Real Madrid's players indulged in bouts of sabre rattling before tonight's vital Champions League last 16 second leg against Olympique Lyonnais. Real have failed to progress beyond this stage in each of the past five Champions League competitions, but despite losing the first leg 1-0 in France, their players are primed for victory.
"We will win 3-0," forecasted their confident defender, Sergio Ramos. "The fans saw what a team we have become against Sevilla [in Saturday's dramatic 3-2 win]. They want another magic night at the Bernabeu." "Winning a 10th European Cup in the Bernabeu is our motivation," added Kaka, as 20,000 of the 75,000 tickets for the May 22 final in the Spanish capital went on sale to the public. "I'm convinced that Madrid will triumph against Lyon," stated Zinedine Zidane, the France and Real Madrid legend whose honest appraisal risked the wrath of compatriots.
"We are ready to be one of the great teams of Europe again," opined Iker Casillas, the goalkeeper. "We have great players and we have really started to come together as a team." There were similar verdicts from other Real players - they understand defeat is not an option. "The match is do or die," said Cristiano Ronaldo. "We're playing very good football and have proved that we are the strongest team in La Liga. We are familiar with Lyon. They are a strong team physically, but it's our turn to play at home. I'm convinced that the team will respond and that we will make it to the next round, but we must begin the match thinking that we can score."
Florentino Perez, the club president, did not sanction 256 million (Dh1.28bn) spending on new signings last summer to create a team which stumbled out at the final eight stage in European competition. He wanted a team to win Madrid's 10th European Cup and their first since 2002. Lyon hold their slender lead thanks to Jean II Makoun's 47th-minute thunderbolt in the first leg, which drew praise in France and vicious criticism in Spain, where the Madrid media were baffled that Manuel Pellegrini's side had actually lost a game.
Lyon also avoided defeat on both of their previous visits to the Spanish capital in 2005 and 2006 and they have beaten Real the three times they have played at Stade Gerland. For all the positives, Lyon have reason to be worried. Like Madrid, the French side have fallen at this stage in the last three Champions Leagues and they are without Michel Bastos, their influential Brazilian midfielder, for tonight's game. However, they have won three of their four away games in this season's competition.
History furnishes Real with plenty of optimism, for they have overturned a first-leg away deficit on 20 occasions in European competition. Pellegrini also got the better of his Lyon counterpart Claude Puel when they met in the 2005-06 Champions League. Pellegrini was then at Villarreal, Puel at Lille. The Spaniards will also benefit from the knowledge of Karim Benzema, a product of the Lyon aca-demy who went on to spend five seasons with the first team, scoring 43 goals in 112 appearances. He helped Lyon to four league titles and finished top scorer in Ligue 1 in 2007-08, but is unlikely to be back from injury ahead of the game. Mahamadou Diarra also played four seasons at Lyon before joining Real in 2006.
Perez has offered every player 250,000 to progress - though this amounts to two weeks' wages for their top earners like Kaka and Ronaldo. Real have already beaten French opponents Marseille this season with a convincing 3-0 score line. They are hoping for a similar result tonight. Anything less than a passage through to the quarter-finals will be seen, with justification, as a disaster. @Email:email@example.com