The hamstring of Cristiano Ronaldo, who didn’t play last week in the Copa del Rey final, is getting more publicity than many of the players who will square off in the Champions League semifinals on Wednesday.
Scorer of 14 European goals this season, the Portuguese attacker has missed the last four games and will undergo a fitness test hours before kickoff (2:45 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1, Fox Deportes) to determine his likelihood of turning out for Real Madrid against defending champion Bayern Munich in the first game of the semis.
“If he is well he'll play, but if there is a risk of a relapse he won't,” said head coach Carlo Ancelotti, who during his prematch press conference reiterated a stance of aggression would be the game plan at the Estadio Bernabeu. “We are not going to try and stop the opposition from playing; we will try and use our quality to win. Balance, as always, is fundamental and we have to be compact across the field.”
Knee problems have also sidelined Ronaldo at times this season, yet he’s scored nearly three times as many European goals as his closest teammate. That would be Gareth Bale, who in his first season away from Tottenham has netted five times in Champions League play and also nailed down the Copa del Rey by powering up the left side to score the winner -- and his fifth goal in as many games -- of Real’s 2-1 triumph over archrival Barcelona.
“Gareth Bale is a key player; he's the main difference,” says Bayern midfielder and Spanish international Javi Martinez, who notes Bayern must be wary of the speed that players like Bale and others can unleash. “We must control Madrid’s counterattacks; they're very fast on the break. They have some very quick players who can get forward at pace and score – that's what we need to watch out for. This Madrid team is more attacking as they have the players to play that way, so we have to be very careful.”
Ronaldo isn’t the only injury concern for Ancelotti. Marcelo, also bothered by hamstring trouble, will make way for Fábio Coentrao in the starting lineup but is expected to be available off the bench. Knee injuries have sidelined Álvaro Arbeloa and Jesé Rodríguez.
Bayern resumes its quest to repeat as European champion with a bit of momentum off a 2-0 league victory against Eintracht Braunschweig last weekend. It had failed to win any of its prior three Bundesliga matches since clinching the title March 25. Coach Pep Guardiola fielded many of its regulars to tune them up for Real; Claudio Pizzaro started and broke open a goalless game by scoring in the 75th minute, and substitute Mario Mandzukic, who had replaced Arjen Robben, added a late clincher. Leading Euro scorer Thomas Muller (five goals) entered the match along with Mandzukic in the 73rd minute.
A calf injury ruled out starting keeper Manuel Neuer for the Braunschweig match but Bayern need him fit for Wednesday; Lukas Raeder got the start in place of regular backup Toni Starke, who is out with an elbow injury. Thiago Alcántara (knee), Diego Contento (foot) and Xherdan Shaqiri (thigh) will not face Real.
The teams met two years ago at the same stage and Bayern steeled its nerves to win a shootout at the Bernabeu to break a 3-3 aggregate deadlock. Another epic encounter would surprise no one.
“We are two great international teams,” said Bayern outside back and German international Philipp Lahm, whose forays up the flank are among Bayern's potent weapons. “These games are decided with heart and passion.”