It didn’t take long for Andriy Lunin to show he was ready to take over for Kepa Arrizabalaga in Real Madrid’s goal after his teammate got injured during warmups. Lunin was a last-minute replacement for Kepa and saved a penalty six minutes into the match as Real Madrid went on to advance to the knockout stage of the Champions League for the 27th straight season by beating Braga 3-0 on Wednesday. “It’s not easy to get into the match in the last moment,” Lunin said. “But you have to be prepared. The team helped me and in the end, we got the victory.” Brahim Díaz, Vinícius Júnior and Rodrigo scored to give Madrid its fourth win from four matches in Group C. Madrid moved five points clear of Napoli, which drew 1-1 with last-place Union Berlin at home in the other group match. Braga stayed third with three points, still in contention for a spot in the knockout rounds.
The Portuguese club has never advanced past the group stage. It is making its third Champions League appearance, and first in 11 seasons. Madrid, the record 14th-time European champion, got the win despite playing without Jude Bellingham, who stayed on the bench after nursing a shoulder injury this week. “This was a good performance,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “We were on the back foot, starting with a penalty against us, but Lunin did terrifically.” Kepa missed the game after sustaining an apparent muscle injury during warmups and had to be replaced by Lunin, who dived to his right to make the save on the penalty taken by Álvaro Djaló with the game tied 0-0 early on at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.
Lunin also made a great save off a header in stoppage time to secure Madrid a clean sheet. “It shows the strength of our squad,” said Rodrygo, chosen the game’s most valuable player. “Lunin is always training and doing well, and now he got to play and stopped a penalty and made a big save at the end.” Kepa was signed on loan from Chelsea this season to take the starting role of Thibaut Courtois, who will miss a big part of the season because of a knee injury. Madrid was in control after the saved penalty. Díaz opened the scoring after an assist by Rodrygo in the 27th, Vinícius added to the lead following a clever move inside the area in the 58th, and Rodrygo sealed the scoring in the 61st with a lobbed shot over the goalkeeper after a pass by Vinícius.
“We started the game very well, then we missed the penalty. That would have given us something to hold on to,” Braga defender José Fonte said. “To be in the Champions League is already an achievement, we are growing but we still have something to say in this group. We have a home game we need to win and then fight for the best position with Napoli.” Braga next hosts Union Berlin and then finishes with a trip to Italy to face Napoli. Madrid hosts Napoli in the next round before closing its group campain at Union Berlin. Both of Braga’s previous campaigns ended in the group stage. It started this year’s campaign in the third qualifying round.