In fact, the game was more reminiscent of a must-win relegation dog-fight than a meeting of two Champions' League sides. Real had lost successive games to Valencia and Deportivo La Coruña, while Betis had lost 4-0 at Chelsea and 5-0 in Malaga.
The quality of football on display was pretty poor, as the fear of defeat dominated. But the gloom was illuminated by two shining pieces of skill. After half an hour of somnolent football, Real sparked into life when Guti found himself in space on the left and slipped a pass to Raul, who quickly squared across the area. The Uruguayan midfielder Carlos Diogo let the ball run to Robinho and the Brazilian squeezed a first-time shot inside the far post.
The second flash of brilliance came 10 minutes from time, when Guti picked up the ball in the centre of midfield and dinked a magnificent pass towards Alvaro Mejia, who looped a delicate header into the far corner.
Jonathan Woodgate, the former Newcastle centre-back, is at last showing the glimpses of quality that persuaded Real to sign him.
In midweek he was given a torrid time by Deportivo, but against Betis he looked far more assured. Strong in the tackle and authoritative in the air, he is progressing well, but has a difficult task on his hands if he is to displace Ivan Helguera and Sergio Ramos.
Real's first win at Betis in eight seasons will give them hope that they can hold out until the galactico cavalry can come to the rescue. But the unambitious post-match analysis of their coach, Wanderley Luxemburgo, will do little to inspire confidence in his employers.
"It was a very important victory for me and the players," he said. "If we had lost I would still have been pleased because the team showed a lot of character and battled away all game."
For Betis' fans a visit from the seemingly unstoppable Chelsea now beckons. It is hardly the most appetising prospect when your team is on a four-match losing streak.
Real Betis (4-4-2): Doblas; Varela, Lembo, Nano, Castellini; Cañas (Israel, 46), Arzu (Capi, 58), Rivera, Xisco (Dani, 58); Edu, Oliveira. Substitutes not used: Contreras (gk), Isidoro, Juanlu, Fernando
Real Madrid (4-3-1-2): Casillas; Michel Salgado (De la Red, 82), Woodgate, Helguera, Roberto Carlos; Diogo (Mejia, 78), Ramos, Pablo Garcia; Guti; Robinho (Jurado, 89), Raul. Substitutes not used: Lopez (gk), Bravo, Pavon, Soldado
Referee: A Perez Burrull.