Naples (Italy) (AFP) – Zinedine Zidane has warned Napoli there will be no let up for 90 minutes when Real Madrid look to seal their seventh successive qualification for the Champions League quarter-finals.
After a 3-1 defeat at the Santiago Bernabeu last month, Napoli host the 11-time European champions Tuesday dreaming of causing a major upset and securing their first berth in the last eight of Europe’s premier club competition.
Zidane has fond memories of the San Paolo stadium having played against Napoli during a five-year spell with Juventus.
But although he expects a “difficult” game, the former World Cup winner said Real expect one result only.
“It will be a difficult game, the same as it always is in the Champions League,” Zidane told a packed conference in Naples on Monday.
“It’s never easy here. I’ve played here in the past. The fans always get behind the team, which is really great, but it also spurs us on as well.
“We’re more than ready. We’ve come here to win, not to try and manage the game. We’ll suffer, but we’re motivated.”
Credited with playing the most attractive football in Italy, Napoli made a bright start to the first leg thanks to Lorenzo Insigne’s audacious long-range strike in the opening minutes.
But goals by Karim Benzema, Toni Kroos and Brazilian midfielder Casemiro offered a stark reminder of Real’s European pedigree.
Zidane’s men are firmly in control and if Napoli are to go through on away goals, the Serie A side will have to do what no team has managed since Wolfsburg beat Real in a quarter-final first leg nearly a year and 46 games ago — keep a clean sheet against the reigning Champions League winners.
A fast start with an early goal — and an all-round tight defensive display — would ideally be required from the hosts.
But Zidane appears to have covered all the bases.
“Obviously they will play with a lot of intensity at the start of the game. But Napoli are a team that knows how to play in different ways,” added the Frenchman.
“They’re strong on the counter-attack and they use the flanks well. Tomorrow it’s crucial we start well. But we also have to have intensity for 90 minutes.
“I want us to leave everything out on the pitch and play good football, but also use our heads.”
Zidane rested most of his key players for a 4-1 league win at Eibar at the weekend when, not for the first time, his ‘Galacticos’ looked more balanced and dominant without many of their big stars, including Cristiano Ronaldo (injury) and Gareth Bale (suspension).
Karim Benzema and James Rodriguez were outstanding in the win, giving Zidane a potential selection headache after he named Ronaldo and Bale in his matchday squad on Monday.
Maurizio Sarri’s men are hoping a stadium packed to the rafters performs as their 12th man.
Azzurri captain Marek Hamsik said earlier: “There’s still everything to play for. I can’t wait to get on the pitch and soak up the atmosphere. It will be a great night, for us and for Naples.
“We have to believe we can hurt them. They’re a team filled with star names, but we have to take the game to them.”
But for the world’s most decorated football team, Napoli’s legendary home support is likely to make little difference.
“Obviously Napoli are going to be fired up, we’re in Italy and they’re playing at home,” added Zidane.
“But it’s a game of football. It’s 11 players versus 11, and our motivation is intact.”