The UEFA Champions League has reached the business end of the competition. It's knockout football. There is no margin for error, there can be no more slip-ups. Ahead of the round of 16, we take a closer look at how Real Madrid made it through the group stage and assess their chances of marching into the quarter-finals.
THE JOURNEY SO FAR
The group stage certainly wasn’t all smooth sailing for the reigning champions. They got off to a dramatic start, needing two late goals to salvage victory at home versus Sporting and were also held to an equally thrilling 3-3 draw versus Legia on Matchday Four. Dropping points there meant the fate of the group would depend on their two matches versus Dortmund.
MOST EXCITING MOMENT
Madrid’s UCL curtain-opener brought Cristiano Ronaldo’s former club, Sporting CP, to the Spanish capital, but things weren’t going to script as the game ticked into the final minute, with the visitors leading 0-1. But then came Cristiano. He’d scored on his previous four appearances against his former club, and smashed home the 12th UCL free-kick of his career, sparking a fightback that saw Alvaro Morata win it in the fourth minute of stoppage time.
Zinedine Zidane’s side knew their hopes of topping the group would come down to their results versus Dortmund. In both games they got close, but on both occasions were pegged back late-on. Madrid led in Germany until an 87th-minute Andre Schurrle goal levelled things up, and then they let a two-goal lead slip in the return as Marco Reus rescued a point with just two minutes remaining, leaving Dortmund as group-winners.
The UEFA Champions League's all-time top scorer, Cristiano Ronaldo helped himself to a couple more during the group stage and laid on four more for his team-mates. To only have two to his name so far this campaign suggests a storm is coming, and few would bet against the man who hit 16 goals in the tournament last season to fire Madrid all the way to the final.
CHANCES OF PROGRESSION
Finishing in second-place means Madrid had have to play hosts in the first leg, but will confident of progressing after a 3-1 first-leg victory over Napoli in the Spanish capital last month. But Zidane will certainly not believe the job is done as they face a daunting trip to the always intimidating San Paolo. Napoli are without a victory in their last five games against Spanish opponents, but Madrid have tasted Italian defeat in the round of 16 before, when they were dumped out by Juventus in 2004-05.