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Madrid wary of United offensive

Published: Tuesday 8 April 2003, 14.05CET
Vicente del Bosque said Real Madrid CF must defend well against Manchester United FC.

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Published: Tuesday 8 April 2003, 14.05CET

Madrid wary of United offensive

Vicente del Bosque said Real Madrid CF must defend well against Manchester United FC.

By Mike Harrold

Coach Vicente del Bosque has warned Real Madrid CF to beware Manchester United FC's attacking intent in the first leg of the most eagerly awaited of the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals at the Santiago Bernabéu.

Attacking intent
A 0-0 draw in Madrid at the same stage three years ago failed to give United sufficient momentum to take them through to the semi-finals, so manager Sir Alex Ferguson is hungry for an away goal this time round. Madrid have failed to keep a clean sheet in their last five Champions League home games, and Del Bosque's defence is now up against the competition's most potent attacking force. "Manchester United are capable of hurting you at any moment," Del Bosque warned. "They have a well defined style and they're going to play the way they know how."

Equal footing
After a slow start to their Champions League campaign, Madrid are getting into their stride and Del Bosque, boosted by the return from injury of Fernando Hierro, has a full-strength squad to choose from. Up against the attacking threat of Zinedine Zidane, Raúl González, Luis Figo, Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos, Sir Alex is happy to assume the underdog tag, but Raúl is convinced that the 1999 European champions arrive on an equal footing.

Giggs danger
"I like all the Manchester team, but if I had to choose one it would be Ryan Giggs," Raúl said. "He can open up the game with his speed and he's very direct. Madrid defeated United 3-2 at Old Trafford to reach the semi-finals in 2000 and Raúl believes it may take a similar performance to see them off again. "No one gave us a chance after the goalless draw here, but we pulled off a miracle," he said. "Both sides can win away from home, so though we'll both be looking to win, the tie will be settled in the second leg."

Roberto Carlos cleared
Roberto Carlos has been cleared to play although is provisionally banned from all international football by FIFA following his sending-off against Portugal last week. United, meanwhile, are without the injured Juan Sebastián Verón and the suspended Phil Neville, but buoyed by Saturday's 4-0 victory over Liverpool FC which took them level with Premiership leaders Arsenal FC.

On a roll
Having won their group at a canter, drawing the European champions in the quarter-finals hardly seems just reward, but United have reason to be confident. Boasting the best defensive record in England and having conceded just five goals in six second group stage matches, United's defence is more resilient than ever, while up front, Ruud van Nistelrooij, the Champions League's leading scorer with ten goals, needs one more to establish a single-season record. "What bothers me is just playing well," said Sir Alex.

Best matches
He added: "We will respect all the Madrid players. We will see one of the best matches in Europe. This match can be considered even bigger than a [FIFA] World Cup quarter-final, we are talking about a group of players who are among the best in the world."

Last updated: 08/04/03 20.53CET