Ronaldo plays down title hope

RECENT Champions League winners Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka have sought to temper the growing anticipation that this is going to be Real Madrid’s year in Europe as their side prepare to host Group C rivals Marseille tonight.

Madrid have failed to get beyond the first knockout stage of the Champions League in any of the last five seasons, but few believe it will be a similar story this time around following a record-breaking summer spending spree and a flying start to the new campaign.

Madrid have long been hunting for a record 10th European Cup crown, and with this year’s final being held at their Bernabeu home, that quest has taken on extra significance.

“It’s not easy to win the European Cup,” said Kaka. “Everyone is talking about it a lot and it seems as though Real Madrid are already in the final — the team still has to grow and improve on many things.

“We are thinking about winning and making history with Real Madrid, but we have to have a little calm,” added the Brazilian, who won the competition with AC Milan in 2007.

Ronaldo, who also has a Champions League winner’s medal after helping Manchester United to glory in 2008, echoed those thoughts, adding: “The fans are understandably excited about this new project, but as Kaka has said we have to take it step by step.”

Madrid will be looking to make it two wins out of two in Group C having beaten FC Zurich 5-2 away in their opening match. France midfielder Lassana Diarra, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Christoph Metzelder and Alvaro Arbeloa all miss out for Manuel Pellegrini’s side due to injuries.

The Spanish giants could come up against a couple of familiar faces in the Marseille squad, with Fernando Morientes and Gabriel Heinze both now at the French club and included in Didier Deschamps’ 20-man travelling squad.

Spaniard Morientes won three Champions League medals in eight years at Madrid, while Argentinian Heinze spent two years at the Bernabeu before moving to Marseille this summer.

Marseille lost their opening Group C match 2-1 at home to AC Milan but Morientes believes a win at the Bernabeu is possible if they can hit Madrid on the break.

He said: “I think their weakness is, especially at home, when they attack, because they attack with four or five players and it is precisely then that the opposing team can find the space to score.”

Elsewhere in the same group, AC Milan will take on Swiss champions FC Zurich.

Meanwhile, Bayern Munich coach Louis van Gaal is not looking forward to tonight’s Group A clash with Juventus, opponents of which he has particularly bad memories.

“When I was coach at Ajax, we lost the Champions League final to them on a penalty shoot-out,” recalled the Bayern coach.

That was 1996 and now, 13 years later, Van Gaal is looking to make up not only for that defeat, but also for his side’s 1-0 reverse at Hamburg in the Bundesliga on Saturday.

Bayern goalkeeper Hans-Jorg Butt will be fit to play, even if he looks like he has been in the wars after picking up a black eye after a training ground accident.

He should keep his place in what could be an unchanged side, unless Van Gaal decides to give Thomas Muller another start after he scored two in the first group game.

Mario Gomez, Ivica Olic and Miroslav Klose are the other options for a place in the attack alongside Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery.

Juve midfielder Hasan Salihamidzic has been ruled out of the trip due to an injury which has ruled him out of what would have been his first game against his former club, who he left in 2007 to join the Old Lady.

In the other Group A game, French champions Bordeaux host Maccabi Haifa while in Chelsea’s Group D, Porto take on Atletico Madrid at the Estadio do Dragao. In Group B, CSKA Moscow welcome Besiktas with the evening’s only early kick-off, 5.30pm.

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