Antonio Rudiger spared Real Madrid's blushes with a late goal that qualified the reigning European champions for the Champions League round of 16 on Tuesday, but his reward was a brutal collision that saw him return to the Spanish capital with his head bandaged up.
The Germany defender scored a 95th-minute equaliser against Shakhtar Donetsk to seal a 1-1 draw in Warsaw, and in the process suffered a nasty cut to the forehead that forced him to leave the field covered in blood and requiring stitches.
With the game in added time, Madrid were trailing 1-0 with hosts Shakhtar -- who are forced to play home games in the Polish capital due to the ongoing war in Ukraine -- close to pulling off a famous victory.
It was Rudiger's international teammate Toni Kroos who waved the 6-foot-3 centre-back up into the Shakhtar penalty area, knowing that Los Blancos' chances of a late goal might rest on his aerial ability. In the 92nd minute the first opportunity came, as Kroos launched a quarterback-like pass into the box that Rudiger headed inches wide.
It looked like Madrid's moment had come and gone. But three minutes later in a carbon copy of the earlier move, Kroos played the same ball and Rudiger rose to head it into the net.
The defender didn't get the chance to celebrate, though.
Shakhtar's 21-year-old goalkeeper, Anatolii Trubin, had raced off his line to try to reach the ball first, and as Rudiger headed it goalward, Trubin collided with him head-first. It was a sickening, worrying collision.
Rudiger pushed away celebrating teammates and sank to his knees, dazed and already visibly bleeding.
Both players lay on the turf, but it was the Madrid player who looked to have come off the worse. His white shirt soaked in blood, and struggling to see through one eye, Rudiger was helped off by medical staff for further treatment.
Antonio Rudiger took a shot as he collided with the keeper when scoring his last minute equalizer for Real Madrid. pic.twitter.com/4NGMxRbqzi— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) October 11, 2022
The game finished seconds later -- and naturally, the focus was on the condition of Rudiger. Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti was quick to calm any serious concerns in his postmatch TV interview.
"He cut his forehead, it's quite a long cut, but he's OK," Ancelotti said, before laughing: "He wanted to come back on!"
Later in his news conference, Ancelotti offered more details: "He's being stitched up. He's conscious, talking, smiling, happy to have scored."
Kroos added: "I've seen better pictures, to be honest. It's tough, there's a lot of blood, as you saw on the pitch. Let's hope he's back as soon as possible."
Rudiger himself took to Instagram later on to assure fans that he was OK. "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger!" the player said in a post, before adding an image to his story that showed him smiling -- while sporting a substantial bandage covering his forehead and one eye -- on the team's flight back to Madrid.
"We alive," the understated caption said.
Later on Wednesday, Real Madrid posted a lengthy video on social media of their medical team treating Rudiger in the immediate aftermath of the match.
Rudiger will undergo further tests this week, with his participation now in doubt for Sunday's Clasico with LaLiga rivals Barcelona (stream live, Sunday at 10:15 a.m. ET on ESPN+ in the U.S..)
The 29-year-old is no stranger to putting his head where it hurts. In 2021, while playing for Chelsea, he wore a protective mask in the Champions League semifinal second leg against Madrid after sustaining a blow to the face during the first leg, a 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu.
At the time, coach Thomas Tuchel said Rudiger had "a little bone injury on the side of the face" although it was later reported that he had in fact broken his jaw, making his colossal performance in Chelsea's 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge just eight days later all the more impressive.
And while Rudiger did not wear the mask when Chelsea beat Manchester City in that season's Champions League final, he did don it again when representing Germany at that summer's European Championship.