WOLFSBURG, Germany: Real Madrid star Gareth Bale says their El Clasico win over Barcelona has given the Spanish giants the perfect confidence booster for Wednesday’s Champions League quarterfinals, first leg at Wolfsburg.
Real used to have a terrible record away to German opposition in Europe, but their run to the 2014 title, when they claimed their tenth European crown, changed all that.
Having thrashed Schalke 6-1 in Gelsenkirchen two years ago in the last 16, they routed Bayern Munich 4-0 at the Allianz Arena in the semifinals en route to beating Atletico Madrid in the final.
This time around, Zinedine Zidane’s Real are clear favorites for the quarter-final first leg at the Volkswagen Arena, especially after Saturday’s 2-1 victory when Cristiano Ronaldo scored their late winner at arch rivals Barcelona with 10 men.
Ronaldo has found the net in the last six knockout ties against German sides and, with 13 goals to his credit this season, he is just four short of breaking his record in a single European campaign.
Madrid are in the quarterfinals for the sixth time in a row, while Wolfsburg are in the knock-out stages for the first time.
Real are on their best run of the season after ending Barca’s 39-game unbeaten run with their sixth succesive win and are in no mood to suffer an upset in Wolfsburg.
“I said mentally this win [against Barcelona]puts us in a great position, but we have to keep working hard,” said Bale.
“The win builds confidence for the rest of the season, but there’s a long way to go in the Champions League and La Liga and we still have to keep fighting all the way.”
Real are chasing an 11th European crown and Zidane says says Wolfsburg are capable of ‘hurting’ his defense.
“It will be a tough match, but we are well prepared,” said Zidane.
“We will approach it like a final, we cannot relax: the win against Barcelona is already forgotten.
“Wolfsburg have fought hard to be here and deserve it.
“They may have had problems in the Bundesliga, but this is a completely different competition.
“We are not untouchable and Wolfsburg are able to hurt us. They have a fast attack so we have to be alert.
“It gets more and more difficult, round by round, but if we work as a team we can win trophies.”
Real’s top form is juxtaposed by Wolfsburg’s recent results, with the German Cup holders winless in their last three games since beating Gent at home in the last 16.
Wolfsburg’s ‘biggest game’
They were thumped 3-0 at Bayer Leverkusen last Friday, causing director of sport Klaus Allofs to confess they are not living up to the their Champions League status in Germany’s top flight.
Nevertheless, the hosts have a chance to pull off a shock victory in what coach Dieter Hecking has decribed as “the biggest game in the club’s history”.
“We are looking forward to the game, we have nothing to lose,” said Wolfsburg’s Germany midfielder Julian Draxler.
“I think that’s a plus point for us.
“We have already shown we can play well against top teams, but a lot of things must come together.”
Wolfsburg need to recapture the form which led to their 3-2 win at home to Manchester United in the group stages last December which eliminated the Red Devils from the Champions League.
Wolfsburg need no extra motivation with Draxler a self-confessed Ronaldo fan while forward Maximilian Arnold dreamed of playing against Madrid as a child.
Nevertheless, Wolfsburg will need to step up their performance to prevent the dream tie against Madrid becoming a real nightmare at home to Real.
Zidane is expected to name the same full-strength team which started at the Camp Nou with French international Raphael Varane the only injury absentee with a calf injury.
Wolfsburg are without left-back Sebastian Jung who tore a knee ligament against Gent and is out for the season, while midfielder Daniel Caligiuri has a groin injury.