Real Madrid's destination was never in doubt, the question was which route they would take. In the end they defeated the Cypriot side Apoel Nicosia 5-2 with two goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and one each from Kaká, José Callejón and Angel Di María, but the visitors, too, left feeling like victors. For Apoel, who had to get through three preliminary games to reach the Champions League proper, their European adventure came to an end on a stage that they could barely have dreamed of treading.

They trod the boards in style, too: they scored twice and one of them was the best goal of the night. A lovely exchange of swift passes sent Gustavo Manduca clean through and he slotted neatly past Iker Casillas to make it 2-1 midway through the second half. Manduca was immediately withdrawn, a hero applauding and embracing team-mates as he went. High in the Bernabéu, four thousand Apoel fans bounced up and down singing. Madrid would score again – three times – but they hardly minded. Not least because Apoel did, too.

Three-nil up from the first leg against the Champions League's revelation, a club whose entire annual budget could not pay Ronaldo's wages, Real knew they were through. So did their opponents. This was either a formality to be fulfilled without enthusiasm or a night to really enjoy. Real chose the latter.

Although José Mourinho left Xabi Alonso, Karim Benzema and Mesut Ozil on the bench, there were few concessions. Ronaldo was included and was looking to add to his astonishing record of 133 goals in 133 Real games. The only man with a better goals-per-minute ratio than him in La Liga started, too: Gonzalo Higuaín joined Ronaldo and Kaká up front. The Bernabéu did not fill but those who came had one question: how many would Real score?

Hamit Altintop's shot was charged down, Ronaldo headed over. And then, in the 26th minute, Marcelo's deflected cross evaded Higuaín and found Ronaldo alone at the far post. He nudged in his 48th goal of the season. Ten minutes later Kaká received the ball on the top left corner of the penalty area and curled a lovely shot into the top right corner of the net. On the bench, Mourinho nodded in appreciation. There were almost two of them: Kaká again opened up his body to curl from left to right, this time hitting a post.

Half-time came and so did the changes. Marcelo was withdrawn and Higuaín departed soon after, replaced by Di María. Apoel fired off a couple of shots, Casillas punching one away. Raúl Albiol, a centre-back, replaced Esteban Granero on 65 minutes. The statistic that mattered on the scoreboard seemed to be the minutes left, not the goals scored. But then, almost immediately, Manduca struck to change the feel of this meeting entirely. There was no way back, of course – even as two more chances came Apoel's way.

Ronaldo curled in a free-kick for Real's third and Callejón added a fourth; yet Apoel's Esteban Solari, the brother of the former Real player Santiago, scored a second from the spot with eight minutes left. Madrid's journey continues. Apoel's ended. But it has been some journey.