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Losing is not an option for Real Madrid

Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Real Madrid snatched all the headlines this past summer after they embarked on a lavish spending spree that landed the club Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Karim Benzema and Xabi Alonso, among others.

There might not be another club in the world that could even come close to affording such a collection of talent, but there is definitely not another team that needs to win more.

Sure, Real Madrid has won its share of trophies in the past, and is still considered to be the standard when it comes to European success with nine European Cup titles.

However, this season comes on the heels of Barcelona's historic treble, when the club won the league, Champions League and Copa del Rey in the same season, becoming the first Spanish side to do so.

Real Madrid is 90 minutes away from a complete disaster.
Pep Guardiola's men stole all of the thunder in Spain last season, so what other option did Real have, other than to spend an exorbitant amount of money in an effort to steal back the headlines?

The problem with that scenario is that the club raised expectations to such a high level that they have left themselves with little room for error.

One bad game at the wrong time can completely ruin a promising season, and after losing 1-0 to Lyon at the Stade de Gerland in the first leg of their Champions League Round of 16 matchup, Real is 90 minutes away from a complete disaster.

The club lacked any real edge in France, and to be honest, was fortunate to come away from the first leg down just one goal.

A 2-0 win on Wednesday over the French side would be enough to see the team get through, and it is very likely considering the match will be played at the Santiago Bernabeu, where Real has won all 13 of its league games this season.

However, Ronaldo knows just how important this game is to his club.

"Wednesday's match is do-or-die," Ronaldo told the club's official website. "We are playing very good football and we have proven that we are the strongest team in La Liga. We are familiar with Lyon. They are a strong team physically speaking, but it's our turn to play at home."

"I am convinced that this team will respond and that we will make it through to the next round."

Ronaldo enjoyed Champions League success with Manchester United in 2008 before losing in the final of last year's competition to Barcelona, so he has become accustomed to succeeding in Europe's premier club competition.

That concept, however, has become foreign to Real as they have failed to advance past the first knockout stage in each of the past five years, a staggering run of underachievement for a club of this stature.

Adding to all of the pressure is the fact that the final of this year's competition will be played at the Bernabeu, which would give the club a huge advantage playing on home soil.

"Everyone knows how bad this club wants to win the Champions League," Ronaldo said. "It has nine titles and wants 10, and this year the final is being played here. I am sure we can turn this tie around."

In order for Real to get past Lyon, they must first exhibit some of the same attacking proficiency that they have since the first-leg defeat.

Following the Lyon loss, Real has combined to score 14 goals in wins over Villarreal, Tenerife and Sevilla, and will need a similar display in front of goal against Lyon.

"We need to pressure, strike fear in our opponent and score early against Lyon. I am sure it will be a match much different than the first leg," midfielder Lassana Diarra told Marca.

In order for Real to make sure that they go through, they must take the game to Lyon, something they failed to do in France. They allowed Lyon to come out and put early pressure on their defense, and never really seemed able to get a hold of the game.

An early goal will do wonders for Real's chances and will plant some doubt in the mind of a confident Lyon side, and only then will they be able to move closer to achieving their lofty goals.

"The goal is to win both La Liga and the Champions League," Diarra said. "I am optimistic and haven't even thought about losing. I am confident everything will turn out for the best.

"Winning the final at home would be very special. We have a golden opportunity that we cannot let slip through our fingers. We will be very motivated because we want to play the final in front of our fans and in our stadium."

Real has made strides in the league as they have pulled level on points with Barcelona, but all of their hard work will be undone in 90 minutes if they fail to beat Lyon.

Real Madrid is clearly the better team, but how well they deal with the pressure will determine whether or not this season still has a chance to be a success, or if it will end with yet another European disaster.

The opportunity for a special season is there for Real Madrid, the tough part now is not letting it slip away.

Comments? Criticism? Applause?
Contact Tim Keeble at tkeeble@sportsnetwork.com
Contact Brian Westfall at bwestfall@sportsnetwork.com

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