Ronaldo buys into Real's notion of divine right
HE has always had a flair for the dramatic but when Cristiano Ronaldo presages Real Madrid's Champions League task against Lyon tonight as being "do or die", he somehow makes it sound a little too theatrical.
For a club who believe so implicitly in their divine right to be the gilded attraction at their own party when the final is staged at the Bernabeu in 10 weeks' time, failure to progress beyond the last 16 for the sixth consecutive season would be met with more wailing than if they had just been scalped at home by Barcelona again.
The players know it and must feel the weight. A €250m galactic project will not stand or fall on one game; it just feels like it, especially if, as one report has suggested in Spain, president Florentino Perez is really offering €250,000 per man as a one-off bonus for winning tonight.
"It would be a disaster," according to midfielder Guti who, after 15 years with the club, understands better than most what a whirlwind of backlash defeat would reap.
Lyon, he says, are a good club but not one of Europe's real elite, which may well be true but is still the sort of casually arrogant throwaway line designed to stir a team who not only bring to Madrid a 1-0 lead from the first leg but a formidable defensive record which has seen them not concede a goal in more than 10 hours of football stretching back to January.
Madridistas are counting on a fresh wave of optimism sweeping the team into the quarters following a victory over Seville on Saturday which had the feel of a season-defining triumph.
Coming from two down with half an hour left, recording a stoppage-time winner through Rafael van der Vaart and at last supplanting Barcelona atop the table on goal difference was cause for much celebration at the Bernabeu, not least in the sensation that Manuel Pellegrini's team might actually have discovered an esprit de corps that even Perez's millions could never have guaranteed.
Take Guti. Earlier this season, the old diva looked as if he might become surplus to requirements after a half-time bust-up with Pellegrini over his half-hearted contribution during their humiliating Copa del Rey defeat to third division Alcorcon reportedly ended with him telling his manager sulkily to go forth.
Yet now the 33-year-old is being feted as the key revivalist, back in the fold with another of his occasional match-turning cameos against Seville. His performance also helped inspire another novelty; the Bernabeu roaring full-throated support when barbs looked likelier.
Alvaro Arbeloa, their former Liverpool full-back, has urged for more of the same tonight, calling on the Bernabeu to give an impression of Anfield on one of its most special Champions League nights.
The onus will be on Ronaldo, having reached a level of excellence recently to suggest he is ever more comfortable with his unprecedented price tag, to provide the impetus. "I am convinced that this team will respond and that we will make it through to the next round," he said.
Maybe it's catching. Sergio Ramos goes further: "We will win 3-0. We are going to live another magical night in the Bernabeu."
Perhaps they are all bewitched by the irresistible idea that, just as Madrid capped their centenary year in 2002 with a ninth European Cup, La Decima must be annexed in the year the final comes home. Lyon, who harried Ronaldo and co to distraction in the Stade Gerland through intelligent pressure, will just love the idea of despoiling destiny. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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