Talismanic striker Raúl González knows that Real Madrid CF’s summer spending spree has mounted yet more pressure on the club to end its recent barren run in the UEFA Champions League.
Madrid have fallen at the first hurdle after the group stage for five successive seasons in Europe, having been eliminated in the first knockout round every year since the 2003/04 campaign, when they reached the quarter-finals. However, Manuel Pellegrini's recruitment of players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaká and Karim Benzema means that they have once again been earmarked as favourites ahead of their Group C opener against FC Zürich on Tuesday.
"With this team, this coach and this new project, I am confident that we can do better and reach the final on our pitch," said Raúl on the prospect of reaching the denouement at the Santiago Bernabéu next May. "The club has made a big effort with new signings. The new players have undoubtedly raised the standard of the team. Everybody feels important to play for such a team. This season, everybody will want to beat us, so it's important that all the players get to rest every once in a while in order to be at their best when the end of the season nears."
Debutants at this level, Zürich's first group-stage game will be a baptism of fire, but Raúl is taking nothing for granted. "I know they are second in the Swiss league at the moment and that they play well at home," said the Spanish international. "Tomorrow they will give us some trouble, but if we are focused and play to the standard we've set in the first games of the season, we should be OK. We want to play a good game, win with authority and start to make the first steps which will take us to the deciding moments of the season, in March or April."
Raúl's Zürich counterpart, Swiss striker Johan Vonlanthen, appeared undaunted by the pending visit of the nine-time European champions. "We have no fear of Real Madrid, but respect," he claimed. "We have class in attack and we can cause them some problems. In defence we will try to find the way to keep them from scoring."
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