First Division - Day 1

Real Madrid 2 - Valencia 1

Real Madrid: Casillas; Michel Salgado, Iván Campo (Guti 75'), Iván Helguera, Roberto Carlos; Figo, Celades, Makelele (Flavio 64'), Savio; Raúl, Munitis (Karanka 88'). 4-4-2.
Valencia: Cañizares; Anglomá, Björklund (Djukic 46'), Pellegrino, Carboni; Mendieta, Deschamps, Baraja, Kily González; Zahovic (Juan Sánchez 46', Carew 88'); Diego Alonso. 4-4-2.

0-1. 75. Mendieta (penalty). After Roberto Carlos pushed down Mendieta in area.
1-1. 77. Raúl. Scissor kick after Roberto Carlos headed ball on to him.
2-1. 85. Raúl. On goal line after Figo turned in Savio's cross.

The league is finally back, and what a way to start! Some 108 days after the all Spanish Champions League final, the luck of the draw saw the two protagonists playing the opening game of the league. There have been some changes in the three months since that game however, especially in Madrid where the unexpected change of president brought with it the sensational signing of Figo from Barcelona, the controversial transfer of Redondo and other changes including the sale of Anelka and the signing of six other players. As well as Figo, four of the new boys, Makelele, Celades, Munitis and Flavio, all made their league debuts in Vicente Del Bosque's side, with Munitis playing up front alongside Raúl in place of the injured Morientes.

Raúl himself was not fully fit, and new director of sports Jorge Valdano is seriously studying the possibility of signing another forward before next Friday's deadline as cover. With Savio finally getting his EU passport (his wife is French), Lazio's Chilean striker Salas could now move to the Spanish capital. For those following the fortunes of Steve McManaman, the ex Liverpool midfielder is now starting to get back in favour, and was on the bench for this match.

Valencia have lost three key players since last season's final, but the absences of Gerard, Farinós and Piojo López should not be too missed if Deschamps, Baraja and Zahovic settle in. The only doubts are up front, where question marks still hang (if that's what question marks do) over Piojo's replacements, Carew and Diego Alonso. Valencia were also missing two of their young stars, Albelda and Angulo, who are on Olympic duty.

Both sides hit the woodwork in the first half, with first Zahovic seeing his shot rebound back into play off a post and then ex Madrid keeper Cañizares tipping a shot from Roberto Carlos onto the crossbar. The two keepers dominated the game, with Cañizares in particular saving spectacularly from a Roberto Carlos free kick in the second half. With fifteen minutes to go referee Daudén Ibáñez awarded Valencia a penalty after Roberto Carlos appeared to push Mendieta over on the edge of the area with no real danger. It was a harsh decision at best, but the Valencia captain stepped up to drive the ball past Casillas.

With Mission Impossible's Tom Cruise and his wife Nicole Kidman in the crowd, Madrid set off on their own mission impossible, turn the game around in a a quarter of an hour. Within two minutes of Mendieta's goal they had gone half way, Raúl flying in the air to connect with a loose ball after Roberto Carlos had won the ball with his head in a rough challenge on a Valencia defender. Camera's later showed that Raúl was in an offside position when he scored, but Daudén ruled away Valencia's protests and awarded the goal, thereby making up for his earlier error (maybe two wrongs do make a right in this case). But it was still not over, and Cañizares spoiled what was otherwise a perfect night when he dropped Savio's cross at Figo's feet. Figo's half hit shot span goalwards, and Raúl went in with Pellegrino to finish it off. Some observers claimed that Raúl did not touch the ball, but the referee gave him the goal rather than Figo in his official report, which is the one that stands. It was fairly academic, as Real took their first three points of the season. An almost capacity 73,000 crowd had regained their faith in their side, and they are now looking forward to their midweek Champions League game at Sporting Lisbon. Football is back, and what a way to start!