Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane has confirmed that Cristiano Ronaldo will start Saturday’s Champions League final against Atletico Madrid in Milan — a game he says is the “cherry on top” of both his own career and Madrid’s long season.
Ronaldo had been troubled by a thigh strain through recent weeks, and missed the semifinal first leg at Manchester City. He then returned for the second leg against City and also scored two early goals in Madrid’s 2-0 win at Deportivo La Coruna on May 14 but was substituted at half-time as a precaution.
The Portugal captain then sat out a number of sessions as his team began preparing for the UCL decider, and limped out of training on Tuesday only to afterwards say that he would be ready to face Atletico for sure this weekend.
Speaking at the official UEFA news conference ahead of his team’s final training session at San Siro, Zidane said that Ronaldo’s latest issue was not the problem which kept him out of the City match, and would not stop him from playing on Saturday against Atletico either.
“It is not the same thing — he had a little issue but he is fine now,” the Frenchman said. “He is 100 percent and with it being a final, even if he had anything he would still play. I believe he is fine. It is a different issue to [before City]. Tomorrow he will be at 100 percent.”
Zidane himself has won the Champions League as a player with Madrid in 2002, scoring a stunning winning goal, and as assistant coach to Carlo Ancelotti in 2014. He says the “cherry on top” is to now be the boss as Real face their Spanish capital rival again.
“It is different in the way that — I have been player, assistant and now head coach,” he said. “I am happy with what is happening for me and for all the team. To reach the final is nothing easy — the players have done phenomenal work. Now this is the cherry on the cake, and we want to enjoy it. Carlo told me that a lot — for example before the Lisbon final he said ‘hopefully some day you will do it as head coach.’ I always remember that and appreciate it.”
Madrid won that 2014 final 4-1 in extra-time, famously coming back after being 1-0 down going into injury time. Zidane said although some players had moved on since then, the organising idea at the club remained the same — to work hard together.
“Some players have left, but in this club the idea is always the same, and has been through its great history,” he said. “Unity, companionship, hard work and then for everyone to show their quality. In every game. Tomorrow what we want is to repeat that — to give the maximum.”
Since 2014, Atletico have often had the upper hand in meetings with Madrid, with Los Blancos’only win coming in last year’s UCL quarterfinals, and Zidane losing his first meeting with Diego Simeone 1-0 at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu last February.
“Atletico do well against everyone — not just against Real Madrid,” he said. “Three months have passed [since the 1-0 at Bernabeu]. We are a bit better now in every way. I am happy as I know the work has been enormous. There is no favourite in a final, it is 50/50. In a final it is normal to suffer and to have problems, we will have to come through them if we want to win.”
Simeone has spoken a lot this week about Zidane’s Madrid as a cautious, defensive team. However the former galactico player said what he really saw was hard work and running for the team.
“When we do not have the ball we have to defend,” Zidane said. “We will have to defend well for sure. Then we have our weapons to do well in attack. What we must do tomorrow is run — we will do that — we will run, run, run. It will be a really difficult game, but we are ready for that. We have had a fortnight to prepare the game — and the players want it to start now.”
Losing the final against Atletico would not mean the season had been a failure, Zidane said, but not giving maximum effort would be a real disappointment.
“Nobody can take away what we have done until now,” he said. “Failure would be if our attitude is not good, if we do not do what we have been doing. To reach a final without suffering does not happen in football. Then in the final you never know what will happen. All I can say is that we are ready, we are very ready.”
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