Real Madrid manager Benitez critical of Melbourne turf

Melbourne, July 17 (IANS) Real Madrid manager Rafael Benitez has expressed his disappointment at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) turf ahead his team’s first International Champions Cup (ICC) football match on Saturday.

Benitez was critical of the ground’s condition after his team performed a light training session on the turf in front of 10,115 fans that came to watch the Spanish giants practise, reports Xinhua.

Benitez said his team would have to be playing its best to win the match against AS Roma in Melbourne, saying the conditions would be tricky for both sides to handle.

“Today, I have to say the pitch was not the best,” he told the media after the session.

“We have to be aware of that. We have an important match, so hopefully the players can do their best for the game. It will not be easy.”

But he praised the strong turnout for the open training session, explaining that he read about the passion for sport that Australia, and specifically Melbourne, has.

“I was reading a bit about the stadium, about the sporting culture here in this country, city… and you can see the fans enjoying it,” he said.

Superstars Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema were put through their paces before meeting local politicians and Australian footballers.

While Real’s opponent Roma might be the least glamorous of the three teams participating in the ICC, Benitez acknowledged the strength of the Italian giants, led by 38-year-old stalwart Francesco Totti.

He told the media that the match would in no way be one-sided.

“Roma is a very big team, they’ve had two great preseasons. They’re well prepared,” he said.

Roma finished only behind Juventus at the end of the 2014/15 Serie A season, gaining entry to the Champions League, while goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis was beaten only by Italian legend Gianluigi Buffon for the most clean sheets in the league.

Benitez refused to enter discussion about possible matchups, stating that a pre-season competition such as the ICC was a time to experiment and encourage players to fight for crucial spots as the European winter approaches.

“Pre-season for us is to try new formations, to try players in different positions. (But) the feeling within the team is very good. They’re following all instructions,” Benitez said.

“If we have more competition for positions, the position will get stronger.”

He labelled his squad as one of the best in the world, headlined by two of the best players currently playing in Ronaldo and Bale, but said internal competition between his players was not an issue for his team.

“Ronaldo, Bale, they’re both so good, for me it isn’t a problem. To have options between all of them makes me happy. Ronaldo is a key player, but Gareth will also be a key player,” Benitez said.

“We have a fantastic team, and we have to keep improving the squad. I’m really pleased with everything.”

Both teams are expected to field close to full-strength squads, with Marcelo Vieira, Sergio Ramos, Bale, Ronaldo and first-string goalkeeper Keylor Navas expected to take to the pitch for Real, while Totti and international stars Ashley Cole and Gervinho will play in Rudi Garcia’s AS Roma team.

More than 85,000 fans are expected to attend the match, to be held on Saturday night at the MCG. This is the first match in the three-match series to be held in Melbourne, with AS Roma to take on Manchester City on July 21, followed by Real and City on July 24.

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