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Captain Raúl issues call to arms

Real Madrid CF captain Raúl González demanded his team-mates "match words with deeds" as they bid to reach the last eight for the first time in four attempts.

Raúl González in training at the Stadio Olimpico on Monday evening
Raúl González in training at the Stadio Olimpico on Monday evening ©Getty Images

Real Madrid CF captain Raúl González has urged his team-mates to restore the club's prestige in Europe as the Spanish champions face AS Roma seeking a place in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals for the first time since 2003/04.

Madrid may hold the record for most European crowns, with Raúl himself having contributed to three of their nine triumphs, yet the first knockout round has been a graveyard for their ambitions in each of the last three seasons. Hence Raúl's determination to put this poor run right against Roma, their opponents in the Italian capital in Tuesday's first leg.

'Hugely important'
"For us, the UEFA Champions League is a very special competition," said the 30-year-old, who is the tournament's all-time leading scorer with 59 goals. "In recent years we have not got past the last 16, so one of our objectives going into the campaign was to restore our prestige in Europe and there is no better scenario than in Italy against a competitive team with a lot of pace like Roma. After a few years of being at a level below where we want to be in this competition, this is a hugely important game for us."

Business end
Latterly, FC Bayern München (2007), Arsenal FC (2006) and Juventus (2005) have ended Madrid's hopes but Raúl is optimistic they will not fall short again. "It is a good test to see how far we can go. It is important that we play the complete game – we want a clean sheet but it would be ideal if we could also score a goal ourselves." The forward added: "We are entering the key stage of the season and we are happy with what we've done so far, being five points clear in the [Spanish] league and into the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League. But this is where the real business starts. We are confident but we have to match our words with deeds."

Spiritual home
Raúl signed a contract for life at the Santiago Bernabéu last Thursday and says he never once considered leaving his spiritual home. "It is very simple: what I like best is playing football, training and doing so at Real Madrid. I have been lucky to be at the best club in the world, so there is motivation every day. Everyone knows that my dream from 17 onwards has been to stay with Madrid and that is how it is going to remain."