Madrid slip has Zi­dane fear­ful of Juve re­union

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS - By AGENCE FRANCEPRESSE in Madrid

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.

SUSANA VERA / REUTERS

Borus­sia Dort­mund play­ers cel­e­brate equal­iz­ing against Real Madrid in Wed­nes­day’s UEFA Cham­pi­ons League Group F match at San­ti­ago Bern­abeu in Madrid.

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