Real Madrid eye Champions League quarters slot

Tuesday March 8 2016

Real Madrid's Brazilian defender Marcelo (right) and teammates take part in a training session on March 7, 2015 at Real Madrid Sport City in Madrid on the eve of their UEFA Champions League football match against AS Roma. PHOTO | AFP

Real Madrid's Brazilian defender Marcelo (right) and teammates take part in a training session on March 7, 2015 at Real Madrid Sport City in Madrid on the eve of their UEFA Champions League football match against AS Roma. PHOTO | AFP  

By AFP
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Real Madrid return to Champions League action with the visit of Roma on Tuesday needing to book their place in their quarter-finals to keep alive a hugely disappointing season.

A place in the last eight for a sixth consecutive season is well within the reach of Zinedine Zidane’s men with a comfortable 2-0 first-leg lead to rely on.

Yet, Madrid will have memories of this stage of the competition 12 months ago when Schalke had the 10-time champions clinging on in the final stages as the Germans won 4-3 at the Bernabeu.

Real’s home form this season has shown in equal measure the talent and frailties prevalent in their star-studded squad.

Madrid’s forlorn challenge for the Spanish title owes much to defeats to rivals Barcelona and Atletico Madrid at the Bernabeu. Yet, they have won 15 and drawn one of their other 16 home games, scoring 69 goals in the process.

Trailing Barca by 12 points with just 10 Liga games to play and having been turfed out of the Copa del Rey after just one game for fielding an ineligible player, Madrid’s sole focus has turned to winning an 11th European Cup.

And not without reason. On the last seven times Madrid were crowned kings of Europe they failed to win the league domestically.

“We are still in the Champions League. It is a competition we aspire to win and it is not a coincidence that Real Madrid is the team that have won the most European Cups,” said Cristiano Ronaldo. “Nothing is lost and we are going to continue working to achieve great things at the end of the season.”

ACHIEVE GREAT THINGS

Whether Madrid can achieve great things in the Champions League come Milan on May 28 will depend much on Ronaldo and could play a major role in the three-time World Player of the Year’s future at the club.

Ronaldo’s outburst that Real “would be top” of the league if his teammates matched his standards didn’t sit well in the Madrid dressing room or in the stands. Indeed, the Portuguese was even jeered by sections of the Real support before firing four goals in 28 minutes during Saturday’s 7-1 thrashing of Celta Vigo.

At 31, Real are also well aware this summer may be their last chance to recoup the near 100 million euros they paid Manchester United for his services seven years ago.

Ronaldo’s four-goal haul against Celta took his tally to 39 in 35 games this season.

Yet, his record when it matters most has been questioned during the campaign as he has failed to net against any of the top five in La Liga.

“He is capable of scoring four goals and there are very few people capable of doing that. That is why he is unique,” said Zidane in defence of his star man.
Thankfully for the Frenchman, Ronaldo has been on fire in Europe.

His 12 in seven games in this season’s Champions League, including the vital opener in the Italian capital three weeks ago, has him well on course to beat the record 17 he hit to deliver Madrid their longed for 10th European Cup two years ago.

Zidane’s own personal highlight as a Real player came in scoring the winner in his debut season in the 2002 Champions League final.

If he is to make just as glorious a start to his managerial career, Ronaldo and Real need to start producing against rivals of some merit at the Bernabeu.