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Monday , September 28 2020

Ronaldo back on Champions League goal ‘trail’ at Roma – Wolfsburg primed for Gent test after ending poor run

Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo (right), duels for the ball with Athletic Bilbao’s Sabin Merino during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Spain, on Feb 13. (AP)
Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo (right), duels for the ball with Athletic Bilbao’s Sabin Merino during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Spain, on Feb 13. (AP)

MADRID, Feb 16, (RTRS): Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane reckons Cristiano Ronaldo is on top form as the Portuguese looks to increase his Champions League goals tally when they visit AS Roma in the first leg of their last-16 tie on Wednesday.

Ronaldo is the competition’s leading marksman this season with 11 goals, a record for the group phase.

Zidane, a Champions League winner playing for Real in 2002, said Ronaldo was on top of his game after the Portuguese scored twice in Saturday’s 4-2 Liga win over Athletic Bilbao.

“Cristiano is very important on the wing because when he attacks one-on-one he’s very good … he’s very hard to defend against,” Zidane added before the game at the Stadio Olimpico. “That’s how we scored the first goal (against Athletic).”

Left back Marcelo has recovered faster than expected from a shoulder injury that forced him to miss Saturday’s home game, was back in training on Monday and named in the match squad.

“We have to be especially wary of the speed of (Roma’s) players because that could hurt us,” Real striker Karim Benzema was quoted as saying in Mundo Deportivo.

“They’re going to play to win because it’s a very important game for them at home. We must win too because we know that to qualify the key is the first leg … If we’re at our best we’ll win.”

Isco looks certain to play in central midfield with Zidane saying he gave Mateo Kovacic a game against Athletic to rest the Spaniard, who has been a regular alongside Toni Kroos and Luka Modric under the Frenchman.

The match pits two recently appointed coaches against each other after Zidane and Luciano Spalletti took charge last month.

Spalletti returned for a second spell at Roma, who are on a run of four wins in Serie A, to replace Rudi Garcia.

Spalletti will have been pleased to see striker Edin Dzeko end his three-month scoring drought with a goal in Roma’s 3-1 win at Carpi on Friday, although the man Real must especially guard against is winger Mohamed Salah, who also netted.

Garcia’s tenure effectively ended with the 6-1 drubbing by Barcelona at the Nou Camp in the Champions League group stage, a result they will want to put firmly behind them on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, VfL Wolfsburg are hoping a morale-boosting Bundesliga win that ended a poor run of results will help their confidence for the Champions League last 16 first-leg game at Gent on Wednesday.

Last year’s German league runners-up and Cup winners are eighth in the standings after a 2-0 victory over Ingolstadt on Saturday, their first win in eight Bundesliga games.

“We have to accept the criticism directed against us,” Wolfsburg left back Marcel Schaefer said.

“The past weeks have not been as all of us had imagined them. That is why it was important to win against Ingolstadt as it was also a sign that we are prepared to fight over 90 minutes as a team.”

The victory over the Bavarian club will be key for Wolfsburg’s confidence as they find themselves in uncharted territory in Europe, according to coach Dieter Hecking.

“What is important is that we have now snapped our bad run,” Hecking said. “We have won and that is what matters. This win can do a lot for us in the future.”

Wolfsburg did not get past the group stage in their only other Champions League appearance in 2009.

Gent, in the Champions League for the first time after being crowned Belgian champions in 2015, were the surprise runners-up in Group H, beating Valencia and Zenit St. Petersburg at home as well as Olympique Lyonnais away.

They became the first Belgian side to reach the round of 16 in the Champions League since Anderlecht 15 years ago.

Gent’s recent results in the Belgian league, however, have been disappointing after finishing the first half of the season on top.

Club Bruges have caught up, beating Gent twice in quick succession, in the Cup and the league.

Gent also needed 85 minutes to struggle past bottom side Mouscron on Friday with a powerful strike by Mbark Boussoufa, who is not on their Champions League squad, and another goal from Danijel Milicevic.

Boussoufa is on loan from Lokomotiv Moscow but because of doubts over his fitness the Morocco international was not included in the Champions League squad, a decision manager Hein Vanhaezebrouck now regrets.

“Boussoufa is much better physically and mentally than I was told. It’s a shame about that list, I admit that,” he said.

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