Ronaldo ready for Nou Camp cauldron
Saturday 28 November 2009
Cristiano Ronaldo says a season of being public enemy No 1 in England has prepared him for the reception he will receive at the Nou Camp tomorrow night as he returns to Real Madrid's starting line-up to make his clasico debut.
It will not quite be a repeat of the treatment his fellow Portugal international Luis Figo received the first season he returned to Barcelona after signing for Real Madrid – there will be no flying pigs' heads – but it will not be friendly. Ronaldo might not be a traitor but he is the biggest threat Barça have faced since the days of his Brazilian namesake.
"I know that I will be welcomed badly," he said. "That's normal. After the World Cup in 2006 I was received badly in every stadium in England but it didn't stop me ending up as the best player in the league. I don't expect them to applaud me at the Nou Camp. It will not bother me, I am just going there to win the game."
Ronaldo scored seven goals in nine games before an ankle injury interrupted his season and the team collapsed without him. They were unable to beat a third division side over two legs in the Spanish Cup; with him they are a different proposition and Real supporters now believe they can get the victory that will take them clear at the top and go some way to erasing the memory of last season's 6-2 reverse at the Bernabeu.
"What Barcelona did last year does not bother me," Ronaldo added. "I wasn't there then. I am only concerned with what happens this time. I am going into the game with only a victory on my mind.
"We have no fear playing against Barcelona. We will not sit back because that will just be playing into their hands. We will play as we always do but we will have to be careful and have respect."
That mixed message translates as: "We know throwing caution to the wind would be football suicide". And he admitted that Barça were back to their sublime best in beating Internazionale 2-0 in midweek.
There was a puff of the cheeks and a big sigh as he referred to that Champions League master-class, given without Zlatan Ibrahamovic and Lionel Messi. "They were just excellent and that was without two very important players," he said.
Ronaldo might never have played a clasico but he suffered against Barcelona just six months ago in Rome. "This is not a Champions League final," he said. "It is a league game and we will take three points if we win it. There will be nothing gained if we get the victory and then lose our next match."
The result could be the difference between trailing Barça and extending a four-point lead over them and the match reunites Ronaldo with Gerard Pique, the former Manchester United defender.
Pique came out on top in May and is confident the rematch will also finish in his favour. He said: "Madrid can argue that they are a better team with Ronaldo back but I am not interested in those arguments I have complete faith in my team. We play the same way, whoever we play against and we will be ready. He is unpredictable but we know how to stop him, we have done it before.
"We cannot afford to get carried away but we are in better shape mentally after winning so well in midweek."
Dani Alves was also keen to remind Ronaldo of events in Rome in May. "He already knows all too well what it is like to face us when we are on form," Alves said. "They are placing an awful lot on his shoulders but a team is taken from 20 or 22 players not just one."
Xabi Alonso also plays his first clasico following his move from Liverpool in the summer. He has suffered in a disorganised Real side since his switch – he was seen screaming at team-mates to track back last week in the 1-0 win over Racing Santander.
Madrid's work in progress causes him concern ahead of the biggest game of the season. "We will have to play a very complete game," he said. "The key will be getting the right balance between defence and attack. We have to make sure we don't gift them possession and of course we have to take our chances."
That will be where Ronaldo comes in. "We have to play well and score more than them," the winger said. "It's as simple as that. I want to turn over a new page at this club – scoring goals and winning titles."
Spotlight on... Internazionale's European struggles
Samuel Eto'o is now more popular in Barcelona than he was when he played at the Nou Camp, his timid midweek performance for Internazionale against his old side having endeared him to his old supporters.
Eto'o will partner Diego Milito, another Jose Mourinho signing, when Inter entertain Fiorentina tomorrow. Both have scored since arriving at the club but defeats in Europe have led to suggestions that Bordeaux's Laurent Blanc could be brought in next season.
Former Roma and Lazio manager Zdenek Zeman, a regular critic of Mourinho, said: "People expected to see a new and different style but he has signed the wrong players."
Everybody's talking about... Mario Balotelli
The Italian league has fined Juventus €20,000 (£18,150) for abuse directed at Internazionale forward Mario Balotelli during a match in which the Italy Under-21 international was not even playing. Balotelli, whose parents are Ghanaian, was playing for Inter at Bologna last weekend – a game in which he was racially abused by Bologna fans – but that did not stop Juventus supporters chanting what the league authorities called "insulting songs that incited violence against the player" during their match with Udinese. However, the League decided against closing Juventus's ground in Turin and as a consequence the Stadio Olimpico will host the visit of Inter, and Balotelli, next weekend.
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