Pressure on for Real Madrid to perform

The Spanish giants have failed to progress beyond the group stage of the Champions League for past six seasons.

Cristiano Ronaldo has seldom been short of confidence. Some perceive it as arrogance, others see him as self-assured in his own wondrous abilities, but his comments ahead of Real Madrid's opening Champions League game against Ajax tonight at the Bernabeu were more measured than cocksure.

"We have all the necessary ingredients to win the competition, but we have to take one step at a time," said the Portuguese winger. "This club always has the ambition to win the Champions League and I have a special feeling about this season. We can win, but we cannot put pressure on ourselves." Real's problem is exactly that; they cannot help but put pressure on themselves. A failure to progress beyond the first knock-out stage in each of the past six seasons ensures that tension is almost debilitating when that hurdle looms.

It does not help that they have been drawn in the toughest group alongside AC Milan, Ajax and Auxerre. "To tell you the truth I'm not lucky with draws," Jose Mourinho, the man charged with helping Real overcome their European impotence, said. "I always get ... clubs who have won many European Cups." Real will be hampered by the absence of the Fernando Gago. "Playing at home against Ajax and Milan can motivate the fans and players," Mourinho said. "To have them playing in the group phase at the Santiago Bernabeu, rather than a team from Israel or Cyprus participating for the first time, is a source of motivation.

"This is a short competition in the group stage. You play six matches in three months. You might lose a match, but you can't afford to lose two. Especially when you have a new team like ours." Seldom one to follow convention, Mourinho claims that tonight's home game against Ajax makes him more nervous than the trip to seven-time winners Milan. "Ajax have their culture, their philosophy, their way of training and their way of playing," he said. "So they are obviously an uncomfortable opponent."

Mourinho, rather than Ajax, will be the centre of attention. He is Real's 10th coach since Vicente Del Bosque was dismissed in 2002. But the "Special One" claims that he is not worried about winning over the usually cynical Madrid public. "Supporters aren't stupid. They understand if the coach will give absolutely everything. The fans immediately know I'm one of them. "That, plus good results, normally builds a good relationship. I'll give everything and hope the results come.

"One of my qualities is that I don't think about myself ... I'm in football to give everything to the clubs. Sometimes I find myself in problematic situations or club wars. I don't like the word but I can't find a better one. This is because when I arrive at a club, I wear the shirt." Mourinho is usually right. Real's history shows that he will not get too many chances if he is not.