Madrid, Sep 12 (IANS) Spanish football giants Real Madrid will look to get back to winning ways in front of their fans when they open their defence of the Champions League with a home game against Apoel Nicosia on Wednesday.
Zinedine Zidane’s men go into the game after two draws in the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium which have provoked fears that despite having signed promising young talent over the summer, the departure of Alvaro Morata and Mariano Diaz has left them short of a striker, reports Xinhua news agency.
Those worries got worse on Saturday when Karim Benzema limped out of the 1-1 draw against Levante with a knee injury that will keep him out of action for around six months.
The return of Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo should go a long way in easing those worries as he is available for the first time since his sending off in the Spanish Supercup.
Ronaldo still has another of the five-game ban he was given for pushing the referee to serve at the weekend, but his return in Europe should give Madrid both firepower and a confidence boost.
Rafael Varene is still struggling with a muscle injury, but Marcelo is available before he too starts a ban for the red card he saw for kicking out at a rival in the Levante game, while Luka Modric and Keylor Navas are also back after being rested as part of Zidane’s squad rotation policy at the weekend.
Apoel are the ‘Cinderellas’ of the group, but the Cypriot side has a wealth of European experience and have reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League in the past.
They showed they are no pushovers last season when they knocked Athletic Club Bilbao out of the last 32 of the Europa League. Madrid may have to be patient in order to break them down, although with Ronaldo no doubt keen to show what they have been missing without him, they should get their campaign for a third successive Champions League off to a smooth start.
Elsewhere, Sevilla kick off their Champions League campaign with a trip to face Liverpool at Anfield on what promises to be an emotional night.