With the January transfer window opening soon, there were many who felt Julio Baptista's days at Real Madrid CF were numbered. Yet the Brazilian, making his third consecutive competitive start, scored a wonderful opening goal in his team's 3-1 win over S.S. Lazio and later insisted he was going nowhere.
Baptista's expertly placed 13th-minute finish stemmed the Italian side's eager opening and was immediately followed by Raúl González's 59th UEFA Champions League goal. "We did what we had to, we put in a big effort and we benefited from an early goal," a thrilled Baptista said after the win gave Madrid top spot in Group C and ended the visitors' interest in European competition for this season.
Guti's suspension for the 1 December Primera División visit of Real Racing Club Santander meant Madrid coach Bernd Schuster needed a suitable replacement. He chose Baptista and has since stuck with him. "I knew I didn't want to leave here so I always worked hard in training and waited for my chance," said the 26-year-old. "When you're out for so long, things are difficult but I swore the moment the manager picked me I was going to take full advantage of the opportunity."
A 36th-minute goal from Baptista's Brazilian team-mate Robinho took the life out of Lazio at the Santiago Bernabéu although Delio Rossi's team did stir late on with a Goran Pandev goal and a penalty, which Tommaso Rocchi saw saved. "Schuster congratulated us for finishing first in the group," Baptista said. "We'll have to be playing at our maximum level to overcome our next opponents in the competition." Asked if he'd fancy a shot against Arsenal FC, the club where he spent last season on loan, the player known as 'The Beast' smiled and said: "That would be a beautiful but tough tie."
With the draw for the knockout phase of the UEFA Champions League set for 21 December, Group C winners Madrid will be guaranteed home advantage in the second leg in early March. Baptista will no doubt be hoping to have made his place in the team a regular one by that time. "Nobody gifts you anything in this life," the former Sevilla FC striker said. "Those who see me in training everyday know how much I work and now I have to work even harder."
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