Real Madrid v Bayer Leverkusen
The tightest group in the Champions league will go all the way to the wire. Real Madrid know that victory tonight though will assure them of a last 16 spot courtesy of the their superior record over Dynamo Leverkusen.
Likewise, a victory for the German side will confirm their qualification given that they have a better record head-to-head with group leaders Dynamo Kiev.
Real Madrid captain, Raúl, admits the game is like a “final” to the nine-times European champions.
He insisted that Madrid are raring to go despite their recent mixed form, especially having come back from two behind to draw 2-2 with Dynamo three weeks ago.
He said: “It is true that we have not been at our best lately but we will be going out to get the victory to see us through the group stage.
“The draw in Kiev lifted us and now qualifying depends on us and us alone. Again this is another final for us but we know that our fans will be giving us total backing.”
Real come into the match still smarting from a 3-0 thrashing at the hands of arch-rivals Barcelona on Saturday.
“To play as badly as we did on Saturday would be difficult, I hope that in the forthcoming matches we will see a different Madrid,” Raúl declared.
As if defeat at the Camp Nou was not bad enough, Luís Figo twisted his ankle and faces a late fitness test before meeting Leverkusen. However, central defender Iván Helguera has been given a clean bill of health after missing the weekend fixture with a knee complaint.
Leverkusen coach Klaus Augenthaler has forward Robson Ponté suspended for the trip to Spain but no further injury problems other than long-term casualties Jermaine Jones and Clemens Fritz. The Germans also go into tonight’s game on the back of a three-nil weekend defeat. Their loss against FC Schalke 04 leaves them languishing in eleventh in the Bundesliga.
Augenthaler insisted that neither Madrid’s loss or their own will have any bearing on the match though. He said: “You cannot compare the matches or draw any conclusions from the weekend results, Champions League matches are a completely different story. But judging by past meetings at the Bernabéu, we can safely say that we are in for an unaccommodating match.”
Real only need to refer to recent meetings between the two teams to draw confidence. Leverkusen were beaten in both their trips to the Spanish capital in the 1997/98 and 2000/01 campaigns, as well as losing the 2002 final in Glasgow.
“Madrid will have their supporters cheering them on,” Augenthaler said.
“But we are not going to hide away, we have come here for a result and we will go in search of goal. I hope my players remember that we beat Madrid 3-0 in Germany [in the corresponding fixture] and can find the same formula to reap a similar result.”
Augenthaler hinted he could be content with a draw, which would leave Leverkusen only needing a home win against Dynamo in two weeks time to go qualify, saying: “I am confident that we can win the final group stage match.”
Still, just playing at Madrid’s famous home is enough to inspire Leverkusen centre-back Jens Nowotny.
He said: “There are five or six famous stadiums in Europe and the Bernabéu is one of them. For a player in the Bundesliga, you run, fight and play as best as you can for the 34 games of the year to be able to have the chance to play at a venue like this.”