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There are few UEFA Champions League contenders who are as familiar with each other as Real Madrid CF and Olympique Lyonnais and as the two sides prepare to meet once more on Tuesday the Spaniards' captain, Iker Casillas, is aiming to address an "unfavourable balance".
On the eve of what will be his ninth encounter against Les Gones in six years, Casillas was under no illusions as to the difficulty of the task that awaits the nine-time winners at the Santiago Bernabéu. The Madrid goalkeeper admits that the Merengues have suffered against their Ligue 1 opponents during a sequence of matches in which they have lost three times and won just once.
Casillas cut a disconsolate figure after the first of those defeats in September 2005 when he was beaten three times inside the opening 31 minutes. However, Madrid went some way to burying their hoodoo when overcoming Lyon in last season's quarter-finals after a 3-0 home victory in the second leg. "They are uncomfortable rivals for us and they know they have our respect," said the Spanish international. "In the 2009/10 campaign they took an important step into the last eight at our expense but last year we ended our nightmare of not having advanced past the last 16 [in the six previous campaigns] and we did so against Lyon."
Madrid hold a two-point advantage over Rémi Garde's side thanks to a 100% Group D record and with neither team having lost or conceded in their opening games against GNK Dinamo Zagreb and AFC Ajax, Casillas recognises that their back-to-back encounters could prove crucial in deciding the outcome of the section – and providing a platform for their lofty ambitions this term.
"Every year [Lyon] change players but they always seem to advance in this competition. That's why taking six points from our games against them at home and away will be important for us. Our objective this term is to improve on what we did last year and go one step further in the Liga and the [UEFA] Champions League. [José] Mourinho is even more ambitious than he was last year. This is a very positive thing and the effect is contagious."
Highlighting an "extraordinary defence" as one of the keys to Madrid's bright start to their European campaign, Casillas also paid tribute to in-form striker Gonzalo Higuaín whose successive Liga hat-tricks, sandwiching another treble for Argentina, have served to further enhance his reputation among local supporters. "I've known Higuaín for some time now and he has always been obsessed with scoring goals," added the UEFA EURO 2008 and FIFA 2010 World Cup winner. "We are all thrilled with the run he is on at the moment but [former Lyon striker Karim] Benzema is also scoring goals while creating chances for his team-mates. As a team we are the ones enjoying the advantages of this."
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