MADRID A farcical own goal from midfielder Banel Nicolita gifted Real Madrid a barely deserved 1-0 win over Steaua Bucharest at the Bernabeu on Wednesday that secured them a place in the last 16 of the Champions League.
Nicolita rolled the ball past keeper Cornel Cernea into his own net from outside the area 20 minutes from time after a dreadful mix-up just as Steaua looked to be getting the better of their opponents.
Real striker Ruud van Nistelrooy spurned the chance to extend his side's lead two minutes later when he blasted a penalty over the bar after he had been brought down by Cernea as he bore down on the goal.
The win left Real in second place in Group E with nine points from four games, three behind leaders Olympique Lyon and six ahead of Steaua with two matches left to play.
Roared on by a large band of supporters it was Steaua who made the more lively start and they had a great chance to take the lead in the 11th minute.
Forward Nicolae Dica swept a pass across the face of the goal, but none of the three players queuing up at the far post managed to get a foot to the ball.
Real had a several nervous moments as the Romanians constructed a string of dangerous counter-attacks, but they then wasted an opportunity of their own to take the lead when Robinho was put in the clear by a clever through ball from Guti.
The Brazilian hit a poor pass behind the advancing Ruud van Nistelrooy and gave the Steaua defence time to regroup and clear the danger.
Real looked uncomfortable as they struggled to keep the ball and lacked ideas in attack and it was Steaua who ended the first half on top as they imprisoned the home side in their area.
Petre Marin forced a sharp save from Iker Casillas with a curling shot from the left and fellow midfielder Daniel Oprita skewed a close-range effort over the bar moments later.
Despite a poor first half Real would have gone into the break ahead had it not been for a remarkable point-blank save from Cernea and some desperate last-ditch defending.
The Steaua keeper managed to block the ball on the line as Van Nistelrooy tried to bundle in at the far post after a fine cross from Mahamadou Diarra before Robinho's follow-up shot was cleared.
Real centre-back Ivan Helguera missed another gift-wrapped chance early in the second half when he somehow contrived to slice the ball over the bar from a metre out after Raul had headed the ball across the goalmouth.
But Steaua finally did the job themselves when Nicolita put side-footed the ball into his own net from almost 20 metres out with Cernea out of position.
Van Nistelrooy's penalty miss two minutes later was a suitable ending to a misfiring display from the nine-times European champions.