FOX Soccer Exclusive
All eyes on United, Madrid clash
So big is this game that you could be forgiven for thinking the Champions League ends here and now. It doesn’t, and another team will punch its ticket on Tuesday night: Borussia Dortmund host Shakhtar Dontesk (Live on FOX Soccer Plus, 230 PM ET) in a game that is also expected to be a shootout.
But with the history hanging over this particular match, and the long run of classic battles between the two teams, it’s understandable that the world’s media has descended on this stadium overlooking the Salford Quays.
Swarms of fans were milling about Old Trafford on Monday, hoping to sneak a glimpse of the famous turf, and hundreds of cameramen showed up to film two unexpectedly light-hearted press conferences.
“Judging by the number of photographers at our practice today, it’s a massive game,” said Sir Alex Ferguson Monday afternoon, to laughter. “Real Madrid were absolutely superb against Barcelona. We’ve been consistent for quite some time now. I don’t think this game will disappoint.”
Both managers talked about goals, promising that both teams would score, and virtually assuring the throngs that both intended to play an attacking game.
“They’re the best counter-attacking team in Europe,” added Ferguson. “They showed that at Nou Camp. We have to cope with that and have our own threat.”
Unspoken by United veteran Ryan Giggs was that the threat United faces comes from one of his former teammates: Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ferguson was unafraid to mince words. “My biggest concern is just that [Ronaldo] shows up.”
“[He] is not something we should fear,” Ferguson added. “If we worry about the danger Cristiano can give us we will forget some of the things we can do ourselves."
Jose Mourinho was just as complimentary to United. “They are a dangerous team. I think when they have the ball we are going to have to be organized and defend. I think when we have the ball that they are going to have to defend. This is the kind of match anything can happen in.”
History might well repeat itself in Tuesday’s game: ten years ago, another Ronaldo – referred to here by Ferguson as the “older, fatter one” -- scored a hat trick at Old Trafford in a Real loss that nonetheless sent United tumbling out at the quarterfinal stage.
Asked about that match, Ryan Giggs – who played that night and is set now to earn his 1000th senior cap Tuesday – looked visibly pained.
“It’s not a match I look back fondly on,” said Giggs. “But you learn something in every European game you play in. It’s an uphill task when you go behind but if we do we have the confidence to keep going.”
Asked what the difference could be between the teams in such a critical game, Mourinho drew laughter when he said: “I have no idea.”
“This game is too close to call,” added Real Madrid midfielder Xabi Alonso. “I think it is going to be very open and very entertaining. But I cannot say who will win.”
One more light moment came late when it became apparent Madrid’s players are a bit weary about being asked about Ronaldo over and over again. Xabi nearly rolled his eyes out of his sockets when asked about the Portuguese, saying “He is a very important player – but we have ten other players on the field as well who are important.”
Notes: Real Madrid netminder Iker Casillas travelled and trained with his teammates Monday – but not with his fellow goalkeepers. Casillas has been battling to come back from a hand injury and is not expected to figure in today’s match… Pop star Rihanna is expected to attend the match. In England to promote a new clothing line, she is a Real Madrid fan…
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