Ronaldo to carry the load for Madrid against Napoli
ABS-CBN Sports on Feb 15, 2017 01:34 PM
Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo eyes a ball during a training session at the Valdebebas stadium ahead of Wednesday's Champions League soccer match between Real Madrid and Napoli, in Madrid, Spain, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017 . (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)
TALES AZZONI, AP Sports Writer
MADRID (AP) — With Gareth Bale not fully fit and Karim Benzema still struggling, it will be Cristiano Ronaldo again carrying the load for Real Madrid in the Champions League.
And that shouldn't be a problem for the defending champions — Ronaldo has scored in every last 16 game he has played with Madrid the last five seasons, with 14 goals in total.
Ronaldo didn't practice early this week because of a minor ailment, but he returned to action on Tuesday and was ready to face Napoli in the first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium on Wednesday.
No one has been as dominant as Ronaldo in this stage of the European competition. The Portugal forward has scored in the last 10 games he played in the last 16, a streak that began with three goals in the matches against CSKA Moscow in the 2011-12 season.
He scored once in each game against former club Manchester United the following year, then netted four times against Schalke in 2013-14, and three times against the same German club the following year. His goals in each of the games against AS Roma last season were crucial to keep Madrid on track for its 11th European title.
Madrid will likely need Ronaldo to thrive again this time against Napoli, as Bale will not play despite having recovered from right-ankle surgery. He practiced with the rest of the team the last two days but coach Zinedine Zidane said it was too soon to put him back in the squad.
"He has been out for almost three months," Zidane said. "We have to take it slowly with Gareth."
Benzema has been playing, but not scoring. His last goal was in a draw at Sevilla in the Copa del Rey early in January, six games ago. Criticism against him increased after an incredible close-range miss in the team's 3-1 win at Osasuna in the Spanish league on Saturday.
"Anyone can give their opinion," Zidane said. "But I see him fully committed. He is focused on what he has to do. People can always ask for more from a player like Karim, but I see him doing well and I'm happy with his work."
Zidane said Benzema, the team's top scorer in the Champions League with four goals, makes up an important duo with Ronaldo.
"We all know Cristiano and we know what he can bring to the team," Zidane said. "He has a good connection with Karim."
Madrid's attack has scored at least a goal in 40 straight games in all competitions. Many of those goals were scored by Ronaldo, who is two away from becoming the first player to score 100 goals in European club competitions. He is the all-time leading scorer in the Champions League with 95 goals.
Madrid hasn't lost at the Bernabeu in its last 11 Champions League matches, while Napoli is on an 18-match unbeaten streak in all competitions, one short of the club record. The Italian club is playing in the last 16 only for the second time. It has never reached the quarterfinals.
"Napoli has been playing well and is coming off a great run," Madrid midfielder Luka Modric said. "But we are playing at home and we are prepared to achieve a good result here."
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni