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Real ready for CSKA challenge in freezing Moscow

Associated Press
Feb 20, 2012 at 10:26pm IST

Moscow: Real Madrid will be aiming to continue their perfect run in the Champions League on Tuesday when they face CSKA Moscow in sub-zero temperatures on the Luzhniki Stadium's artificial pitch.

Madrid go into the last-16 match after winning all six of their group games in the competition and are also in fine form domestically, having won 18 of their last 19 matches to lead Barcelona by 10 points in the Spanish standings.

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For CSKA, the first-leg match will almost be a season-opener as the Russian league is on a winter break till mid-March.

Real ready for CSKA challenge in freezing Moscow

Real Madrid will face CSKA Moscow in sub-zero temperatures on the Luzhniki Stadium's artificial pitch.

While Madrid are in fine form - with Kaka, Marcelo and Sami Khedira all returning to the line-up for Saturday's 4-0 rout of Racing Santander, Angel di Maria's return was bittersweet after the Argentina international appeared to aggravate a right leg muscle injury in his first appearance of 2012 as the match ended, and he will miss Tuesday's game.

The Argentina international scored Madrid's third goal 10 minutes after coming on in the 63rd, but fell awkwardly near the end of the match, appearing to injure the same right leg that kept him sidelined since December.

"Di Maria provides certain characteristics that the team was without during his absence," coach Jose Mourinho said. "He changes the pace of the game when we attack and when we defend."

Lassana Diarra and Hamit Altintop were also omitted from a 21-man squad due to injuries, although fullback Alvaro Arbeloa does return, while striker Gonzalo Higuain is also available.

Cristiano Ronaldo leads Spanish league scoring with 28 goals, taking his tally to 120 in 123 games for Madrid. Kazim Benzema's pair of goals on Saturday took his league tally to 13. Both are likely to face CSKA.

"We need to now focus on the match against CSKA. Everyone's happy (with our play), we have two days to recover now and we're a happy group," Mourinho said. "We've got a long trip ahead ... but our motivation is high even though we know it won't be easy in Moscow."

Though it's getting warmer in the Russian capital, the temperatures are expected to range between minus 8 degrees (17.6 degrees Fahrenheit) and minus 10 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit).

"The ball resembles a peace of plastic when it freezes," CSKA coach Leonid Slutsky said. "A stone. It's painful to catch or block it. And it doesn't bounce high from the pitch."

Madrid's Brazilian playmaker Kaka said the cold would be a negative factor for both teams.

"We have to prepare well and play a phenomenal match," Kaka said.

Midfielder Xabi Alonso backed him.

"Now we return to a competition that is very important for us," Alonso said. "We all know what we're playing for and it's fundamental to get a good result away from home."

CSKA have sold their Brazilian star playmaker Vagner Love to Flamengo, but have signed 22-year-old South Korean midfielder Kim In-sung from Gangneung.

Sweden midfielder Pontus Wernbloom has joined from AZ Alkmaar in a four-and-a-half-year deal, becoming the Russian side's second January buy after forward Ahmed Musa, who arrived from another Dutch club, VVV Venlo.

"You never know for sure when it comes to new signings," Slutsky said. "Only competitive games can prove it was a right deal."

The home side is, meanwhile, still without injured first-choice goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev and Japanese midfielder Keisuke Honda.

"Much will depend on the beginning of the match," Slutsky said of his team's chances. "If we are able to be on equal terms from the very first minute, then we might have chances, otherwise it will be tough."

Slutsky is bracing for a game in which his side is expected to come under immense pressure from the nine-time European champions.

"CSKA have proved that we can play successfully against key teams but we have never faced such a strong test before," he said. "Even Mourinho's Inter (Milan), who won the Champions League, were weaker then Real today."

Summing up things from CSKA's point of view, Slutsky said: "We have a plan for the game and will hope our opponents will not play at their best."

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