If reaching the UEFA Champions League group stage for the first time was cause for celebration at FC Zürich, the draw brought a quick reality check. The Swiss champions were placed in Group C alongside AC Milan, Real Madrid CF, Olympique de Marseille and their combined 18 European Champion Clubs' Cups. Even so, with Madrid's visit to the Letzigrund Stadion approaching fast, Zürich coach Bernard Challandes could not hide his excitement when he spoke to uefa.com ahead of Tuesday's opening night.
Bernard Challandes, Zürich coach
It is constantly in my head and I find myself concentrating on this game rather than the next league game. I try not to do it, but the Madrid match will take more than three days of preparation – we are talking Real Madrid here. We have to play to our strengths and not sacrifice our own football, but at the same time we know we'll need to adapt. In the Swiss league we can dictate how we want to play, but to play you need the ball and Real aren't going to give it to us.
The most important thing is that Zürich don't betray their style of play, their image. We must be brave, even if that carries a risk. We might concede five goals, but as long as we try and aren't just there to make up the numbers. The reality on the pitch could decide what's possible for us. If we leave too much space, and aren't tight enough defensively, Real have world-class players like Benzema, Ronaldo and Raúl to hurt us. We need to defend, defend and defend again. We'll have to adapt to the conditions, but without completely renouncing our principles.
This could be an unbelievable adventure for us, yet it also carries risks. As manager I find myself in the middle. On the one hand there's this great euphoria around the team, around the club, in Zurich the city, in the country. Then there's the danger. We saw it with Basel last season – everything was wonderful when they qualified, but then things got difficult. A manager has to be ready for these situations. It will be magical, extraordinary, to play against Real Madrid in the first game, especially the Real of the moment. But we also have to be ready to endure difficult periods. It really is an adventure for a manager. You need to face it with as much enthusiasm as possible, but also with a bit of distance, because it could be Zürich's fate to struggle in the Champions League.
In truth, the draw was a double-edged sword. Because we were in the last pot, we could see the groups taking shape and I was thinking: 'We'd be OK in that group, or maybe we could get two points from there.' That was the manager speaking, the manager who wants to win, the competitor who says, 'Yes, we've got a small chance'. But on the other hand there's the crazy football fan who says: 'Wow, playing Madrid, Milan, Marseille, is brilliant.'
It will be very, very difficult, but it will be extraordinary to play those teams. We're not Manchester United, who experience this every year – it's a completely different thing for us. It's an amazing opportunity and we're going to try and make the most of it. Normally we wouldn't have a chance in a group like ours, but football can still be irrational, illogical, non-mathematical. So we have to play with confidence and make the most of the experience for the future – enjoy it and treat it as an adventure, a magnificent adventure that will remain in the club's history.
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