There are not too many things Jamie Carragher has yet to experience in football, but the Liverpool FC man will be accomplishing a dream when he steps out on to the Santiago Bernabéu pitch to take on Real Madrid CF.
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There are not too many things Jamie Carragher has yet to experience in football but the Liverpool FC defender will be realising a dream when he steps out on to the Santiago Bernabéu pitch to face Real Madrid CF.
Passionate about the game and its history, the 31-year-old hardly needed to be told the significance of the draw when his side were pitted against the Spanish titleholders in the UEFA Champions League first knockout round. "It's fantastic," he said. "I always get so excited when the Champions League draw is made and I was pleased from a personal point of view that we drew Madrid because I want to play at the Bernabéu. Liverpool have never played here before. Along with AC Milan, we're the top three most successful sides in European football, so for two of them to be playing each other tells you how big this game is."
Carragher grinned as he recalled watching a video of the only other competitive meeting between the teams – the 1981 European Champion Clubs' Cup final, won by Liverpool – but he knows it will be difficult for the Reds to come out of the two-legged tie victorious. "We realise it's going to be really difficult because Madrid are a great side," he explained. "People said when the draw was made that it was good for us because they were on a bad run, but people forget they have won the league over the last two years against a fantastic Barcelona team. It was always going to be an achievement to go through."
The visitors' chances would surely benefit from the return of Steven Gerrard, but with their talismanic captain still doubtful as he overcomes a hamstring injury, Carragher insisted he and his team-mates would cope either way: "We've done it in the past. He's a great player, one of the best in the world. There's no doubt we're a better side with him, but I remember in 2005 when we played a number of games without him and won the competition."
Curiously, another player the Bootle native hopes will feature is Madrid star Raúl González, currently enjoying a hot streak of form. "You need character to stay at a club like Real Madrid as long as he has," said Carragher. "People have written him off before but he's kept coming back and he just overtook [Alfredo] Di Stéfano's club scoring record. He's like Steven Gerrard – when you think of Madrid you think of Raúl and when you think of Liverpool you think of Gerrard. It will be a privilege to be on the same pitch as him."