Real Madrid start their Champions League challenge tomorrow night away at Dinamo Zagreb – but they’ll have to do without talismanic manager Jose Mourinho, who is serving a three-match touchline ban for comments made after last season’s semi-final exit to Barcelona.
Mourinho’s men are one of the early favourites for Europe’s premier competition and you’d fancy the Bernabeu club to get off to a winning start, although it won’t be easy in Croatia.
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Dinamo are a well-established outfit and behind closed doors, they are confident of progressing through to the next phase. The Stadion Maksimir is an intimidating venue but if the Galacticos are on song then they should have too much for the Croatian side.
Dinamo are making their first Champions League group stage appearance since 1999 and they will be keen to impress on their return. But with Ajax and Lyon making up Group D, first spot is Real’s to lose; in their 16 previous seasons in the competition, Madrid have never been eliminated at the group stage.
The Croats have won only one of their 10 competitive encounters with Spanish sides – against Villarreal in the Europa League last season – and they will do well to improve that record against the visitors tomorrow night.
There will be around 40,000 inside the Maksimir and the Croatian public will relish seeing the silky skills of Cristiano Ronaldo but Brazilian playmaker Kaka is likely to miss out after failing to recover from a bruised heel.
Nuri Sahin and Hamit Altintop, who have yet to make their debuts since joining Real recently, are also out with knee and back injuries but Sami Khedira has been included in the squad after recovering from a thigh complaint.
The match kicks off at 19:45 UK time and with Dinamo a whopping 14/1 to win with some bookmakers, it would be a surprise to see anything other than an away success.
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