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Atletico, Roma prepare key Champions League clash


Rome (AFP) – Roma host Atletico Madrid on Tuesday in an opening game of the Champions League group stages which Italian coach Eusebio Di Francesco believes will be crucial to their ambitions.

In a Group C that also includes Premier League champions Chelsea, both sides desperately need to win in the Stadio Olimpico.

Di Francesco insists Roma can match the technique and tactics of the Spanish — runners-up in 2014 and 2016 to Real Madrid.

“(Diego) Simeone’s squad have a clear identity,” Di Francesco said. “Perhaps less flair, but very tactically sound and they always know what their role is. They have reached two Champions League finals and you don’t do that by accident. They have strong mental and physical qualities.”

“For us to compete with them we have to also go out on the pitch with those same characteristics –- together with our own playing ideas,” the Roma coach added.

“It’s an important game, one of the great ones in the life of a footballer.”

“We have the qualities to hurt Atletico.”

Atletico’s visit to the Italian capital will be their first since 1999 in the UEFA Cup quarter-finals when they came from behind to beat Roma 2-1.

“We are in a very balanced group where anyone can go through,” said Simeone with Chelsea opening against Azerbaijani newcomers Qarabag.

“Chelsea, Roma and ourselves start with the same options. I live the present and tomorrow (Tuesday) begins a complex and exciting group stage.”

– Griezmann returns –

Atletico arrive in Rome on the back of a complicated start to La Liga, in which they are sitting sixth after one win and two draws.

In those games Simeone could not count on striker Antoine Griezmann, who was banned, but will have him at his disposal Tuesday.

The question is who will link up with the Frenchman with options Argentine Luciano Vietto and compatriot Angel Correa, who formed Atletico’s attacking duo in the last two matches.

Candidates also include veteran Fernando Torres, or Frenchman Kevin Gameiro, back after groin surgery.

“We will try to have a great competition and fulfil a dream, but everything depends on winning against Roma,” said Atletico defender Diego Godin. “We know how important the first match is and it is key.”

Roma have won one game and lost another in the Serie A but arrive more rested with a three-week break after last weekend’s clash at Sampdoria was postponed due to torrential rain.

“Any advantage is relative, also because a lot of Atletico’s players did not play in the last game against Valencia –- so a lot of their starters are also rested,” Di Francesco added.

Statistics though are not in favour of the Romans, having won just one of their last seven Champions League games in their home stadium.

Di Francesco will have all his men, except for his summer signing, Czech striker Patrick Schick, who suffered a muscle problem.

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