Zidane hails 'serious' performance on 'perfect' night for Real Madrid
Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane hailed a "perfect" evening after Tuesday's 6-0 Champions League Group H win at Apoel Nicosia sealed the defending champions' place in this season's round of 16 with a second-place finish.
Luka Modric's 20-yard volley put Madrid ahead midway through the first half, then a lovely team move was finished by Karim Benzema, before Nacho's close-range prod and Benzema soon converted again to make it 4-0 by half-time. After the break Cristiano Ronaldo added a header and a smart finish, taking him to 18 Champions League goals in calendar year 2017 and 100 goals with Madrid in UEFA competitions.
However Tottenham's 2-1 win at Borussia Dortmund in the night's other Group H game means the Premier League side will finish top no matter what Madrid do in their final fixture at home to Dortmund on Dec. 6.
The Los Blancos coach told the postgame news conference that the main thing was to ensure qualification, and previously under-fire forwards Benzema and Ronaldo returning to the scoresheet was also among the positives.
"This was a perfect gameweek for us," Zidane said. "The important thing was to qualify for the last 16. Keeping a clean sheet, scoring six goals, two for Karim, two for Cristiano, who live for goals. We can all be happy, also the players who play less and got minutes today. So we can be satisfied with how the game went. The best thing was how we played, we keep improving, which is important."
Zidane said the result was more merit for Madrid then demerit for APOEL -- who had drawn twice against Dortmund earlier in the group.
"We played a serious game, very professional," he said. "We scored early and in the end we achieved what we came here looking for. It is never easy. You might look and say we scored six goals so Apoel are a bad team. But no, we played a serious game, and when we play serious like this we can play these games."
Zidane rejected a suggestion from a reporter that Madrid might be disappointed at having finished second in the group and might now get a tough draw as second seeds.
"We know that even if we win the last game we finish second," he said. "So we can do nothing about this. I am not pessimistic. All the teams who qualify are good sides. [But] it will be difficult for whoever has to play against Real Madrid."
Zidane added that sidelined trio Gareth Bale, Keylor Navas and Mateo Kovacic were in with a chance of returning in Saturday's La Liga game at home to struggling Malaga.
"On Thursday Gareth, Keylor and Mateo are going to train with the team," he said. "Then we will see."
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan