Real Madrid sets sight on another Champions League final
MADRID: Boosted by Cristiano Ronaldo's likely return and a nearly perfect home record, Real Madrid welcomes Manchester City on Wednesday with another Champions League final almost in its grasp.
Real Madrid is set to have Ronaldo back after he missed three straight games because of a leg injury, including the 0-0 first-leg draw in Manchester last week.
Ronaldo leads the Champions League with 16 goals, one shy of the record he set in the 2013-14 season.
He hurt his right leg in a Spanish league game on April 20 and hasn't played since then. Madrid has not released any official information about the injury, prompting widespread rumors about its severity, but he participated fully in training on Monday and looked fit to return to action.
Another edge for Madrid comes from Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, where it has crushed all-comers this season, winning 20 of 23 matches in all competitions. In the Champions League, it's won all five home games by outscoring opponents 18-0.
"Home advantage will help," Real Madrid defensive midfielder Casemiro said. "It is going to be a very difficult game but our fans are strong. That gives us a small advantage. We're counting on the fans and I'm sure they'll not let us down."
Only two opponents have beaten Madrid at home this season, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona. Malaga earned a 0-0 draw against the 10-time European champions at the Bernabeu, a result that, if repeated, would send Wednesday's game into extra time.
Madrid, the title winner in 2014, has won its last six games at the venue in all competitions. The club is unbeaten against English sides at home in the Champions League, and it defeated City 3-2 in the tournament's group stage in 2012.
"That feeling when the fans inside the Santiago Bernabeu get behind you and are with us is unexplainable," Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas said. "We'll be trying to chase every ball, and each player is going to be giving their best to ensure that everything works out perfectly."
Only Karim Benzema remains seriously doubtful because of a right hamstring injury.
Despite its advantages, Madrid holds a lot of respect for City, which has an impressive away record of three wins and two draws in the Champions League this season.
It eliminated Paris Saint-Germain in the quarterfinals, a stage it reached for the first time.
"If Manchester City made it to the semifinals, it's because they're an excellent team," Ronaldo said. "Knocking out PSG is not an easy task, but they managed to do it. They are a team with very few weaknesses."
City defender Eliaquim Mangala, one of the men in charge of stopping Ronaldo on Wednesday, said the scoreless draw in the first leg was not a bad result considering the team's success in away games.
"We defended very well and didn't concede an away goal which was very important for us," Mangala said. "We know that it will be a tough game against Real Madrid and that they play well at home, but we did well in the other rounds."
Whoever advances on Wednesday will play the final against Bayern Munich or Atletico Madrid, which met late Tuesday in Germany.
Atletico won the first leg 1-0 in Madrid.