With Real Madrid seconds away from what would seemed to be a routine victory in Moscow, Pontus Wernbloom volleyed a dramatic equaliser. A 1-0 victory, thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo's goal, would have set Madrid up for a return to the Champions League quarter-finals. They are still comfortable favourites to progress, however, and Jose Mourinho was suitably phlegmatic afterwards.
"Having led the game and conceded so late it doesn't leave a good taste in the mouth," the Real coach said, "but at the same time it's not a drama. I'm not happy but I'm not all that sad. Tonight's result means we must step up for the second leg."
The home side started quicker, knowing the necessity of an early goal. With the pace of Seydou Doumbia and the intelligence of Alan Dzagoev behind him, CSKA appeared the likelier side to score. Seven minutes in, the young left-back Georgi Schennikov burst past Alvaro Arbeloa and crossed for Dzagoev, who volleyed wide.
But as Real Madrid grew used to the conditions, they grew into the game. And when Karim Benzema limped off, to be replaced up front by the more mobile Gonzalo Higuain, their attacking play improved.
With his first touch, Higuain nearly scored. An excellent one-touch move went through Sami Khedira, Xabi Alonso, Ronaldo and Khedira again before Higuain's left-footed shot was saved by Sergei Chepchugov. Khedira reacted first but Chepchugov recovered to keep his effort out as well.
Ronaldo was clearly growing in influence. He appeared on the left wing and sent in a perfect cross which Chepchugov stopped. He did the same from the right. And then, in the 28th minute, he scored the opener.
Fabio Coentrao swung in a left-footed cross from deep, under which stood Zoran Tosic. The former Manchester United winger could only manage a soft, trickling defensive header and Ronaldo, whose spell at Old Trafford was rather more successful, pounced. He snapped the ball, left-footed, under Chepchugov and into the bottom corner: it was his 35th goal in 36 games this season.
Mourinho's teams are famously accomplished when ahead and this looked no different. Alonso and Khedira were dominating possession while the two centre-backs, Sergio Ramos and Pepe, rarely looked to be in any trouble.
CSKA seemed to have wasted their best chance of the second half when Ahmed Musa shot tamely at Iker Casillas, rather than squaring. Their attacks were breaking down on Madrid's white wall, until, with the game's final kick, they broke through. Dzagoev slung in a cross, Vasili Berezutsky headed it on, his twin Aleksei nodded it back and Wernbloom volleyed in.
CSKA Moscow (4-4-1-1): Chepchugov; A Berezutsky, Ignashevich, V Berezutsky, Schennikov; Musa (Oliseh, 62), Wernbloom, Aldonin (Honda, 68), Tosic (Necid, 82); Dzagoev; Doumbia. Subs not used Revyakin, Semberas, Rahimic, Kim.
Real Madrid (4-2-3-1): Casillas; Arbeloa, Pepe, Ramos, Coentrao; Alonso, Khedira; Callejon (Kaka, 75), Ozil (Albiol, 83), Ronaldo; Benzema (Higuan, 20). Subs not used Adan, Carvalho, Granero, Marcelo.
Referee B Kuipers (Netherlands).