Real Madrid CF are in no danger of underestimating Belarussian debutants FC BATE Borisov when they arrive in the Spanish capital, with coach Bernd Schuster demanding three points "by whatever means possible".
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One of the fascinating facets of the UEFA Champions League is its ability to bring together teams whose histories, cultures and levels of expectation are so diverse that a leviathan like Real Madrid CF, the nine-time champions of Europe, can face the astounding overachievers of FC BATE Borisov.
Madrid have suffered opening-night defeats in this competition in three of the last four seasons, yet should they do so against the first Belarussian side to reach the group stage it will rank among the biggest upsets in the annals of the tournament. Speaking on the eve of the Group H fixture, coach Bernd Schuster said: "It is of vital importance that we win and we cannot afford any slip-ups. Our intentions are clear – the three points on offer must be ours and we have to take them by whatever means possible. We've done our homework on BATE in order not to suffer any surprises on the night."
Madrid defeated CD Numancia 4-3 at the Santiago Bernabéu on Sunday, a display which left many locals questioning the team's concentration levels at the back. "We have to be more focused and aggressive in trying to deal with dead-ball situations," warned Schuster. "A lot of sides we play against try to exploit this, because maybe they don't have the quality to beat us in another way. We may see something similar on Wednesday because BATE are a team who are strong at set-pieces."
A plus in Madrid's fight against defensive failings comes with the news that Sergio Ramos is available after groin trouble but Wesley Sneijder is still recovering from a knee injury while Pepe and Rubén de la Red are suspended. "Motivating the players to compete in the Champions League is not a problem because it is an event that motivates everybody – it is a beautiful competition," continued the German. "We are among the four representatives of Spanish football and I think all of us are going to do well, though I feel we'll go the furthest."
Meanwhile, visiting coach Viktor Goncharenko looked as if he had seen it all before, as he sat through his first UEFA Champions League news conference in the Spanish capital. Goncharenko spoke of the pleasure he and his players felt at competing among the élite having survived three qualifying rounds to get here. "It's the biggest achievement of our lives," the 31-year-old said. "It's incredible to be in this group. It is not only in Borisov where the atmosphere is being felt but in all of Belarus. We can feel the hopes and expectations of the population and it is a privilege to have the support of the whole country."
Turning his attention to the Spanish champions, Goncharenko added: "Madrid have a great team who control the ball all over the pitch. All of their attackers are brilliant: [Gonzalo] Higuaín, [Ruud] van Nistelrooy, [Arjen] Robben. They have a lot of players at a much higher level than ours." BATE, 2-1 weekend winners at FC Naftan Novopolotsk, have a clean bill of health going into the game but will be without suspended strikers Gennadi Bliznyuk and Vitali Rodionov.