Jose Mourinho makes his European bow for Real Madrid on Wednesday leading his new charges out against Dutch side Ajax at the Santiago Bernabeu in the Champions League Group G opener.
Mourinho’s last European game was at the Bernabeu in May when his Inter Milan side defeated Bayern Munich 2-0 in the Champions League final and his new employers hope he can repeat the feat at Madrid and deliver a 10th European Cup.
The Portuguese coach is one of only three men, along with Ernst Happel and Ottmar Hitzfeld, to win the Champions League with two different clubs (FC Porto and Inter) and he now has the chance to make history by lifting the title with a third team.
The Spanish titans have not won the trophy since 2002 and have crashed out at the last 16 stage for the past six seasons but optimism is high following the recruitment of Mourinho.
The former Chelsea boss tasted his first win in charge with a 1-0 home success over Osasuna on Saturday and Real hope to start the European campaign on the front foot with a win over four-time winners Ajax.
Real fans jeered their team in the workmanlike Osasuna win, however, Cristiano Ronaldo believes his compatriot will deliver the football the fans crave.
“(Jose) Mourinho is one of the best coaches in the world and I am sure that he will end up providing attractive football,” said Ronaldo. “We try to play good football and put on a show but sometimes it isn’t possible.
“However, we shouldn’t blow things out of proportion. We are a team in construction and I am sure that we are going to win a title this season.”
Mourinho insisted the jeers didn’t faze him but accepts there is room for improvement with two clean sheets overshadowed by one goal in the first two league games.
“I understand the public want more. I want more too and so do the players,” said Mourinho.
A big positive is that striker Ronaldo, the world’s most expensive player, has made a remarkable recovery from an ankle injury and came through the Osasuna game unscathed.
Another boost for Real was the return to fitness of Portuguese centre-back Pepe who started against Osasuna in his first competitive match since suffering a cruciate knee ligament injury in December 2009.
Ajax are back in the Champions League for the first time since the 2005/06 season and the 1995 winners are managed by Martin Jol who tussled with Mourinho during their time in England together.
As Tottenham coach Jol played seven league derbies against Mourinho’s Chelsea team with the Portuguese coach winning on five occasions although Jol did engineer a 2-1 home win in November 2006 which was Tottenham’s first league win over Chelsea in 16 seasons.
Dutchman Jol, 54, is handicapped by the loss of Uruguayan international forward Luis Suarez through suspension and Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casilles, who is yet to concede a goal this season, believes it is abig loss for their Dutch opponents.
“The loss of Luis Suarez is significant because he scores a lot of the goals for Ajax and we hope to take advantage of his absence,” said Casillas.
“We have to start the Champions League campaign off on the right foot by winning at home because it is going to be a difficult season.”
Real have landed in a tricky group containing Ajax, seven-time winners AC Milan and French side Auxerre who shouldn’t be underestimated as last season Real were eliminated by another French side in Lyon at the last 16 stage.
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