Rome // Cristiano Ronaldo laughed off suggestions a reported lack of closeness with teammates Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale could affect Real Madrid ahead of their last 16 Uefa Champions League tie against Roma.
“I will give you an anecdote: at Manchester I didn’t speak with (Ryan) Giggs or (Paul) Scholes, but we still won the Champions League,” said Ronaldo on the eve of Wednesday’s first leg clash at the Stadio Olimpico.
With Bale still absent due to a calf strain, James Rodriguez is expected to come in for the Welsh winger in a three-pronged attack which also includes striker Karim Benzema.
Real’s usual trident of Benzema, Bale and Cristiano, known as BBC, is often compared to the equally potent MSN trident of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar Jr deployed at arch rivals Barcelona.
Andy Mitten: Brilliance or arrogance? Lionel Messi and Barcelona keep just the right side of respectful
Ronaldo appeared to admit he was not close with Benzema and Bale off the pitch, but said that did not stop them operating effectively on it.
“If people say that their friendship is better than ours, then I can’t stop them,” added Ronaldo.
“But I don’t need Bale or Benzema to come to my house for dinner, the important thing is that we all get on well on the pitch.”
Real, considered favourites for this year’s title along with Bayern Munich and holders Barcelona, have qualified for the last five Champions League semi-finals, winning their historic 10th title -- known as ‘La Decima’ -- two years ago.
Yet their record against Italian teams in the competition leaves a lot to be desired, Juventus dominating last year’s semi-final and Roma stopping the ‘Galacticos’ at the knockout phase in 2008.
Current Roma coach Luciano Spalletti, who recently succeeded sacked Frenchman Rudi Garcia, was in charge in 2008 when Real suffered successive 2-1 defeats to Roma in the last 16.
Last year, Carlo Ancelotti’s men were humbled at the semi-final stage when Juventus won 2-1 in Turin then battled to a 1-1 draw in Madrid.
If Real require any extra motivation this time around, it could come from the fact they are now under the helm of Zinedine Zidane, who won the trophy as a player with Real in 2002 and as the assistant to Ancelotti two years ago when Real outclassed city rivals Atletico 4-1 in Lisbon.
“It’s a special competition for the club, for me and above all for the players,” said Zidane on the eve of making his ‘full’ Champions League debut on the other side of the touchlines.
“We have a lot of history in this competition. The important thing is to be prepared, and we are. Physically, we’re good, we’re looking forward to the game then we’ll see what happens.”
Zidane’s last appearance for France was at the 2006 World Cup in Germany when he was sent off for a flying headbutt on Italy defender Marco Materazzi.
Italy went on to triumph and on Wednesday Zidane will come face to face with two members of the 2006 Italy squad in Daniele De Rossi and veteran Francesco Totti.
Although Totti is unlikely to play as he has yet to fully recover from a long-term injury, Zidane paid tribute to the 39-year-old club icon’s longevity.
“I think you have to take your hat off to him for what he’s done for Roma over the years,” said Zidane, who refused to be drawn on when Totti should call it a day.
“That decision is up to him. But it’s always great for football to have players like him in the game.”
Last 16, first leg Champions League results from Tuesday
Paris SG (FRA) 2 (Ibrahimovic 39, Cavani 78) Chelsea (ENG) 1 (Mikel 45+1)
Benfica (POR) 1 (Jonas 90+1) Zenit St. Petersburg (RUS) 0
Wednesday fixtures (all kick-offs 11.45pm UAE)
Gent (BEL) v VfL Wolfsburg (GER)
Roma (ITA) v Real Madrid (ESP)
Tuesday, February 23
Arsenal (ENG) v Barcelona (ESP)
Juventus (ITA) v Bayern Munich (GER)
Wednesday, February 24
PSV Eindhoven (NED) v Atletico Madrid (ESP)
Dynamo Kiev (UKR) v Manchester City (ENG)
Follow us on Twitter @NatSportUAE
Like us on Facebook at facebook.com/TheNationalSport