The burden of expectation weighs heavily on the shoulders of Vicente del Bosque as Real Madrid CF go in search of another UEFA Champions League crown against Bayer 04 Leverkusen tonight.
'A big responsibility'
This is Madrid's 100th year and Del Bosque is acutely aware that the centenary celebrations will end with a whimper if the German side triumph at Hampden Park. "A centenary is supposed to be a party and our party is based around this final," the Madrid coach said. "In this sense we have a big responsibility to deliver a trophy."
After RC Deportivo La Coruña beat them 2-1 in the Copa del Rey final (having the audacity to do so at the Santiago Bernabéu) and Valencia CF usurped them as Spanish champions, the Champions League is Madrid's sole hope of silverware. The situation at the BayArena is eerily similar. "The fortunes of the two clubs in recent months have run along parallel lines," added Del Bosque. "We were both on top of our respective divisions and in cup finals and did not win them."
Madrid are overwhelming favourites to add to their eight European Champion Clubs' Cups, and Del Bosque would love to do so in style. "It is the highest honour to reach this final and this is the most important match of the domestic season worldwide," said the 51-year-old. "We want to win but do not forget that we are representing the elite of European football and want to play as such. We have to think what a victory would mean to both Real Madrid and Spanish football."
'Feeling the pressure'
Del Bosque confirmed that he will have a full squad to choose from (Claude Makelele was his only doubt) as he seeks to become the first man to guide one club to two Champions League successes. The Salamanca-born coach admitted, however, to "feeling the pressure", something Luis Figo said "comes with the territory". Madrid's Portuguese playmaker added: "There is constant pressure and high hopes when you play for Real Madrid. We know how to deal with it because we consistently want to win."
Figo, like his coach who said Leverkusen can "sting" when least expected, does not anticipate a cosy evening at the home of Scottish football. "I think Leverkusen are more aggressive than other German teams and statistics show it is important not to let them have possession of the ball," he said. "In life people always have specific individual and collective objectives and there are always things that work to counter your efforts. Leverkusen will present such an obstacle, one we have to overcome to win this final."
The 29-year-old FIFA World Footballer of the Year has been criticised of late for failing to deliver top-notch performances after returning from a two-month absence with an ankle injury. But he remains unconcerned. "I don't want to think about my injury because when you do that is when you get hurt," he said. "The importance of the game is so high that I will not think about it."
The last time Madrid met German opponents in a European Cup final in Glasgow they produced one of the finest exhibitions of football seen as they played their way to a 7-3 defeat of Eintracht Frankfurt in 1960. Del Bosque, himself a former Madrid player, believes "history will repeat itself", while Figo admitted to knowing nothing about the game. Figo, it seems, is totally focused on creating his own place in history.
César, Salgado, Hierro, Helguera, Roberto Carlos, Makelele, Solari, Figo, Raúl, Zidane, Morientes
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