Football: Praise in defeat for Toshack's troops

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The Independent Online
THE EUROPEAN Cup holders Real Madrid received bouquets rather than the customary brickbats from the Spanish media despite going out of the competition on Wednesday.

Real, now coached by John Toshack, lost their quarter-final 3-1 on aggregate to Dynamo Kiev after being beaten 2-0 in the second leg in Ukraine.

"The best don't always win," Alfredo Relano, the editor of the sports newspaper As, said yesterday. "Madrid had the ball, the pitch, the discipline and the spirit. Kiev had none of those but everything hinged on the two occasions when [Andriy] Shevchenko got the opportunities he required and that was enough," Relano added.

Another sports daily, Marca, reported: "The champions were the best and leave the Cup with their heads held high," while El Mundo described it as "a downfall with dignity."

Real must now concentrate on their domestic campaigns. They are sixth in the 20-team Spanish First Division, headed by their bitter rivals Barcelona, and are also in the semi-finals of the Spanish Cup. However, an improvement in their form is vital if they are to claw their way back into the top four and ensure entry into next season's revamped Champions' League.

Yesterday, meanwhile, Ukrainian television screened film of the country's leader, President Leonid Kuchma, passionately cheering along with an 88,000- strong sell-out Dynamo crowd on Wednesday.

"Never before in our history have we seen so many people in the stadium cheering our team's success," Kuchma said in the Dynamo dressing room after the game. He personally congratulated every Kiev player, kissing the veteran coach Valery Lobanovsky three times on the cheek.

Also celebrating were Bayern Munich, whose coach, Ottmar Hitzfeld, said he believed his men could beat anybody after they demolished Kaiserslautern 4-0 to reach the last four for the first time in four years.

"Manchester United and Juventus, obviously, are very strong opponents and Kiev look really dangerous," Hitzfeld said after his team completed their impressive 6-0 aggregate victory. "We're not taking any team lightly but I do believe we can beat anybody."

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