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Raúl relishes high stakes

Published: Tuesday 23 November 2004, 11.05CET
With progress at stake, Raúl González has called Real Madrid CF's match against Bayer 04 Leverkusen "a final".

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Published: Tuesday 23 November 2004, 11.05CET

Raúl relishes high stakes

With progress at stake, Raúl González has called Real Madrid CF's match against Bayer 04 Leverkusen "a final".

By Andy Hall in Madrid

Victory for either Real Madrid CF or Bayer 04 Leverkusen in their Matchday 5 fixture on Tuesday would take them through from UEFA Champions League Group B - and home captain Raúl González admits the game is like a "final" to the nine-times European champions.

Mixed form
Madrid, Leverkusen and FC Dynamo Kyiv - who welcome eliminated AS Roma - are all on seven points, but three more for either of the teams at the Santiago Bernabéu would ensure their progress at least on their head-to-head record. Raúl insisted that Madrid are raring to go despite their recent mixed form, especially having come back from two behind to draw 2-2 with Dynamo three weeks ago.

Fans' backing
"It is true that we have not been at our best lately but we will be going out to get the victory to see us through the group stage," he said. "The draw in Kiev lifted us and now qualifying depends on us and us alone. Again this is another final for us but we know that our fans will be giving us total backing."

Barcelona defeat
However, in another 'final' of sorts, Madrid lost 3-0 against Primera División leaders and arch-rivals FC Barcelona on Saturday. "To play as badly as we did on Saturday would be difficult, I hope that in the forthcoming matches we will see a different Madrid," Raúl declared.

Figo worry
As if defeat at the Camp Nou was not bad enough, Luís Figo twisted his ankle and faces a late fitness test before meeting Leverkusen. However, central defender Iván Helguera has been given a clean bill of health after missing the weekend fixture with a knee complaint.

Ponté banned
Leverkusen coach Klaus Augenthaler has forward Robson Ponté suspended for the trip to Spain but no further injury problems other than long-term casualties Jermaine Jones and Clemens Fritz. Almost parallel to Madrid's recent fortunes, the German outfit go into Tuesday's game on the back of a 3-0 weekend defeat, a loss against FC Schalke 04 which leaves them eleventh in the Bundesliga.

'Unaccommodating match'
Still, Augenthaler insisted: "You cannot compare the matches or draw any conclusions from the weekend results, Champions League matches are a completely different story. But judging by past meetings at the Bernabéu, we can safely say that we are in for an unaccommodating match."

Winning formula
Indeed, Madrid overcame Leverkusen in both their trips to the Spanish capital in the 1997/98 and 2000/01 campaigns, as well as winning the 2002 final in Glasgow. "Madrid will have their supporters cheering them on," Augenthaler said. "But we are not going to hide away, we have come here for a result and we will go in search of goal. I hope my players remember that we beat Madrid 3-0 in Germany [on Matchday 1] and can find the same formula to reap a similar result."

Draw acceptable
However, Augenthaler hinted that he could be content with a draw, which would leave Leverkusen only needing a home win against Dynamo on Matchday 6 to go through, when he added: "I am confident that we can win the final group stage match."

Nowotny thrilled
Still, just playing at Madrid's famous home is enough to inspire Leverkusen centre-back Jens Nowotny. "There are five or six famous stadiums in Europe and the Bernabéu is one of them," he said. "For a player in the Bundesliga - you run, fight and play as best as you can for the 34 games of the year to be able to have the chance to play at a venue like this."

Last updated: 23/11/04 10.42CET