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Real thrive without much from CR7 Bayern promise home improvement

MADRID, April 24, (RTRS): Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti praised his team for beating holders Bayern Munich in Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final, first leg without their two biggest names taking a leading role. Cristiano Ronaldo, top scorer in this season’s competition, struggled after returning from injury and record signing Gareth Bale only played the final 20 minutes following a bout of flu. Karim Benzema scored the winner in the 19th minute at the Bernabeu, setting Real up nicely ahead of Tuesday’s second leg in Munich as they seek a first appearance in the final since they won their ninth European crown in 2002. “Without Bale and with Cristiano at 50 percent it is not easy to play so well,” Ancelotti told a news conference. The Italian, in his first season in charge, said it had been agreed Ronaldo would only play part of the match after missing the last four games with knee and thigh muscle problems and he was replaced by Bale in the 73rd minute. “We did not want to run any risks and tire out the muscle,” Ancelotti said.

“Cristiano played well. He wasn’t at 100 percent but he sacrificed himself a lot and on Tuesday he will be better, just like Bale. “We are happy to have him (Ronaldo) back. He worked very hard to help the team.” Ancelotti said Real had a “small advantage” ahead of the trip to Munich as they chase an elusive 10th European title. “The result was a good one. We have to know that we will suffer (in Munich) but we will give our all just like today,” he said. The winners will play Atletico or Chelsea, who drew 0-0 at the Calderon in Madrid on Tuesday, in the final in Lisbon on May 24. Holders Bayern Munich promised a sharp improvement when they host Real Madrid in the second leg of their Champions League semi-final after failing to convert the lion’s share of possession into goals in a 1-0 defeat in Spain on Wednesday.

Bayern enjoyed 80 percent possession in the first half but it was the nine-times European champions who scored when Karim Benzema completed a quick break in the 14th minute for the winner. The Bavarians, hoping to become the first team to successfully defend the Champions League title, struggled to break down the solid Real defence. When they did find a way through they were let down by sloppy finishing. “What we were missing was the finish,” said Bayern coach Pep Guardiola, who is looking for a treble of titles in his first season in charge. “The result is certainly not ideal, but we can still improve in the second leg. We will analyse the game and then decide what our best options are for the return leg in order to successfully overcome this task. “I am very optimistic. Even more than before this game,” he added.

The sensational season Bayern have enjoyed so far suggests they are capable of turning the tie around at the Allianz Arena, where they will be backed by a vocal 60,000 crowd. Their recent slump in form, however, has worried club officials and fans. After clinching the Bundesliga title in record time with seven games to spare they lost two of their next three league games, drawing the other. “I don’t think there ever was another Bayern team that dominated at the Bernabeu the way we did it,” said Bayern sports director Matthias Sammer. “But the fact is we controlled possession, not the result. “Now we have to make it happen in the second leg. We have to be ruthless in our finish.”

Bayern wingers Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben struggled to make any inroads into the Real defence and despite enjoying 64 percent of overall possession the Germans had to wait until late in the game for their best chance with Mario Goetze’s close-range shot blocked by Real’s Iker Casillas. “We were missing that little bit of luck and that decisive attacking action,” said captain Philipp Lahm. “We would have liked a different result but we have every chance to score two or three goals at home. I am positive about the return leg. We have often shown we can turn ties around.”

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