Real ready to end APOEL’s dream run
MADRID/LONDON - The Associated PressReal Madrid should reach its second straight Champions League semifinals under coach Jose Mourinho barring a catastrophic collapse against Cypriot team APOEL Nicosia on Wednesday.
Madrid cruised to a 3-0 win away to open the quarterfinal and the Spanish powerhouse has won 26 of 27 series in which it has opened away with a triumph, including all three after taking the first match by such a score.
APOEL, meanwhile, has never overcome such a deficit in 10 previous ties.
The Spanish league leader’s potent attack has been on display in its last three straight wins, with Cristiano Ronaldo taking his season tally to 47 goals, including a league-leading 37 after a pair in Saturday’s 5-1 rout at Osasuna.
Karim Benzema is enjoying his best season since joining Madrid in 2009, the France striker scoring 27 in all competitions this season including seven in Europe. Madrid’s strikers have combined for 98 goals overall this season when factoring in Argentina striker Gonzalo Higuain’s 24, putting the club on course to smashing its own 22-year-old record of most goals scored in a league.
The attack has also been boosted by the return of Argentina forward Angel di Maria, who went on as a late substitute at Osasuna for only his second appearance of 2012.
Mourinho could juggle his lineup once again with an important match against Valencia looming on Saturday, as Esteban Granero, Raul Albiol, Raphael Varane and Nuri Sahin all showed they could fill in aptly in the past two games when regulars like Xabi Alonso, Sami Khedira, Lassana Diarra and Pepe were missing. Kaka could also return after being rested against Osasuna.
“I try to find the best combinations for the team,” said Mourinho, who may not risk Di Maria against the Cypriot side, however. “In Cyprus, for example, Alonso didn’t play so I went with Sahin. Against Osasuna, despite Nuri’s great game, I preferred Granero.” APOEL is the first Cypriot team to go this far in the competition and is coming off a 2-1 win over AC Omonia in its domestic league.
“It was an important victory for us at a crucial juncture in the championship when it’s nearing the end,” APOEL coach Ivan Jovanovic said. “It was a difficult week and a difficult match that very much depended on our will, disposition and concentration.” Jovanovic is without striker Ivan Trickovski and defender Marcelo Oliveira, while defender Savvas Poursaitides will travel to the Spanish capital.
The visitors plan to dig in to keep Madrid’s attack from running rampant.
“We’re not going to Madrid for a holiday. The players will try their best to achieve the best possible result,” APOEL President Phivos Erotokritou said. “No one believed it then (that APOEL would reach the quarterfinals). But we got this far justly, no one handed it to us. We earned it.”
Meanwhile, Chelsea defends a narrow first-leg lead over Benfica in the Champions League quarterfinals tonight, knowing that winning the title for the first time may be its only chance of securing a place in next year’s competition.