"Trophies and history do not win you a final," Jorge Valdano, Real Madrid CF's director of sport, said after their 3-1 aggregate win against FC Barcelona in an absorbing UEFA Champions League semi-final tie.
It is a warning worth heeding as Vicente del Bosque prepares his team, the overwhelming favourites, for their 15 May confrontation with Bayer 04 Leverkusen in Glasgow.
A cursory glance at Madrid's history reveals 28 Primera División titles, 17 Spanish Cups, two UEFA Cups and, most pertinently, a record eight European Champion Clubs' Cups.
A team could wilt when faced with such mighty opponents - as has been the case throughout much of this season's Champions League campaign - or revel in their role as underdogs in a bid to knock their fancied rivals into a cocked hat - a habit that Leverkusen have developed. However, while Madrid's form in the Primera División has been less than convincing, they have strolled through Europe in a manner befitting their reputation.
Triumph in Rome
First AS Roma were beaten in the Italian capital last September and Del Bosque's team went on to qualify from the first group stage of the tournament after suffering just one defeat - and that after fielding a second string in their last group game away at FC Lokomotiv Moscow.
Superb second stage
The second group stage was even more emphatic - home and away wins against FC Porto and AC Sparta Praha, and four points taken from Panathinaikos FC. Qualification for the quarter-finals was secured with two games to spare.
Yet Madrid's task in the knock-out stages looked formidable - reigning champions FC Bayern München, who beat Madrid in last season's semi-final, followed by a possible meeting with Barcelona.
Bayern fell behind in Munich to a goal from Madrid's Cameroon wing-back Geremi, who was chosen ahead of Fernando Morientes. However, despite a penalty miss by the Bavarians' captain, Stefan Effenberg, Ottmar Hitzfeld's Bayern team scored twice in the final eight minutes to take a 2-1 lead to the Spanish capital.
Many would have fancied Bayern for the return, but Del Bosque's calls for a patient approach were adhered to and Madrid scored twice in the second half at Santiago Bernabeú through Iván Helguera and Guti, ensuring a 3-2 aggregate win. Meanwhile, Barça's success against Panathinaikos set up the semi-final all of Spain had wanted.
Again, Madrid rose to the challenge, surviving the expected Barça bombardment in the first half at Camp Nou before taking a firm grip on the tie with second-half breakaway goals by Zinedine Zidane and Steve McManaman. The return leg again saw Madrid ride out a period of Barca dominance before Raúl González's glorious finish killed the tie as a contest.
The magic of Raúl
Who are the key players shouldering the great burden of Madrid's huge expectations? One man who has never wavered in this department is the brilliant striker Raúl, whose goal against Barça was his 35th for Madrid in Europe's premier competition - the same total as Ferenc Puskas and second only to Alfredo di Stefano.
The irresistible Zidane
Zidane's performances in the knock-out games, when his new employers desperately needed a return on their €73m investment, confirmed his stature on the big stage as well as his desire to land just about the only serious silverware to have eluded him so far. The Frenchman's emergence, after an uneasy start to life in Madrid, has helped compensate for the disappointing form of Luis Figo, who was jeered off following his second-half substitution against Barcelona at Santiago Bernabeú, having needlessly got himself booked and suspended for the first leg.
Fernando Hierro, like Raúl, remains a huge influence on Del Bosque's side and he gave another towering performance in the semi-final to snuff out the threat of Patrick Kluivert and Javier Saviola. He is supported in that department by the excellent Miguel Salgado.
In goal, César Sánchez, the odd mistake aside, has proved experienced cover for Iker Casillas while the midfield industry is provided by Frenchman Claude Makelele and the versatile, experienced figure of Helguera. There are also the energetic raids of the Brazilian, Roberto Carlos, to think about. More than a few headaches for Leverkusen, then. But they have showed no signs so far of wilting in the spotlight.
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