Real Madrid prepare for behind-closed game at Legia Warsaw

WARSAW – Competing behind closed doors will give Real Madrid no advantage when they play in a Champions League group stage game at Legia Warsaw on Wednesday, coach Zinedine Zidane has said.

Legia’s opening game against Borussia Dortmund at the Polish Army stadium was overshadowed by crowd problems, and as a result UEFA, which hosts the tournament, has banned fans from the next home game, against Real, and fined the club 80,000 euros (approximately $ 88,000).

Zidane, who played a European game for Real Madrid in an empty stadium against Roma in 2004, has said he was not in favor of playing without fans present, although it could negate the home advantage.

“There is no advantage,” Zidane said on Tuesday. “I always prefer to play in front of fans even away from home, because that’s football. But that’s the situation we are facing.

“We have to play without fans, and we’re going to prepare as we always do – just thinking about the importance of the 3 points.”

Legia is known to have one of the most hostile atmospheres in European football, and 13 supporters were arrested ahead of their 5-1 loss to Real in Madrid in the teams’ last meeting on October 18.

Three points against Legia and a Borussia Dortmund victory over Sporting Lisbon would ensure reigning European champions Madrid advance to the Champions League round of 16 with two games to go.

Los Blancos, however, face a shortage of defense personnel. Center-back Pepe has been ruled out for a month with a hamstring injury, and fellow defender – and Real captain – Sergio Ramos will also be out on Wednesday.

Zidane also left full-back Marcelo and midfielder James Rodriguez at home for the trip to Poland, and Madrid are still without playmaker Luka Modric. Los Blancos’ injuries only worsen their problems at the back; the team has not recorded a shutout in nine games in all competitions.

“It doesn’t worry me, although it’s a fact,” Zidane said. “Every game we seem to concede, and it’s always boring, but you can’t control everything in football, even when you have the best players.

“Of course we can improve that, and we’re working on it in training, but the opposition can always get you into trouble at some point.”

Real Madrid, however, have advantages that Legia cannot match. Forward Cristiano Ronaldo should have a good chance of scoring his 100th goal in European competition. Ronaldo, who once described himself as “rich, handsome and a great player”, enters the two-goal game of this milestone.

He will arrive ready to score more goals after recovering his ruthless scoring touch on Saturday, when he scored his 38th career hat-trick in a 4-1 win at Alavés in the Spanish league.

Ronaldo is the Champions League’s top career scorer, with 95 of his European goals in the tournament he helped Madrid win for an 11th time last season. But Barcelona’s Lionel Messi closed the gap with Ronaldo in their never-ending duel after scoring seven goals to lead the Champions League this season, including one in a 3-1 loss to Manchester City on Tuesday. Messi has scored 89 goals in the Champions League and 92 in all UEFA competitions.

Legia, however, doesn’t seem likely to offer the stiffest resistance. The Polish side lost all three of their Champions League group matches, conceding a tournament record 13 goals, ahead of their rematch against Madrid.

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