze,” Zidane said. “When you start out up two goals, there is a moment that you have to think more and play more as a team, and we didn’t do that. We gave them too much space and, when you do that, the score can go against you.”
Yet the start couldn’t have been better for the visitors.
The sheer talent of Bale was on full display when he struck with his first touch of the match, blasting a left-footed volley from outside the box into the top corner of the net.
A rout appeared to be on as Madrid poured forward and Bale passed for Benzema to double the lead in the 35th.
Legia got some relief in the 40th when Odjidja dribbled through Madrid’s tame marking _ from Raphael Varane and Nacho Fernandez _ to the top of the box when he unleashed a strike that went in off the upright.
But what seemed to be a consolation goal for the Poles turned into the spark of a comeback.
Madrid’s defense was again at fault for not intercepting a move by Radovic. Bale let him dribble past and Varane failed to close him down before he stabbed a long strike under goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who should have done better.
Moulin then had Legia on the verge of a memorable win when he took a nice reverse pass from Aleksandar Prijovic and struck the ball in off the post.
But while Ronaldo and company remained ineffective, Kovacic stepped forward to score from Dani Carvajal’s nice back-heel pass.