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Real Madrid CF will be up against the Russian winter as well as PFC CSKA Moskva in tomorrow's UEFA Champions League round of 16 first leg, and the Army Men's centre-back Sergei Ignashevich is well aware that sub-zero temperatures can be a great leveller.
Forecasts suggest a temperature of around -6C to -7C on Tuesday evening, though the mercury regularly dips to around -15C at this time of the year – something that could freeze the blood of even the hottest side in Spain. The home side's familiarity with the vagaries of the Russian climate could be an advantage, according to Ignashevich.
"You have to put your thermal underwear on and rub warming creams on," the 32-year-old explained. "
But when it's freezing, when you step out in the freezing cold, your mind gets foggy and you can't concentrate on anything, like you are falling asleep. And something similar happens when you are running in the freezing cold – you dream about it being over so you can go inside and warm up. That's when it's really cold."
Madrid have won their last two UEFA Champions League games in Russia – 1-0 against FC Lokomotiv Moskva in the second group stage in 2002/03, and 2-1 against FC Zenit St Petersburg in the 2008/09 group stage – but many of the current squad will be facing a first dose of an eastern European winter. It is something Ignashevich knows is not always conducive to great performances.
"It is a different kind of cold when it's between 0 and -2C outside, and you feel like a cold jelly and you want to feel reinvigorated – many people jog in that kind of weather," added Ignashevich, warming to his subject. "But when it's -15C, a different kind of change takes place in your body, which starts to switch off, and your mind isn't as sharp as when you are playing in more comfortable conditions."
Madrid coach José Mourinho has won 1-0 at CSKA with both Chelsea FC and – in the 2009/10 UEFA Champions League quarter-final – FC Internazionale Milano. Having played in that latter game, Ignashevich thinks he knows what he can expect. "Mourinho's teams are usually experienced, and the key factor remains that they can play for a result. It's a very important quality in football."
CSKA boss Leonid Slutski has watched Mourinho prepare his teams at close quarters, shadowing the Portuguese coach at Chelsea and Inter earlier in his career. "José was very friendly and open," recalled the 40-year-old. "
I asked the lion's share of the questions. It was clear that those meetings were much more beneficial, interesting and educational for me."
Beating the master, then, will be no easy task for Slutski. "Real Madrid are the team who beat everyone left and right, with the exception of Barcelona," he said. "[Mourinho] has even been to see some of our friendly matches, which came as a surprise. So unfortunately I can't expect they will underestimate us. That's why we will try to look for our chances, hope to get into the game, and at least try to play on the same level as them."
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