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Champions League Rome v Real Madrid: Fired-up Zidane on mission to end Real Madrid's Italian jinx

By Pete Jenson

Published 17/02/2016

At the helm: Zinedine Zidane
At the helm: Zinedine Zidane

He is seen as the cure for many of Real Madrid's ills, so it is little wonder that it is almost taken for granted that Zinedine Zidane will be the coach who brings an end to the club's 29-year failure to win a two-legged European tie against Italian rivals.

Scorer of the club's definitive Champions League goal - that volley in the final at Hampden in 2002 - he has united supporters and settled players.

But Real have not knocked an Italian side out since 1987. If anyone can Zidane can, believe the 1,200 Spanish supporters who will be in the Olympic Stadium when they face Roma tonight.

They still have Zidane on a pedestal a couple of inches higher than Cristiano Ronaldo, for all that it was his incredible 17 goals in one Champions League campaign that gave them their long pined-after Decima in 2014.

Yesterday Zidane sat next to Ronaldo and the Frenchman simmered to boiling point over the perceived love-in for Barcelona's forward line of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar.

Zidane was asked about the form of his club's prolific rival forwards and he said: "I don't know if I can say this but 'de puta madre'." Translating swear words is never easy but "f*****g magic" probably best sums it up.

He can say whatever he wants -he is Zidane. He has been given an easier ride than his predecessor Rafa Benitez in his first six games. Four of those have been home wins with 20 goals scored.

But in away matches with Granada and Betis - games that produced a narrow victory and a draw - the old demons do not appear to have been exorcised.

Zidane will be counting on James Rodriguez. But with Gareth Bale out, Rodriguez will join Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Isco in a four-man midfield.

Zidane the coach is making his Champions League debut; out to end a three-decade long curse.

• IN last night's other Champions League fixture, an injury-time strike from Jonas earned Benfica a 1-0 win at home to Zenit Saint Petersburg.

Belfast Telegraph

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