Sports

Ron raring to play

ROUND OF 16, 1ST LEG

SCHALKE v REAL MADRID

(Tomorrow, 3.40am, SingTel mio TV Ch 112)

Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo cannot wait to put on the Real Madrid jersey again, according to the Spanish giants' coach Carlo Ancelotti.

Ronaldo, who scored 34 goals in 32 games for Real this season, had missed the last three Spanish league matches through suspension.

Ancelotti said the 29-year-old is "highly motivated" for the Champions League last-16, first-leg clash against Schalke tomorrow morning (Singapore time), having scored nine goals in five European games this season.

"He's really wanted to play, he was not happy about not being able to do so," said Ancelotti.

"He's done very well in training.

"He is in optimal physical and mental shape."

Unbeaten in their last 26 matches in all competitions, Real are eager to progress, having reached the Champions League's semi-finals for the last three seasons.

"I do not have to say much to motivate my players because they want to play a leading role in all competitions," said the 54-year-old Italian, who won the European Cup twice as a player with AC Milan and its successor the Champions League another two times as coach of Milan.

"The Champions League is the most prestigious, but also the most difficult competition.

"There is no doubt that we are in a very good shape and we want to continue our good run."

Real have an awful record in Germany, prevailing just once in 24 previous away matches against Bundesliga opposition and losing 17 times.

That includes a 4-1 drubbing at Borussia Dortmund in last season's semi-final first leg when Robert Lewandowski hit all four goals.

Schalke are fourth in the Bundesliga and, having been guilty of erratic form in the first half of the season, they won their first four games this year.

Ancelotti singled out Schalke's established players like Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Kevin-Prince Boateng, and rising stars Max Meyer (18) and Julian Draxler (20).

DRAXLER DIAMOND

Draxler, reportedly a target for Bayern Munich, is on the verge of returning from a foot injury,

Said Ancelotti: "They have very good young players like Draxler, although I do not know if he will play tomorrow, and very experienced players like Huntelaar or Boateng.

"They are not a spectacular team, but they have a very effective, solid game.

"I expect an intense match in which Schalke will give everything."

Ancelotti also said Welsh winger Gareth Bale is set to start, "he plays when he's fit", while Schalke coach Jens Keller has said his side will not be overawed by star-studded Real.

"We want to pull off a small miracle. We're not just going out there to swop shirts with Real's stars," said Keller.

- AFP.