Carlo Ancelotti suggesting that Cristiano Ronaldo will return to Real Madrid’s team for Tuesday’s Champions League Group B final game at FC Copenhagen was overshadowed by a Greenpeace publicity stunt at Madrid’s prematch news conference.
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With Madrid already confirmed as group leaders the question and answer session in the Danish capital was unremarkable except for a Greenpeace banner which was lowered right behind Ancelotti and defender Pepe reading "Save the Arctic Show Gazprom the Red Card."
A staff member soon bundled the banner out of sight, but not before those on the podium had chuckled nervously and the photographers and journalists in attendance had got the message.
Reporters present declined to ask the Italian coach for his views on global warming or the oil company in question, but he did suggest Ronaldo -- who needs just one goal to break the record for most Champions League group games in a season -- would be back after two weeks on the sidelines with a thigh issue.
“The team has played well without Cristiano,” Ancelotti said. “His absence motivated us a lot. [But] tomorrow we will put out strongest team available.”
That would likely mean Angel Di Maria returning to the Madrid bench, a state of affairs which has reportedly upset the Argentina winger so much that he favours a January move to Monaco.
Ancelotti said he had not spoken with Di Maria about any supposed problem, but was firm that the player would not be sold midseason for any reason.
“If he has a problem, if he is not happy, my office door is always open,” he said. “The player has not talked with me, not talked to the club, so I assume he has no problem. If he has a problem, it could be for the summer, at this moment a problem does not exist. It has nothing to do with finances, decisions are made for technical reasons. Di Maria is a very important player for this team.”
Gareth Bale, who has displaced Di Maria from Ancelotti’s preferred XI, has travelled to Denmark with the squad having shaken off the bout of flu which saw him miss Saturday’s 0-0 Copa del Rey draw at lowly Xativa and looks set to start alongside Ronaldo and Karim Benzema in attack.
Sergio Ramos is suspended, and Raphael Varane still sidelined with knee issues, so youth product Nacho Fernandez will continue at centre-back.
“Bale had a small problem on Friday night but then recovered and he is fine now,” Ancelotti said. “He will play tomorrow without a problem Xabi Alonso the same, all the players here are ready to play.
Madrid have already guaranteed top spot in the group, while Copenhagen are unbeaten in 10 home Champions League group stage games, with Barcelona, Manchester United and Juventus [last September] among the visitors who have left without a win. Stale Solbakken’s side also know a win will guarantee them a Europa League spot, while a draw could see them into the competition should Juventus win in Galatasaray.
“Copenhagen are a good team, they have got some very good results, especially at home,” Ancelotti said. “They play as a team, the play together, defend very well, use pressing, are aggressive on the pitch. Their success is more about teamwork than individuals. It will be a very different from our first meeting. Both teams must concentrate on their own work. Whoever plays the best will win.”