News Column

Atleticos Brace for Real Madrid

February 5, 2014

Pretoria News

Copa del Rey holders Atletico Madrid return to the scene where they won the trophy last year when they face Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu in the first leg of their semifinal tonight.

Atletico ended a 14-year run without a win against their city rivals with a 2-1 victory after extra-time last May.

Los Rojiblancos have kept that momentum going this season with another win over Real in their only meeting so far this season in La Liga in September.

Atletico also became outright league leaders for the first time since their double-winning campaign in 1996 with a 4-0 victory over Real Sociedad on Sunday.

But despite Atletico's recent upturn in fortunes against Real, captain Gabi is aware of the challenge that faces them to make it back to the final.

"It is another opportunity we've earned to play against one of the best teams in the world," he said. "To play in the final two years in a row is very difficult. What this team has achieved has been thanks to our sacrifice, courage and union in the dressing room. We'll take those qualities into the semifinal."

While Atletico are in the midst of a 23-game unbeaten run, Real have been in fine form of late and are unbeaten in 21 games. But Carlo Ancelotti's 10-game winning streak with his team ended on Sunday as they only managed a 1-1 draw away to Athletic Bilbao.

Recently crowned Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo was sent off in that match for lashing out at Carlos Gurpegi 15 minutes from time, but he is set to be free to face Atletico and serve his suspension solely in La Liga.

Ancelotti should also have Gareth Bale at his disposal as the Welshman has returned to training from a calf injury. Barcelona are also in semifinal action tonight as they host Real Sociedad. The Catalans will be looking to put their first defeat at the Camp Nou in the league since April last year behind them as they were beaten 3-2 by Valencia on Saturday.

Brazilian forward Neymar has stepped up his recovery from an ankle injury, but is not expected to be fit in time to play. Barcelona boss Gerardo Martino said: "When you suffer a defeat the next match is always an opportunity to vindicate yourself."

Pretoria News

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Original headline: Atletico roll up their sleeves for battle against Real

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Source: (c) 2014 Independent Newspapers (Pty) Limited. All rights strictly reserved. Provided by, an company

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