When Gareth Bale joined Real Madrid CF for a reported world-record fee at the beginning of September it was with the ambition of pitting his wits against the continent's finest.
Tuesday's UEFA Champions League semi-final decider at FC Bayern München is, therefore, a challenge he is relishing having been restricted to a 17-minute cameo in last week's 1-0 first-leg win. "I feel good after a few days' training. I'm hoping to play tomorrow and looking forward to it," said the Wales winger, who had been struggling with a virus. "It's been a good season so far but there is still a lot of work to do."
Carlo Ancelotti's side successfully blunted Bayern's threat in Madrid with a potent blend of defensive discipline and counterattacking panache. Bale is asking for more of the same in Munich. "We have a very hard game against Bayern, but we're looking forward to it. We like to attack, but tomorrow we need to know how to defend, too," he explained. "We are ready to give it our best shot. We haven't qualified for the final yet."
Should Bale start in his accustomed role wide on the right, he will come up against another player of searing pace: Austria full-back David Alaba. "He is a great player and it will be a real battle between us tomorrow," said the 24-year-old, who is high on confidence after scoring a memorable solo goal in the 2-1 Copa del Rey final triumph over FC Barcelona on 16 April. "We have had a great season so far and we don't doubt our chances [of reaching the final]. There is a great atmosphere within the group."
Since conquering Europe in 2001/02, Madrid have fallen at the semi-final hurdle on four occasions in their quest for 'La Décima'. Bale remains unfazed among a whirlwind of pressure, however. "There is a lot of expectation at this club because you always have to win," he said. "We won the cup and now we want the Champions League. We want to do the same in the Champions League. We are eager to play against the best teams and to win titles. We will look to play good football, as we always do."
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