Madrid slip has Zidane fearful of Juve reunion
Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane hopes to avoid a return to Juventus in the Champions League last 16 after the holder blew a twogoal lead to draw 2-2 against Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday and qualify second from Group F.
A Karim Benzema double had Madrid on course to leapfrog the Germans into top spot, but Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang halved Dortmund’s deficit before teeing up Marco Reus for the equalizer two minutes from time.
However, that late goal could benefit Real because it now can’t face Bayern Munich, Manchester City or Paris Saint-Germain in Monday’s draw.
Instead, one of Leicester City, Arsenal, Monaco, Juventus or Napoli will stand in Real’s way come the new year.
“Juventus — for two reasons,” said Zidane, who joined Real from the Turin club for a world-record fee in 2001, when asked which team he wants to avoid.
“I am very proud of the players and how they played against a great team with good players.
“We needed to be a bit more attentive in the final 10 minutes.
“We have to forget about it and move on. Given what we had done (in the group) until now it was logical that they finished top and us second.”
A draw was enough to extend Real’s unbeaten run in all competitions since April to 34 games — matching a club record.
However, the Frenchman refused to take credit despite inspiring a huge turnaround in fortunes for the Spanish giant since taking his first senior managerial role in January.
“You have to congratulate the players. They are the ones that are on the pitch, that have to fight and run,” he added.
“The fans too, because they are always behind the team, they are always cheering.
“And everyone around the club. The idea is to continue what we are doing but there is still a long way to go.”
Reus’ late strike was a huge boost to Dortmund’s chances of progression as it can now face PSG, Benfica, Manchester City, Sevilla or Porto in the last 16.
Dortmund boss Thomas Tuchel said the dramatic nature of the game showed there was no pact to settle for a mutually beneficial draw.
“We didn’t do some tactical calculation,” said Tuchel.
“We can have no influence in the draw, but against any opponents we will play to our limit to reach the next stage.”
Dortmund looked set to pay for its profligacy as it missed a host of clear-cut chances in between Benzema’s brace, with American wonder kid Christian Pulisic and Gonzalo Castro especially culpable.
However, Aubameyang was far more deadly as he bagged his 18th goal in as many games this season.
The Gabon international then set up substitute Reus, who missed out on starting due to a cold.
“I wasn’t feeling great the last few days, I wanted to start, but the risk was too high,” said Reus.
Juventus doesn’t care who scores, as long as it wins, coach Massimiliano Allegri said after Gonzalo Higuain ended his five-week drought on Wednesday.
Higuain opened the scoring for Juve on its way to a 2-0 Champions League triumph over Dinamo Zagreb.
A beaten finalist in 2015, Juventus heads into the draw for the last 16 seeded as Group H winner after finishing three points ahead of Sevilla.
A slice of luck could be required if it is to avoid meeting the likes of Real Madrid, Bayern Munich or any other favorite in February.
And Allegri will be hoping Higuain, who had not scored in more than a month, has finally found the touch that helped him to a Serie A-record 36 goals for Napoli last season.
Until then, the Juventus coach called for less scrutiny on the under-pressure Argentine.
“We needed to score goals tonight ... sometimes it happens that a striker doesn’t score for a few games,” said Allegri.
“Maybe he was just too used to scoring goals before, but at Juventus it’s important we win, not who scores.”
It was probably the best news Higuain has heard in a while.
After his record transfer to Juve last summer in a bid to “win titles and trophies”, Higuain has endured a testing five months in Turin.
He scored seven times in Serie A before a thigh injury last month curtailed his bid to claim the league’s topscorer award for the second straight season.
Higuain’s form for Argentina also prompted fans to boo him at a recent World Cup qualifier.
On his return to Italy the striker denied reports he received an armed escort after receiving death threats.
Despite making his full league return in a 3-1 victory over Atalanta last weekend, Higuain once again failed to get his name on the scoresheet.
His 52nd-minute opener on Wednesday was his first goal since hitting a penalty in a 1-1 Champions League draw with Lyon on Nov 2.
Although happy at ending his famine, Higuain admitted being played in a slightly different position at Juventus has not helped.
“All strikers want to score goals. You can’t always score when you want, so I’m happy I did,” Higuain told Mediaset Premium.
Borussia Dortmund players celebrate equalizing against Real Madrid in Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League Group F match at Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid.