Real Set To Press Home Advantage Over APOEL


Only a minor miracle can prevent Real Madrid from progressing past APOEL Nicosia in their Champions League quarter-final today.

After Real scored a 3-0 win in the first leg in Cyprus last week, APOEL would need to win by at least three goals at the Bernabeu in the return leg to have any hope of making an unlikely appearance in the semi-finals.

But given that Jose Mourinho’s side have conceded three goals in a match just twice this season (both times against Barcelona) the odds of APOEL pulling off an upset seem astronomical.

The Cypriot club stunned Lyon in the round of 16 to reach their first ever continental quarter-final, but even Coach Ivan Jovanovic admits his side are not capable of beating Madrid’s high-paid stars.

“Madrid are in the semi-finals; there is no question about that. I even believe that they will reach the final and, hopefully, win it,” Jovanovic said after APOEL’s loss in the first leg.

“It was very gratifying to play against a team like Real Madrid. We all saw firsthand what a quality side they are.

“You could say this game was a crowning moment for the fantastic campaign we produced this season in the competition.

“My players have done themselves proud throughout this campaign and once again against superior opponents like Madrid.”

A one-sided affair is on the cards at the Bernabeu, with Real having scored 13 goals in their past three matches after successive 5-1 wins in La Liga.

However, Mourinho may choose to rest some of his stars given his side face a challenging match against Valencia just four days after the visit of APOEL, followed by a derby away against city rivals Atletico Madrid.

Although Cristiano Ronaldo has grabbed all the headlines, the form of French striker Karim Benzema also has Mourinho smiling.

Benzema has scored five goals in his last three appearances to take his tally to 28 for the season, while Mourinho also has plenty of depth in his squad, with Raul Albiol and Esteban Granero two of the peripheral figures who may see some game time against APOEL.

Chelsea will be hoping they can keep their perfect home record in the Champions League intact when they host Benfica on Wednesday.

Roberto Di Matteo’s side have won all four home matches in Europe’s top competition this season, and another win on Wednesday will be enough for them to reach the semi-finals.

A lone goal from Salomon Kalou gave Chelsea a handy 1-0 win in the first leg of their quarter-final against Jorge Jesus’ side last week.

Indeed Chelsea have lost just once in their past nine home games in the Champions League, the defeat coming against Manchester United in last season’s quarter-final.

The Blues have also been in good form since Di Matteo took over from the sacked Andre Villas-Boas in early March, with a narrow loss to Manchester United and a scoreless draw with Tottenham the only blemishes on the Italian’s record after eight games in charge.

They showed no ill effects from their trip to Benfica in a 4-2 win over Aston Villa in the Premier League on Saturday, with defender Branislav Ivanovic returning from injury and scoring a brace.

Striker Didier Drogba missed the match at Villa Park with a toe injury while defender David Luiz was sidelined with an ankle complaint, and both will face fitness tests ahead of Wednesday’s return leg against Benfica.

The Portuguese side are second in the Liga Sagres, one point behind Porto, but will need to continue to punch above their weight in Europe if they are to progress to the semi-finals.

Benfica have already seen off one English side in the Champions League this season, claiming two draws against Manchester United as they topped Group C, while Sir Alex Ferguson’s men finished third and were eliminated.

They will also take confidence in their impressive away record in the Champions League this season, with just one loss in six matches away from the Estadio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica.

And goalkeeper Artur believes there is no reason his side cannot get a result in London.

“We’ll have to work really hard to win the second leg. Benfica showed the reason why we’re in the quarter-finals and, despite the loss, we have the quality to turn the tie around,” Artur said.

“We drew 2-2 with Manchester United, who are also a great team, so I don’t see why we can’t go to London thinking of winning the game. Nothing is impossible in football and we will fight to win that match.”